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You Are What You Eat: The Buzz on Coffee

March 29, 2016 · By Suzanne Berlin, DO

This is the first in a series on the topic: “YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT” by Dr. Suzanne Berlin and Jennifer Turcotte, RN

Americans consume 400 million cups of coffee per day, equivalent to 146 billion cups of coffee per year, making the United States the leading consumer of coffee in the world. We are in love with coffee. For most people coffee is more than a beverage; drinking coffee is an experience. It is not only a pleasure to the palate, but it is a pleasure to our other senses as well. It is the enjoyment of the smell of it while it is brewing in the early mornings. It is the sound of music as the coffee percolates. The heat of the mug warms our hands. As the pleasant aroma rises from the cup we sip and are satisfied by the taste. It is a peaceful few moments shared with the cup of coffee at the beginning of the day. It refreshes and rejuvenates throughout our waking hours.

There have been several press releases regarding coffee in the past couple of years, so what’s the buzz? Three to five cups of coffee a day can be part of a healthy diet, the studies suggest. Recent research published by New England Journal of Medicine (May 17, 2012), Science News (October3, 2015) and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health researchers and colleagues (November 16, 2015) suggests drinking coffee may have numerous health benefits. It is believed that people who drink three to five cups of black coffee (decaffeinated or caffeinated) are less likely to die prematurely from certain diseases then those who do not drink coffee or drink less coffee.

For the first time, the report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, (DGAC), stated that drinking coffee could be part of a healthy diet. According to the guidelines the following statements have been made (see guideline for complete list of statements):

Potential Benefits from Coffee Bean Compounds

Caffeine can:

Polyphenols can:

Diterpenes can:

Trigonelline can:

What does this all mean? If you are not a coffee drinker, should you start drinking coffee? No. More research needs to be done. These current studies do not give one license to drink coffee loaded with heavy creams and sweeteners. Black coffee is best. Added sugar, artificial sweeteners and cream may have negative effects on your health. It takes approximately two weeks for you to adjust to drinking black coffee. There are some steps you can take to aid you in switching to black coffee. If you add sugar and cream to your coffee, try weaning off the sugar and cream by gradually decreasing the amount of each in your coffee. You might also consider switching from cream to low fat milk and then to skim milk. Small changes over time can help you be successful switching to straight up black coffee.

Moderation in coffee drinking can be part of a healthy diet. Health is not about individual foods but about the whole picture. The “healthy dietary patterns” of limiting saturated fat, sugar and sodium are key factors to good health as recommended by the DGAC but how do we balance those foods in our diets?

Stay tuned for the next segment in our series of You Are What You Eat!

References and further reading:

(Photo of coffee cup & beans by Johanna Goodyear)