Thursday, October 9, 2008

Debunking the Bunk - Coffee

So the common wisdom about coffee seems to be that it's bad for you. Especially if you drink it in large quantities (I've heard tales of people drinking 8 pots a day, or of a girl working in a coffee shop who was admitted to the hospital for heart palpitations after drinking 10 espressos or so).

So not the best idea to drink 10 shots of espresso in a short time. Moderation is key.

But now, the common wisdom about coffee seems to be shifting (at least among scientists who've studied coffee's effect). Coffee's bad reputation seems to be more image than substance. In the past, coffee has been linked to anything from breast cancer to pancreatic cancer to heart disease. One hypothesis for the supposed bad effect of coffee (from this book) is that coffee often went hand in hand with cigarette smoking, and that it was the smoking that truly caused the health problems.

So now we're supposed to just on the coffee bandwagon? What's the deal?

A study cited in Science Daily says that women who drink 2-3 cups of caffeinated coffee a day decrease their chance of death from heart disease by 25%, and decrease their chance of death by cancer or heart disease by 18%. People drinking decaf coffee also had a lower rate of death than those not drinking coffee. Men had neither a higher nor lower risk associated with coffee.

Another study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine (mentioned in this Senior Health article) says that regular coffee drinking of up to 6 cups a day has no negative effect for either men or women.

The Bad Stuff

1. Caffeine can have negative effects ranging from an increase in anxiety, withdrawal headaches, irritability, shakiness, and insomnia.

2. Drinking espresso, French press, or other coffee that doesn't drip through a paper filter can increase your cholesterol by a few points.

3. Drinking a lot of coffee may increase your risk for developing osteoporosis or breaking a bone.

4. Not so yummy flavors, such as blueberry (I swear, one day at work when someone was brewing blueberry coffee, I had no idea what the smell was and I really honestly though that someone had forgotten to take out the trash).

5. If you already have heart disease? No dice. Coffee can increase your risk of heart attack or stroke.

The Good Stuff

1. Lower chance of developing kidney stones, gallstones, Parkinson's, colon cancer, or type 2 diabetes.

2. Less chance that you'll voluntarily depart this earthly coil - coffee (and other caffeinated beverages) often act like mild anti-depressants. Two studies showed that suicides are as much as 50% lower among coffee drinkers.

3. Lower rates of heart disease for women.

4. Yummy flavors such as hazelnut, mocha, pumpkin.

5. Coffee may be one of our highest sources of antioxidants, but whether that's because we drink a boatload of coffee, or that we don't eat enough other antioxidant food isn't specified. Coffee came out ahead of tea, chocolate or fruit on the antioxidant-o-meter. The next highest sources of antioxidants were black tea, bananas, dried beans (do people eat dried beans and do they have the same antioxidant level well cooked?), corn, red wine, lager beer (go flip cup!), apples, tomatoes, and potatoes.

However, the docs don't recommend adding coffee to your diet for health reasons. Because while coffee does have a lot of antioxidants, the other healthy food antioxidant sources (such as fruit and veggies) offer more in terms of total nutrition. And if you're like me and have to add a good deal of milk and sugar to coffee to make it palatable, well that pretty much negates the health benefit, right? Now I want some decaf anyway...


The Dieting Ninja said...

Fruit coffees are nasty.

But I gotta tell you, one friend to another, because nobody else is gonna be so honest up to your face and all...*puts a hand on your shoulder and catches your eyes earnestly*...

Vegetable coffees are worse.

Seriously. Pumpkin? Dubya Tee Eff!


I drink about a cup a day, slightly more on weekends that I raid (gaming, raids or whatever that word means to people who don't play Warcraft).

I used to be a coffee kool-aid girl. Now that I've drastically (DRASTICALLY) reduced the sugar in my coffee, I've become a snob. Amazing how even swill tastes good with enough sugar in it!

Best flavored coffee? Berres Brothers Angel Cake. NOM. <3

The Lethological Gourmet said...

Holy Moly!!! So I just went to get some decaf, added in some hot chocolate mix for mocha and some milk. And I'm drinking it with my morning snack of multi-grain date bread with Nutella. And Holy Wow! I don't think the hazelnut of the Nutella has ever popped this much! It was an eye popping moment!

the dieting ninja said...

What hot chocolate mix did you use? I used to do that, till I read the label on the hot cocoa mix provided at my company.

That many calories should not be added in ignorance.

But I adore hot cocoa, and have been looking for a less...ahem...terrifying brand.

The Lethological Gourmet said...

Angel Cake coffee? I'm dubious... Pumpkin coffee honestly wasn't as good as I was expecting it to be, given how much I love pumpkin (as you'll see in the next few months now that the pumpkins have hit the fields), but I still like it nonetheless :)

I must admit, I did see "raid" and think "huh?" though I did go through a Warcraft 3 phase in college. But I can definitely see how that would call for more than one cup!

I don't drink coffee enough to get used to it reducing the milk and sugar (and I totally agree that any old kind of coffee tastes good with all that stuff added). I keep telling myself to reduce the sugar in my tea, and get used to it plain, Chinese style (they look at me askance in Chinese restaurants when I ask for sugar for my tea...)

The Lethological Gourmet said...

I used Swiss Mix, which I'm sure isn't that great for me, and probably has a bunch of calories, since I used the one with the sugar instead of the sugar free.

I'm going to put a post up soon about this new brewed chocolate stuff I ordered (I almost had a heart attack when I looked in the fridge today and didn't see it...the little jar was expensive!). It's much healthier than the normal hot chocolate mixes.

the dieting ninja said...

Angel Cake for the win. Srsly. Vanilla cakey goodness. Barely needs sugar.

With tea, I've also reduced, but I can only go "naked" with really good green teas. I've also found that some of the Yogi Tea brand teas already have Stevia leaf in them, so they have a bit of sweetness already.

Black teas always need sweetener for me, and I love Lady Grey with a teaspoon of sugar. <3

the dieting ninja said...

Oooh, that sounds very interesting! yespls on the post about the chocolate thing.

Any chocolate, for that matter

The Lethological Gourmet said...

I tried Stevia, and I just don't like the flavor of it. It's sweet, but there's something else I don't like, an aftertaste. I usually use Splenda.

I'll prolly post on the brewed chocolate next week...

JavaChick said...

My husband likes to tell me that coffee is bad for me, but that's because he doesn't like coffee. Things he likes...Well those are good for ya.

My take on coffee - I don't consider it a health food, but I figure in moderation it's not going to hurt me and it makes me happy so why give it up?

Don't put sugar in mine, but I do like 10% cream...

Missicat said...

Pumpkin coffee? hmmm...angel cake on the other hand sounds wonderful! And where might I procure said coffee?

I use a tiny bit of splenda and a little cream so I can convince myself that it's not that bad for me!