Organic Coffee Versus Non-Organic Coffee: 3 Reasons Why You Should Switch

Coffee is one of the world's most popular beverages. In fact, a 2017 marketing poll found that Americans drink more coffee than soda, tea, and juice combined

No matter what your morning ritual looks like -- it most likely involves a hot cup of coffee to get you going. 

So the question arises, is it important to drink organic coffee? 

Most people understand the benefits of buying organic produce and animal products, but coffee seems to get a pass when it comes to organic certification. 

Read on to learn more about the benefits of coffee and the difference between organic and conventionally grown beans. 

What Makes Coffee Organic?

The difference between organic and conventional products can vary depending on what type of product you’re talking about. Different growing conditions, farming practices, soil quality, additives, pest and weed control, and sourcing methods can all factor into whether or not a product is considered organic. 

However, what's true for all products is that in order to be labeled organic, certain requirements have to be fulfilled. The U.S. The Department of Agriculture sets the standards for organic labeling, and when all requirements are met, products can carry the USDA Organic seal. 

While all organic products must be grown in "organic conditions," for coffee, the primary concern is around fertilizers and pesticides. Coffee is one of the most heavily sprayed crops, and synthetic pesticides and fertilizers are linked to a myriad of health concerns. 

For coffee to be labeled organic, growers cannot use synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. If you see an organic label on your coffee, it means that at least 95% of the beans have been grown under organic conditions. 

Organic coffee must also be grown in soil that has been free of prohibited substances like synthetic fertilizers and pesticides for at least three years.

Health Benefits Of Coffee

Addicted to coffee? That may not be such a bad thing. There are several research-backed health benefits that coffee has to offer. Here are some of the highlights:

#1 It’s Rich In Antioxidants

Coffee is a rich source of antioxidant compounds. In fact, research shows that coffee represents one of the most significant contributors of antioxidants in many people's diets. 

Antioxidants play a crucial role in balancing the oxidative stress in your body. Oxidation is not necessarily bad; in fact, the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) is necessary for important biological processes like cell signaling.

However, when ROS production outpaces your antioxidant system's ability to combat them, oxidative stress can occur. Unfortunately, the environmental stressors of modern times create conditions for ROS production that far exceeds that which our ancestors had to deal with. EMFs, pollutants, heavy metals, and so on, create the perfect storm of oxidative stress in your body.

Research shows that drinking coffee hot provides a greater amount of antioxidants than cold brew -- so if you really want to reap the antioxidant benefits of your coffee, skip the ice.

#2 It Can Improve Cognitive Performance

For many people, it isn’t until after that first cup of coffee in the morning that their brain feels like it’s actually turned on. Early morning meeting without your cup of coffee? No, thank you.

Many of the cognitive benefits that you experience from drinking coffee are due to the caffeine content. Caffeine is actually a psychoactive compound that can directly affect learning, memory, and performance. It works by inhibiting another compound called adenosine, which slows your neural activity and makes you feel sleepy.

Therefore, when you drink coffee and introduce caffeine into your system, adenosine is blocked, and you feel more aroused, vigilant, and energized.

Caffeine also activates the release of dopamine and serotonin, which can improve your mood.

Research shows that coffee can even improve problem-solving skills. This is especially true for people who are sleep deprived.

#3 It May Help Combat Neurological Disease

Neurological diseases are on the rise in the United States, leaving researchers searching high and low for preventative treatments and cures.

One potential ally in the war against neurological disease happens to be coffee.

Research shows that coffee, through it's potent impact on cognitive health, may lower the risk of diseases like Dementia, Parkinson's disease, and Alzheimer's disease. In one study, researchers found that drinking 3 to 5 cups of coffee a day was associated with a 65% decrease in the risk of both Alzheimer's and Dementia.

Another study showed that higher coffee intake was associated with a lower incidence of Parkinson's disease.

While the exact mechanism isn’t completely understood, it’s theorized that the beneficial impact of coffee comes from a combination of the antioxidants and insulin-regulating properties that coffee offers.

The Differences Between Organic and Conventional Coffee

Health Concerns

One of the primary differences between organic and conventional coffee is the treatment of coffee beans. As previously mentioned, organic coffee must be produced without the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.

With conventional coffee being one of the most heavily sprayed crops, this translates into a significant difference in terms of health impacts.

Pesticides and herbicides are sprayed on crops to protect them against insects, diseases, and weeds. However, the health implications of these chemicals can cause harm to almost every system in your body. Research shows that pesticides can cause damage to your respiratory, neurological, gastrointestinal, dermatological, and reproductive systems. They've also been found to be carcinogenic and have an endocrine-disrupting effect.

One well-known herbicide, “Roundup”, has been shown to cause DNA damage, testicular cancer in rats, promote cell death in cell cultures, and impair intracellular transport of nutrients.

Synthetic fertilizers also pose serious threats to human health. Research shows that exposure to nitrogen-based fertilizers plays a role in diseases like Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, and non-alcoholic fatty liver. These harmful effects are likely due to the chemical reactions between nitrates and amino acids, which cause DNA damage, oxidative stress, inflammation, and increased degradation of cells leading to cell death.

There is also some controversy around the dangers of mycotoxins in coffee beans. Mycotoxins can be found in certain food crops that are prone to mold. Some research shows that decaffeinated coffee produces levels of aflatoxin that are higher than caffeinated coffee, suggesting that the caffeine that naturally occurs in the coffee beans may be preventative. Roasting also seems to degrade mycotoxins, resulting in levels that are far below the safety limit.

Whether a specific coffee contains mycotoxins or not is hard to determine, as fungi can grow in both organic and non-organic beans. However, higher quality brands will likely take care to keep the beans in a cool, dry place.

Environmental Impact

Conventionally grown coffee also poses serious threats to the health of the environment. When fertilizers and pesticides are used to promote plants' growth, they directly impact the land in which they're used.

Fertilizers can deplete the quality of the soil they're used in overtime by increasing the soil's acidity. They can also cause nitrogen to leach into groundwater; if that groundwater is then used domestically, it can present serious health hazards as previously mentioned.

Furthermore, the nutrients in fertilizers can cause algae blooms when they leach into water. These algae blooms can produce toxins that are poisonous to both humans and animals.

Pesticides also contribute to the destruction of natural ecosystems due to their very nature of killing insects and weeds. In doing so, these chemicals threaten the biodiversity that allows natural environments to flow seamlessly season after season.

One of the best examples of the detrimental impact of pesticides on the environment is what's happening to honeybees. Beginning in 2006, scientists, beekeepers, and farmers began to notice a sharp increase in the die-off of honeybees. Since then, pesticides have come up as the primary suspect.

It's estimated that honeybees' pollination is responsible for a third of the food that we eat. Chocolate, peaches, almonds, cranberries, broccoli, and blueberries are just a handful of the plant foods that require pollination.

Pesticides can also seep into groundwater and poison fish and aquatic environments. What's even more disturbing is that this contamination can last for years or even decades.

Perhaps one of the most pressing issues regarding conventionally grown coffee and the environment is deforestation. Organic coffee is meant to be grown under shade cover. On the other hand, conventionally produced beans have been manipulated to be able to grow in the sun. This has led to the destruction of forests to make space for conventional coffee bean crops.

Forests are one of the primary defenses against climate change, as they are responsible for absorbing nearly 40% of the fossil fuel emissions produced by humans. As the population continues to grow, and the demand for coffee continues to soar, the threat to our natural forests is becoming even more imminent.

Farm Workers

As a coffee drinker, it’s crucial that you’re aware of the potential health implications of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. For farmworkers, however, the dangers become even more serious.

Farmers are one of the most highly exposed groups to pesticides. They not only come into contact with these chemicals through consumption, but they’re often involved in the spraying process and clean-up of the equipment. Furthermore, farmworkers that are not directly involved in the spraying of pesticides may also be impacted by spray drift if working nearby -- an often overlooked exposure.

The U.S. Department of Labor has also discovered widespread violations in the treatment of farmworkers. These violations include failure to pay fair wages, exploitation of migrant workers, and extensive overtime.

Worldwide, issues such as poor housing conditions, unsafe working conditions, and child labor have been uncovered in the coffee trade. Although the organic certification does not necessarily account for the treatment of farmworkers, Fair Trade certifications do. For this reason, it’s best to look for both organic and fair trade labels on your coffee packaging.

Takeaway: Choose Organic

If you’re a conventional coffee drinker, it may be time to look at this daily ritual from the perspectives of health, the environment, and farmworkers. An organically grown coffee is guaranteed to be free of detrimental chemicals like pesticides and fertilizers. Beans grown organically are also much better for the environment.

And for the concern of farm workers, be sure that your coffee is not only organic but is also considered fair trade.

In addition to the pure joy that a good cup of coffee can offer, the health benefits are also quite impressive. Make sure you're optimizing the potential benefits of coffee by choosing high-quality and ethically grown beans.

 

References

  1. https://www.marketwatch.com/story/international-coffee-day-americans-drink-more-coffee-than-soda-tea-and-juice-combined-2017-09-29
  2. https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2012/03/22/organic-101-what-usda-organic-label-means
  3. Svilaas, Arne, et al. "Intakes of antioxidants in coffee, wine, and vegetables are correlated with plasma carotenoids in humans." The Journal of nutrition 134.3 (2004): 562-567.
  4. Yashin, Alexander, et al. "Antioxidant and antiradical activity of coffee." Antioxidants 2.4 (2013): 230-245.
  5. Pizzino, Gabriele, et al. "Oxidative stress: harms and benefits for human health." Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity 2017 (2017).
  6. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/11/181101085137.htm
  7. Nehlig, Astrid, Jean-Luc Daval, and Gérard Debry. "Caffeine and the central nervous system: mechanisms of action, biochemical, metabolic and psychostimulant effects." Brain Research Reviews 17.2 (1992): 139-170.
  8. Marriott, Bernadette M. "Effects of Caffeine on Cognitive Performance, Mood, and Alertness in Sleep-Deprived Humans." Food Components to Enhance Performance: An Evaluation of Potential Performance-Enhancing Food Components for Operational Rations. National Academies Press (US), 1994.
  9. McLellan, Tom M., John A. Caldwell, and Harris R. Lieberman. "A review of caffeine’s effects on cognitive, physical and occupational performance." Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews 71 (2016): 294-312.
  10. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/03/200305135050.htm
  11. Eskelinen, Marjo H., and Miia Kivipelto. "Caffeine as a protective factor in dementia and Alzheimer's disease." Journal of Alzheimer's Disease 20.s1 (2010): S167-S174.
  12. Ross, G. Webster, et al. "Association of coffee and caffeine intake with the risk of Parkinson disease." Jama 283.20 (2000): 2674-2679.
  13. Eskelinen, Marjo H., and Miia Kivipelto. "Caffeine as a protective factor in dementia and Alzheimer's disease." Journal of Alzheimer's Disease 20.s1 (2010): S167-S174.
  14. Nicolopoulou-Stamati, Polyxeni, et al. "Chemical pesticides and human health: the urgent need for a new concept in agriculture." Frontiers in public health 4 (2016): 148.
  15. Nicolopoulou-Stamati, Polyxeni, et al. "Chemical pesticides and human health: the urgent need for a new concept in agriculture." Frontiers in public health 4 (2016): 148.
  16. de la Monte, Suzanne M., et al. "Epidemiological trends strongly suggest exposures as etiologic agents in the pathogenesis of sporadic Alzheimer's disease, diabetes mellitus, and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis." Journal of Alzheimer's Disease 17.3 (2009): 519-529.
  17. Scanlan, R. A. "Formation and occurrence of nitrosamines in food." Cancer Research 43.5 Suppl (1983): 2435s-2440s.
  18. https://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/agriculture/soils/improvement/environment
  19. http://www.panna.org/resources/environmental-impacts
  20. https://www.rainforest-alliance.org/business/responsible-sourcing/2019-sustainable-coffee-expo-addressing-deforestation-in-the-coffee-sector/
  21. Damalas, Christos A., and Spyridon D. Koutroubas. "Farmers’ exposure to pesticides: toxicity types and ways of prevention." (2016): 1.
  22. https://dailycoffeenews.com/2013/07/17/farmworkers-left-behind-the-human-cost-of-coffee-production/

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