Chew on this: 02/03

Grounds for that morning cup of coffee

By Jayne Powers
I’m always quite taken by the number of people I meet who have prejudices against certain foods, often for no good reason other than they’ve read or heard about it somewhere.

I call these prejudices food-isms. Much like the “isms” that compartmentalize people into ethnicity, religion and socio-economic classes, food-isms place food into their own distinct classes that are undesirable, even bad for you.

Just like people, certain foods hold more privilege and power than others. Take this example: Tea over coffee.

Granted, tea has many great qualities, such as lowering blood pressure slightly, which is an important quality in a beverage for individuals with cardiovascular disease.

But I’m not going to extol the virtue of teatime. My clients scoff more about coffee, or should I say caffeine, which is one of the most studied substances in food. I can see why people worry about caffeine. It has been abused. Caffeine is often added to energy-boosting drinks in obscene quantities that would give anyone the jitters and insomnia. It can also boost heart rate temporarily and cause an upset stomach and heartburn.

If drinking coffee makes you feel nervous, you may opt to find another beverage. But spare me a few minutes to mitigate the bad buzz about coffee. As with just about everything we consume, your genetic makeup and other factors will influence the effects of coffee on your system. Also know that not all coffee beans are alike. How they’re grown, processed and prepared will also affect the amount of caffeine and other compounds in coffee, and hence its effect on you.

For instance, drinking large quantities of unfiltered coffee – namely espresso or coffee made in a French press – isn’t good for you. This method of brewing can raise bad (LDL) cholesterol because there’s nothing to trap the diterpenes, cafestol and kahweol, in the coffee’s oil.

You can eliminate this problem by drinking filtered coffee, including single-serving coffee pods. That’s because paper filters trap these naturally occurring coffee compounds. Interestingly, some studies also show that diterpenes protect against some cancers, such as colorectal cancer.

Recent research has suggested that coffee has other health benefits. In a 2014 report, Eating for Optimal Health, the Berkeley School of Public Health at the University of California rounded up the latest research about the healthful benefits of this widely consumed and often maligned beverage.

Although the reasons are not fully clear, compounds in coffee may be good for your heart by reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes, according to the Berkeley report. It is believed that these compounds may inhibit abnormal proteins from forming in the pancreas that are linked to the development of diabetes. Other studies cited in the report found coffee does not affect the risk of heart attacks.

It also showed positive findings for reducing the risk of advanced or lethal prostate cancer by 60 percent in men who regularly consumed the most coffee, including decaf, than non-coffee drinkers. Even drinking one to three cups a day was linked to a 30 percent lower risk.

There’s good news for female coffee drinkers as well. Two large studies linked coffee to a decreased risk of endometrial cancer, particularly for obese women, who are more at-risk for this disease. Another study showed that women who drank two to three cups of regular coffee a day over a 10-year period were 15 percent less likely to develop depression than those who drank little or no coffee, according to the Berkeley report.

A host of other studies supported more positive findings about coffee. The findings suggest that coffee helps protect against Parkinson’s disease, reduces the risk of stroke and the progression of cognitive decline, and protects against the development or progression of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and can add years to your life.

In a study about life expectancy, coffee can add years to your life. It found that people who drank at least two cups of coffee, regular or decaf, a day were 10 percent to 15 percent less likely to die over a 14-year period than nondrinkers, even when smoking and other factors that influence health and longevity were taken into account.

However, another study showed an increased risk of death in people younger than 55 who drank more than 28 cups a week. But no risk was seen at lower amounts or in older people. In view of these findings, moderation is probably the best takeaway.

If you’re not a coffee drinker, I’m not suggesting that you start. But if you enjoy your cup of morning java, there’s no health reason to stop. In fact, you have grounds for optimism.

Jayne Powers, MA, is a certified nutritionist and personal fitness trainer based in Washington, DC. Her column, Chew on This, speaks from the science of the current state of knowledge about all facets of nutrition. Find her online at masterscorefitness.com, or email your fitness questions to jayne@masterscorefitness.com

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Jayne Powers, MA, is a certified nutritionist and personal fitness trainer based in Washington, DC. Her column, Chew on This, speaks from the science of the current state of knowledge about all facets of nutrition. Find her online at masterscorefitness.com.

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