The Truth About Coffee

By David Meinz, MS, RD, FADA, CSP

Americans drink a whopping 500 million cups of coffee every day! That’s more than any other country in the world. It’s been our national drink ever since the Boston Tea Party, and the good news about coffee is that there is very little bad news.

Over the years, java has been linked with everything from heart disease, peptic ulcers, pancreatic cancer, and birth defects. But none of these relationships have been proven to be true. Please keep in mind that one or two studies don’t prove anything. Just because you read about the results of one study in the newspapers doesn’t necessarily settle the issue.

For example, researchers have recently found that coffee ­ even decaf ­ may or may not increase your blood cholesterol ­ it all depends on how it’s made. Ingesting coffee grounds ­ like the sediment that remains in Espresso, Turkish or Greek coffees and French Press ­ caused study participants to increase their blood cholesterol levels by 25 points in just three weeks. But the good news is that most coffee we consume in this country is made by drip-brewing, which removes the offending substances.

Another study found as little as 1 1/2 ­ 2 cups a day increased a woman’s risk of miscarriage. On the other hand, a study by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development failed to find any connection. In addition, older women who had consumed the equivalent of two cups of coffee per day over their lifetime were found in a recent study to have an increased risk of osteoporosis ­ but only if they did not consume milk on a daily basis.

Now certainly, if regular coffee gives you the jitters, or keeps you from getting a good night’s sleep, you may want to consider decaf. If you have high blood pressure, heart problems, or
ulcers, you also may be better off decreasing your caffeine intake. Ask your physician.

But for people consuming moderate levels of coffee ­ and that means three to four cups a day or less ­ there is very little reason to be concerned about coffee’s impact on your health. The bottom line is that there is no medical or health evidence for the vast majority of Americans to stop drinking coffee! If it turns out that there are health problems with coffee, they’ll show up at high levels, not the moderate amounts most of us are now consuming. There are so many other important factors that impact your health ­ like decreasing fat intake, increasing physical activity, and taking cigarettes out of your life ­ that you should put “getting rid of coffee” at the bottom of your health “to do” list.

Use the formula below to determine what a good, moderate level of caffeine per day is for you. Here’s some numbers to keep in mind: a 5oz cup of brewed coffee has 115mg. of caffeine; the same size of instant has 80mg. A 10oz. serving of instant iced tea comes in at only 60mg. and a 12oz. can of regular or diet cola averages only around 40mg.

The bottom line? If you’re drinking three to four cups a day of coffee or less ­ whether it’s caffeinated or decaffeinated ­ and you’re not experiencing any of the uncomfortable side effects we discussed, then drink up!



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