The benefits and harms of coffee
Coffee use has been associated with a lower risk of several illnesses, including Parkinson’s disease, melanoma, prostate cancer, and even suicide.
Drinking four or five eight-ounce cups of coffee (or roughly 400 milligrams of caffeine) each day has been linked to a lower death rate in various studies done across the world. More than 200,000 people were tracked for up to 30 years in research that lasted more than a decade.
Those who consumed three to five cups of coffee per day, with or without caffeine, had a 15% lower risk of dying young from any cause than those who avoided it. The most striking finding was a 50% reduction in the risk of suicide in both men and women who drank modest amounts of coffee, possibly due to increased synthesis of antidepressant brain chemicals.
Although existing data does not support advocating for coffee or caffeine to prevent disease, drinking coffee in moderation “can be part of a healthy lifestyle” for most individuals, according to a paper published last summer by a research team at the Harvard School of Public Health.
This wasn’t always the case. I’ve endured decades of intermittent warnings that coffee is potentially harmful to my health. Coffee has been linked to heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, pancreatic cancer, anxiety, nutritional deficiencies, gastric reflux illness, migraines, sleeplessness, and premature mortality over the years.
Coffee was recognized as a potential carcinogen by the World Health Organization as recently as 1991. In several of the now-discredited studies, the alleged hazard was attributed to smoking rather than coffee use (the two typically went hand-in-hand).
Willett, Professor of Nutrition at Harvard T.H.
Chan School of Public Health, remarked, “These periodic scares have given the public a highly skewed picture.” “Overall, despite several concerns that have surfaced throughout time, coffee is surprisingly safe and offers a lot of major potential benefits.”
That isn’t to imply that coffee comes with a clean bill of health. Coffee use during pregnancy can raise the chance of miscarriage, low birth weight, and preterm birth because caffeine crosses the placenta into the fetus.
Caffeine metabolism changes during pregnancy; therefore, pregnant or breastfeeding women should avoid caffeine altogether, stick to decaf, or at the absolute least restrict their caffeine intake to less than 200 mg per day, which is roughly two normal cups of American coffee.
Sleep disruption is the most prevalent side effect of caffeinated coffee. Caffeine binds to the same receptor in the brain as the drowsy neurotransmitter adenosine.
“I enjoy coffee, but I only take it on occasion because else I don’t sleep very well,” Willett, a co-author of the Harvard research, told me. Many people who have sleep issues are unaware of the link to coffee.”
Caffeine is just one of over a thousand compounds found in coffee, and not all of them are good for you. Polyphenols and antioxidants are two examples of substances that have beneficial effects. Polyphenols can slow cancer cell development and reduce the incidence of Type 2 diabetes, while antioxidants, which have anti-inflammatory properties, can help prevent heart disease and cancer.
None of this implies that coffee, no matter how it’s made, is healthy. When coffee is made without a paper filter, such as in a French press, Norwegian boiling coffee, espresso, or Turkish coffee, fatty compounds called diterpenes are released, which can cause artery-clogging LDL cholesterol to rise.
These compounds, on the other hand, are almost non-existent in both filtered and instant coffee. I disassembled a coffee pod and discovered a paper filter lining the plastic cup, knowing I had a cholesterol problem. Whew!
Popular additives like cream and sugary syrups, which may turn this calorie-free beverage into a calorie-rich treat, also work against coffee’s potential health advantages.
Dr. Willett explained that “all the stuff people add in coffee can result in a junk meal with as much as 500 to 600 calories.” For example, a 16-ounce Starbucks The Mocha Frappuccino has 51 grams of sugar, 15 grams of fat (10 grams of saturated fat), and 370 calories.
With the arrival of iced coffee season, more consumers are expected to switch to cold-brew coffee. Cold-brew coffee balances the inherent acidity of coffee and the bitterness that comes when hot water is poured over the grounds, and it’s becoming increasingly popular.
Cold-brew is produced by steeping the grounds in cold water for several hours, then straining the beverage through a paper filter to remove the grounds and toxic diterpenes while retaining the taste and caffeine. Decaffeinated coffee may also be used to make cold brews.
Decaffeinated coffee has several health advantages. Polyphenols in green tea, like those in caffeinated coffee, have anti-inflammatory effects that may reduce the incidence of Type 2 diabetes and cancer.