Java drinkers rejoice – there are legitimate health benefits for drinking coffee, with more positive research coming out every year right now. Coffee is a nearly calorie-free beverage, chock full of antioxidants, and it has been found to potentially ease artery-damaging inflammation and maybe even help your body regulate blood sugar.
According to Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, “the evidence for the benefits of coffee consumption is even more convincing than it was five years ago, especially when it comes to preventing type 2 diabetes and reducing risk of heart disease and stroke.”
The caveat? We are talking plain black coffee here. Not a blended up taste of heaven milkshake-like drink, or sweetened mochachino deliciousness with whip and sprinkles. Anyone working on a balanced diet knows a little milk and sugar is probably fine for most of us, and it decreases the bitterness of a strong brew, but that sweet chocolately deliciousness I’m still drooling over from the last sentence? Probably not a reasonable part of any healthy diet, except the “it’s my birthday and I don’t care if my afternoon pick-me-up is 700 calories of fat and sugar” diet.
Now, back to the science. According to Harvard Health Publications:
Although caffeine is by far the most studied compound in coffee, the beverage is a complex brew that contains hundreds if not thousands of bioactive components. Among these are vitamins, minerals, and potent, plant-based anti-inflammatory compounds known as polyphenols. Most likely, it’s the combination of these substances rather than caffeine that confer coffee’s potential health benefits. In support of this premise, Dr. Hu points to a recent meta-analysis that showed that decaf coffee has the same potential ability as regular coffee to reduce blood sugar and decrease insulin resistance (perhaps thereby lowering diabetes risk). On the flip side, people who get their caffeine from other sources, such as sodas and energy drinks, do not see any cardiovascular benefits.
Caffeine, as you may be now be aware, is a mild stimulate, and thus can cause a short-term rise in blood pressure and heart rate. For many of us, that is the whole point, and studies show a moderate amount of caffeine is OK even for those with heart disease and arrythmia. In the long-run, caffeine may produce a modest benefit for body weight maintenance, by boosting the body’s resting metabolic rate and increase energy expenditure. The cardiovascular benefits seem to kick in at about three or more 8 oz cups of coffee per day.
Three cups of coffee a day may pose some serious downsides for some people, though. Some people are very sensitive to caffeine’s stimulant effects, and even a single cup with leave them feeling jittery, and having difficulty getting to sleep later, even if they limit their caffeine later in the day. Decaf may also be a better choice for pregnant women, children, teens, and those with heart conditions.
Also – a note on energy drinks: Dr. Hu (quoted above) cautions against caffeinated energy drinks, as the high caffeine level has landed some people in the emergency room and energy drinks have not been found to pose the same health advantages as coffee.
To learn more, check out A wake-up call on coffee from Harvard Health Publications.
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