Another reason to pour a second cup
For many folks who need an extra kickstart in the morning, coffee is primarily a caffeine-delivery system. But a little burst of energy isn’t the only thing you’re getting from a cup of joe.
“The majority of the data says that moderate coffee drinking shows health benefits,” said Rachel Songer, a registered dietitian nutritionist who works as a clinical dietitian at Cape Cod Hospital.
“Moderate” coffee drinking is defined as three to five 8-ounce cups of coffee per day, or less than 400 milligrams of caffeine per day, said Songer.
“There is data that shows that caffeinated coffee can improve blood flow,” she said. “There’s also data that shows both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee have health benefits.”
There must be a little bit of magic in those beans.
“Coffee is something you can have and be guilt-free about, so long as you’re not guzzling 10 cups a day,” Songer said.
People who drink three cups a day showed an 18 percent lower risk of death from heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, and respiratory and kidney disease over the course of a 16-year test period, according to a study published last summer in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Even one cup a day decreased the death risk by 12 percent.
“This study is the largest of its kind and includes minorities who have very different lifestyles,” said Veronica W. Setiawan, PhD, lead author of the study and an associate professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, in a press release.
“Seeing a similar pattern across different populations gives stronger biological backing to the argument that coffee is good for you whether you are white, African-American, Latino or Asian.”
The USC study confirmed what’s been found in many previous studies, Songer said.
“The Framingham Heart Study shows that coffee is associated with a reduced risk of heart failure and stroke,” she said. “It’s also been found to be associated with a reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes, and there is some evidence showing a protective association between caffeine and Parkinson’s disease.”
Drop the Cream
Like a lot of things we eat and drink, it’s a mater of balance, she said, as there’s some evidence of adverse health outcomes when you drink more than 400 milligrams of caffeine.
People who take their coffee black get the most benefit, she said.
“If you add a lot of high-fat dairy products or dairy substitutes or sugar, that’s not very heart healthy, especially if you drink a lot of coffee throughout the day,” she said.
She recommends using a low-fat milk, instead of cream, which is high in saturated fats. Saturated fats should be less than 10 percent of your total calories per day, she said, and less than 7 percent for patients who have cardiovascular disease.
“Added sugar is supposed to be less than 10 percent of your total calorie needs,” she said. “Stevia would be a better choice since it’s plant-based, rather than an artificially made sweetener.”
If you’re not used to drinking coffee black, it might be worth giving it a try, Songer said, perhaps by going in stages from two splashes of cream to one, to just a tiny bit, to none.
“Some people are more willing that others to bear with it and try to make that change,” she said. “It would vary from person to person, but it might take a couple of weeks to get used to it.
The exact reasons for the health benefits of coffee are still a mystery.
“We cannot say drinking coffee will prolong your life, but we see an association,” said Setiawan. “If you like to drink coffee, drink up! If you’re not a coffee drinker, then you need to consider if you should start.”