26/04/2018 13:37 BST | Updated 26/04/2018 13:37 BST

Our Coffee Culture Is Damaging Our Health

With news this week that coffee shops are set to outstrip pubs, should we be worried? I think so.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not hankering after those days of beer sodden carpets, sticky tables laden with glasses and air thick with tobacco smoke! That wasn’t an atmosphere conducive to a long and healthy life!

Now, many pubs paint a different picture. Smoke-free, family-friendly and more of an emphasis on home-cooked food than pickled eggs and pork scratchings. They are more of a social hub than a drinking den… and with recent government guidelines saying there is no safe limit to alcohol consumption, it’s good that the focus is less on the booze than on a meal with friends.

Of course, we can’t get complacent. Wine and beer are getting stronger (1), containing a higher percentage of alcohol than they used to. And wine-glasses are more likely to be bucket-sized (2) than the small glasses we used 20 years ago. So, we can end up drinking more than we should, if we don’t watch out. But in my opinion you need to walk into a coffee shop with your eyes open too.

In my 15 years as a weight loss surgeon I saw people come through the door miserable with their weight and battling with life-threatening health conditions but carrying a syrup laden latte which they have just picked up from the coffee outlet within our very hospital (don’t even get me started on that one).

The specialty coffees, laden with sugar-syrups and topped with whipped cream can contain a quarter of our recommended calorie intake which won’t help the nations bulging waistline. And almost invariably, the barista will try to tempt you with a muffin or other super-sized snack to go with it… adding several hundred calories more. Portion control doesn’t seem to be a priority in these places and yet it only takes a couple of hundred extra calories a day to add up to several pounds more on the scales at the end of a year. And the sugar content of many of these various hot drinks and cakes exceeds the daily recommendations of 6 teaspoons or 24g of added sugar per day. We now know that sugar provides calories without nutrients (3) and is increasingly recognised as contributing to health problems from type 2 diabetes to tooth decay.

What about the caffeine?

Well, actually, several studies show that caffeine can be good for us. It can increase mental alertness (4), improve sports performance (5) and may even help protect us against diseases like type 2 diabetes and fatty liver (6) But in excess of course, it can increase anxiety and tremors (7). Plus, it can reduce sleep if taken after lunch (8) – and we are struggling to reach the recommended 7-8 hours anyway. The maximum caffeine intake we should have is around 400mg per day and just one super-size coffee can pretty much hit that max.


(1) Ther Adv Psychopharmacol. 2016 Can student health professionals accurately estimate alcohol content in commonly occurring drinks? Julia Sinclair and Emma Searle

(2) Wine glass size in England from 1700 to 2017: a measure of our time BMJ 2017 Zorana Zupan, Alexandra Evans, Dominique-Laurent Couturier, Theresa M Marteau


(4) Lieberman HR, Tharion WJ, Shukitt-Hale B, Speckman KL, Tulley R. Effects of caffeine, sleep loss, and stress on cognitive performance and mood during U.S. Navy SEAL training. Sea-Air-Land. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2002

(5) Ivy JL, Kammer L, Ding Z, Wang B, Bernard JR, Liao YH, Hwang J. Improved cycling time-trial performance after ingestion of a caffeine energy drink. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2009

(6) Sinha RA, Farah BL, Singh BK, Siddique MM, Li Y, Wu Y, Ilkayeva OR, Gooding J, Ching J, Zhou J, Martinez L, Xie S, Bay BH, Summers SA, Newgard CB, Yen PM. Caffeine stimulates hepatic lipid metabolism by the autophagy-lysosomal pathway in mice. Hepatology. 2013

(7) Persad LA. Energy drinks and the neurophysiological impact of caffeine. Front Neurosci. 2011

(8) Sleep Med. 2002 May;3(3):271-3.The effects of coffee consumption on sleep and melatonin secretion. Shilo L, Sabbah H, Hadari R, Kovatz S, Weinberg U, Dolev S, Dagan Y, Shenkman L.