Staff Column: Health pros of coffee outweigh faster options

Cody Boyer

NMU students love coffee.

Cody Boyer
Cody Boyer

This is not a newfound discovery. Every day, when you get up and start your cold hike to class in the morning, whether you live on campus, in town or drive from Negaunee, Ishpeming or any other city that isn’t Marquette, you will see them: tightly-bundled students carrying their school books in some sort of backpack and a cup or thermos of coffee.

With several coffee-serving venues located immediately on campus, it’s hard for NMU students and faculty to avoid some sort of interaction with the caffeine-supplying beverage.

It’s everywhere, but, with other forms of “healthier” energy supplements everywhere, too, is coffee truly the best choice?

I’ll admit I hated most forms of coffee prior to my first year at NMU. Coffee, at its very core, struck my memory as “the grandparent drink” with a bitter taste and blistering hot touch, especially when dropped into the lap of an innocent drinker who maybe just wanted to try it to see what all of the hoopla was about. Five years later, I can’t get enough of the stuff, even though I’m far too poor to afford going to a coffee shop for my daily fix.

However, while I find myself struggling to come into contact with the hot beverage I have learned to love and keep seeing other more-fortunate students get their daily fill around me, there are many people who seek alternative methods to energize their days.

Many people fall back to 5-Hour Energy supplements or energy drinks due to their smaller amounts of taurine, while others may have access to herbal solutions for energy boosts made from small suppliers. All of these options have been researched and debated by many different media sources and advertisers claiming to know how one of these sources has better advantages.

In the end, the popular verdict remains the same: caffeine appears to be the big bad wolf, so take anything that doesn’t contain it.

While natural methods of acquiring energy can provide nutritional values that are absent in other sources similar to coffee, studies show the consistent intake of such substances can lead to other cardiovascular and muscular problems. For example, researchers from the FDA have found various amounts of niacin (or Vitamin B3) in herbal or “natural” energy supplements. Niacin, while being a beneficial vitamin for the body, can increase cholesterol levels if taken alongside energy supplements like taurine or certain natural electrolytes.

I could keep going on and on with nutritionist-jargon, but the folks at the FDA and at hospitals nationwide have a factor that brings the issues behind energy supplements to a more-concerning level without so much “science” talk: rate of consumption.

When the average person drinks coffee, they don’t typically pound it down their throats like they are taking a shot of straight espresso. Generally, drinking coffee or other beverages takes time, unlike most energy drinks do in their minimal-sized cans (and double the amount of energy-producing agents, natural or otherwise, excluding caffeine). 5-Hour Energy drinks are similar in that regard; while the ingredients may hold less sugar than a true-blue energy drink, the simple act of taking the entire contents of the container in one gulp does something to the body that most natural ingredients don’t.

When a person takes an energy shot or a dose of herbal energy supplement “equivalent to a certain number of mugs of coffee,” as the label might suggest, they are pounding that much energy into your system all at once rather than taking the time to slowly consume it.

For example, when a person slowly drinks down a fresh cup of coffee over the course of an hour, that person spreads the energy contained in the caffeine and other ingredients over that time.

According to the FDA, the body can more appropriately manage energy from natural caffeine found in coffee beans rather than all at once. This is why, while being advertised as “fast and healthy” energy shots, drinks and supplements still increase the chances for heart disease or muscular hypertension, not to mention the stress levels of students who already have a boatload of things to worry about, like grades, employment and graduation.

Next time I get a cup of coffee on campus or from the comfort of my own coffee-maker, I’m going to sip it down slowly and enjoy every drop for what it is. Students don’t have to go and drink six cups of high-rev espresso in order to stay energized, nor do they have to slow down on their energy drink rate-of-consumption. Unlike coffee, energy drinks already have a bee’s nest of substances that are unnatural ways for the body to speed up.

NMU students love their coffee, much like most of the world. Compared to other methods of waking up in the morning, I would hope the benefits behind “the grandparent drink” have been brought into focus. Other options have their pros and cons, as does coffee, so it’s always up to the drinker in the end.

To me, though, there’s nothing quite like waking up at NMU and being able to take on the day with a cup of joe in hand.