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Drink Coffee, Live Longer

rsz_coffeeAll coffee lovers rejoice (I know there is a lot of you out there!!!).  Coffee is more healthful than harmful.  While tea is still my beverage of choice for health, more and more research says that coffee can do a body good.  It can lower your risk of disease and even help you live longer.  Here is the latest and greatest news on a beverage that has many adoring fans:

Rich In Antioxidants

Coffee, like tea, comes from a plant.  For those who drink it regularly, it is a major source of antioxidants in the diet (both regular and decaf).  The antioxidant compounds in coffee, including caffeic, ferulic and p-coumaric acids, along with the caffeine, protect health.  For example, they’ve been shown to prevent damage to cells caused by free radicals, decrease inflammation and improve sensitivity to insulin (you need less insulin to move sugar out of your blood and into your cells).

Coffee & Your Risk of Disease

Some of the strongest research support for coffee and disease reduction is for type 2 diabetes.  Each cup you drink provides further protection.  Drinking 3 to 4 cups daily is linked to a 25% lower risk.  Regular coffee drinkers are also at a lower risk for dementia (including Alzheimer’s), Parkinson’s, stroke, gallstones, gout and depression.  Early research even says coffee may lower the risk of some cancers including cancer of the liver, colon, mouth, throat, endometrium and prostate.

Your Liver Likes Coffee

Your liver is a very important organ in your body.  It’s been called your body’s inspection station.  Its main job is to filter and clean the blood coming from your digestive tract, before allowing that blood to pass to the rest of your body.  Regular, moderate coffee consumption is linked to a lower risk of many types of liver disease including fibrosis (scar tissue that builds up in the liver), cirrhosis (the result of a long-term build-up of scar tissue within the liver), as well as liver cancer.

What About Your Heart?

Researchers from Sun Yat-sen University in China reviewed 21 studies and concluded that long-term, coffee does not increase the risk of heart disease.  This conclusion held true for those who were light, moderate, heavy and very heavy coffee drinkers.  It is important to note, however, that drinking unfiltered coffee such as Turkish and French press and Scandinavian boiled coffee, has been linked to an increase in LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides.  When you filter coffee you remove a substance called cafestol that appears to have cholesterol raising properties.  Espresso has less cafestol than boiled or French press coffee, but more than paper filtered coffee.

Should You Drink Decaf?

While drinking decaf coffee is always an option, drinking coffee with caffeine appears to provide better overall health protection.  For example, studies with cancer have shown that caffeine helps inhibit tumor progression.  With dementia, caffeine helps block inflammation in the brain.  Caffeine provides other benefits too.  In moderation it improves alertness and concentration.  It helps with jet lag, keeps you attentive while driving, and if you do shift work, it improves your ability to work well.  It’s also linked to improved sports performance and a reduction in muscular pain.

Is it addictive?  Contrary to what many believe, caffeine is not considered a drug of dependence.  Regular coffee drinkers who give up their coffee drinking habit suddenly, however, do experience withdrawal symptoms, including headaches, difficulty concentrating and drowsiness.  This can be avoided by cutting back more gradually. 

How Much Caffeine Is Too Much?

Health Canada recommends limiting your intake of caffeine from all sources to 400 mg daily.  One small cup of coffee (8 oz/250 mL) or a shot of espresso contains anywhere from about 80 to 175 mg of caffeine (depends on the type of bean, processing and preparation).  That means drinking between about 2 to 4 cups of small coffee daily keeps you within the recommended limit for caffeine (you can have more if its decaf).  Remember, however, that this guideline is based on an 8 oz (250 mL) size cup of coffee.  If, for example, you order the “grande” size coffee (16 oz/500 mL) from Starbucks, you need to count it as 2 cups.

What happens if you go over your limit?  Consuming more than the recommended daily limit for caffeine may cause problems such as restlessness, anxiety and irritability, especially in those who are more sensitive to caffeine (some people metabolize caffeine more slowly than others).  It can interfere with sleep, making it more difficult to fall asleep, stay asleep and to sleep deeply.  Consuming most of your caffeine in the morning and early afternoon is generally best.  In excess, caffeine may also cause abnormal heart rhythms in those who are predisposed.  Lastly, during pregnancy and while breastfeeding, women should limit caffeine.  Health Canada recommends a limit of 300 mg of caffeine daily during pregnancy (some organizations advise 200 mg or less).

Proceed with Caution

Although the benefits of coffee drinking overall appear to outweigh the risks, there are some concerns you should be aware of.  Preliminary research has linked coffee drinking to a higher risk of urinary incontinence, as well as glaucoma (a condition of increased pressure within the eyeball, causing a gradual loss of sight), especially in those that are already at high risk.  If you suffer from heartburn or reflux, coffee generally makes it worse.  If your diet is low in calcium, a high intake of coffee may be detrimental to bone health.

Double Cream & Sugar???

Coffee contains next to nothing in terms of calories.  What you add to your coffee, however, can really add up, especially if you enjoy several cups a day.  Most of us already get too much sugar in our diet and cream is not only rich in calories (60 calories in two tablespoons of light cream), but also very high in fat – the kind your heart doesn’t like!  Drink coffee black or with milk, and no sugar.  Sugar substitutes used in small amounts, are an option.  A latte or cappuccino made with low fat milk is a good choice.  Most importantly, watch out for specialty coffees and iced coffees from your local coffee shop.  A medium size Vanilla Frappuccino® from Starbucks contains 430 calories, 14 g of fat (9 of which are the not-good-for-your-heart kind) and 17 teaspoons of sugar.  That’s insane!  That’s not a coffee, it’s a decadent dessert!  The nutritional information for most coffee products is now online, including the caffeine content.  Check the numbers before you damage your health and your waistline.

Lessons Learned:

Coffee is more healthful, than harmful and is linked to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, liver disease and more.  Both the antioxidants and the caffeine in coffee can protect health.  Two to four small cups of caffeinated coffee daily is a safe limit for most people (depending on your caffeine intake from other sources).  Beyond that you can drink decaf, which also protects health.



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