5 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Coffee
October 17, 2012
Culinary Nutritionist Andrea Canada and Dietetic Intern Ricardo Diaz discuss the role of coffee in the human diet.
Coffee is a staple of my morning (and sometimes afternoon!) and at our office, we go through 20 cups or so of coffee pretty quickly each morning. But is all this coffee good for us? SPE Certified's Dietetic Intern, Ricardo Diaz, has a healthy obsession with coffee and was kind enough to answer some questions about one of the world's most popular beverages.
1. Does coffee consumption impact our lifespan?
A recently-published cohort study analyzed the association between coffee drinking and mortality in American men and women between the ages of 50-71 and found that increased coffee consumption was linked to a prolonged lifespan.
The researchers noticed that drinking around six cups of coffee per day was associated with a lower risk of death, particularly from heart disease, respiratory illnesses, strokes, complications from diabetes, infections, injuries and accidents. While this doesn't categorically prove that coffee drinking caused this reduction in mortality, it's likely that at this amount coffee-drinking has little, if no detrimental effect upon a person’s lifespan.
2. Does coffee consumption increase cholesterol?
Coffee contains a component called cafestol, which has been shown to slightly increase serum LDL (bad cholesterol). If high cholesterol is a health concern for you, cafestol can be easily removed during brewing by using a paper filter (metal filters will not extract this oily compound).
3. Is it OK to drink coffee during pregnancy?
The stimulant effect of caffeine increases a woman's blood pressure and heart rate, both of which can be detrimental during pregnancy. Moreover, as a diuretic, caffeine increases the frequency of urination which causes a reduction in body fluid levels and can lead to dehydration.
Like other important nutrients that cross the placenta and nourish the baby during pregnancy, caffeine travels along the same route and can enter the baby's bloodstream. While a woman's mature metabolism may be able to handle the levels of caffeine she consumes, a growing baby's liver and kidneys aren't fully developed, so its capacity to metabolize and excrete caffeine is limited. This could lead to a buildup of caffeine in the baby’s bloodstream, which could have detrimental effects upon its pulse, sleep patterns and breathing rates.
Most experts believe moderate consumption of caffeine, from 150 mg-300 mg per day (about 2-3 6 oz cups), should not have a negative effect during pregnancy.
One thing of note: a "cup of coffee" doesn't refer to the traditional 8 oz measure used in cooking, but rather a 6 oz serving. Given the size of your mug or coffee cup, you could be drinking multiple "cups" of coffee at once.
4. Are there any health benefits of coffee consumption?
Coffee drinkers are in for a treat above and beyond the mood- and energy-boosting effects of their daily cup of joe. As far as cognition is concerned, coffee could play a role in improving verbal working memory; a study performed on caffeine-fasting patients noted improved mental performance and reduced reaction time after administration of a small amount of caffeine.
While more research needs to be done on this topic, it's possible that caffeine's well-established stimulating effect on alertness may be in part responsible for this effect.
The antioxidant benefits of coffee consumption appear to be most notable upon the nervous system. However, more research (particularly in vivo) is needed to firmly establish the effect of coffee's antioxidant activity.
Another little-known benefit of coffee is that it contains soluble fiber which is released into water during brewing. Coffee has been found to have 0.8 to 1.3 grams of soluble fiber per 6 oz serving (depending on the type of coffee and preparation method). Of course, this doesn't mean that we should be trying to get fiber from coffee. Vegetables, fruits and whole grains contain higher amounts and more varieties of fiber.
Lastly, coffee consumption can have an effect on the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Research pooled from various populations across the globe that measured consumption of coffee and tea found a significant relationship between an individual's coffee consumption and his/her excess risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Three to four cups daily were found to cut risk by 25%, compared to drinking zero to two cups per day; tea and decaffeinated coffee were also found to have a more modest effect upon risk reduction.
5. So how much is too much?
Due to the presence of caffeine in coffee, consumption of large amounts of coffee could lead to the development of various adverse effects. Consumption of over 300 mg of caffeine (approximately three "cups" worth of caffeine, depending on preparation) can result in a range of unpleasant physical and mental conditions including anxiety, irritability, restlessness and interrupted sleep patterns, insomnia, headaches, shaking hands and heart palpitations (colloquially known as "java jitters").
Moderate to high amounts of caffeine consumption can also cause GI discomfort and aggravate GERD in affected individuals. At around 500-600mg, caffeine expresses diuretic effects and could increase the risk of dehydration; regular coffee drinkers will have a higher tolerance to this diuretic effect.
Additionally, routine consumption of high amounts of caffeine-containing drinks can increase the likelihood of physical dependence or addiction to caffeine, and withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, irritability and in some cases nausea and vomiting have been noted in some individuals upon cessation of coffee consumption.
So what's the takeaway? Personally, I love to have my coffee in the morning but I've also felt the effects of those “java jitters” and drinking a few too many cups. Here are my tips:
Pay attention to your body's response to coffee to understand how many cups you can have before you start to feel any anxiety or nervousness (keep in mind that some brands of coffee are stronger than others).
The calories from drinking sweetened coffee beverages or adding sugar to your coffee (especially if you drink several cups of coffee) can add up. I recommend avoiding sweetened coffee beverages and if you can, drinking coffee without any added sugar.
If you find you are sensitive to the caffeine in coffee, be mindful of other sources of caffeine such as sodas, energy drinks, chocolate and coffee ice cream.
If you need to cut back on caffeine, try substituting decaf coffee or herbal teas so you can still enjoy the ritual of sipping a hot beverage without all the caffeine.
Is coffee a vital part of your mornings? Please feel free to leave us a comment or question in the comments section below!
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