Saturday, September 13, 2008

Coffee: Separating Fact from Fiction

While many of us have grown to accept and heed fashion trends, recent history shows us the folly that ensues when we apply the same practice to foods. Take butter, for example. It was part of a healthy diet for centuries until scientists warned us of the ills of saturated fat and transitioned us to margarine. Now after decades of dipping our knives into tubs of trans-fats, we are discovering that, oops, margarine turns out to be worse for us ... much worse.

There are many more guilty pleasures whose health warnings are finally being debunked, coffee perhaps the most popular among them. A review of recent research, conducted by Jane Brody of The New York Times revealed that many of coffee's mythic ills are unfounded. Of course those of us who brighten after a morning cappuccino don't need science to tell us this. According to Roland Griffiths of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, "the most important effects of caffeine are its ability to enhance mood and mental and physical performance. At consumption up to 200 milligrams (the average 16 ounce cup of coffee), consumers report an improved sense of well-being, happiness, energy, alertness, and sociability ... although higher amounts sometimes cause anxiety and stomach upset." Here are some other findings culled from the latest scientific literature:

Breast Cancer: A study of 59,000 women in Sweden found no connection between coffee or caffeine consumption and breast cancer.

Diabetes: People who drink 4-6 cups of coffee a day (with or without caffeine) have a 28% lower risk of Type 2 diabetes than non-coffee drinkers.

Heart Disease: An analysis of 10 studies of more than 400,000 people found no increase in heart disease among daily coffee drinkers.

Hydration: Contrary to popular belief, only in quantities above 575 milligrams does caffeine become a diuretic.

Weight Loss: Although caffeine speeds up metabolism, studies paradoxically show that men and women who increased their caffeine consumption actually gained more weight than those that did not.