IS COFFEE NOW A HEALTH FOOD? Let’s weigh the evidence to support it By Lindy Ford, RD, LDN

As a registered dietitian/nutritionist, I’m asked the coffee question quite often: “Is drinking coffee good for my health?”
The medical and scientific community—including me—believe regular (not decaf), organic, fair-traded coffee is healthful in moderation. What is moderation? Well, it depends on the individual, but, really, consumption shouldn’t exceed 5 cups of coffee a day—and even that may be too much.
According to Miriam Nelson, a professor in the School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, “We looked at all the science … we have found no negative, adverse effects on health when you drink up to three to five cups a day.”
Let’s weigh the pros and cons, all of which are backed up with scientific research.
Dear readers, it’s time for you to be the judge and jury for your own health needs.

THE CONS
Let’s get the bad news out of the way first…

1. PESTICIDES AND UNFAIR BUSINESS PRACTICES
The coffee bean is one of the most contaminated crops worldwide. Conventionally grown coffee is heavily laden with pesticides, and lots of chemicals and solvents are used in processing. I suggest purchasing organic always. I also buy “Fair Trade” coffee, but most organic coffees are fair trade.
Fair Trade coffee is certified as having been produced to fair-trade standards. They establish fair prices to the coffee-bean farmers and actively support sustainable environmental farming practices. Fair Trade also prohibits child or forced labor. Unfortunately, slavery still exists in this world and therefore buyers may be inadvertently supporting it when buying conventional coffee

2. INSOMNIA, NERVOUSNESS AND ANXIETY
Listen to your body. If caffeine causes jitters, gives heart palpitations or inflames insomnia, cut it down or out. Caffeine may ramp up the nervous system too much. Also, using caffeine in coffee to combat fatigue may mean masking a health condition that should be addressed.

3. DECAF?
Folks sensitive to caffeine should be aware that small amounts of caffeine can still be found in decaf varieties. Water-processed decaffeinated coffee should be selected over solvent-processed. Water-processed uses less toxic chemicals.

THE PROS
And now for the good news: There is a whole lot more positive points to report on in coffee than negative. When consumed in moderation, coffee can be considered a “health drink”—which doesn’t mean having a pot a day.

1. INCREASED BRAIN FUNCTION
Coffee allows our brains to work in a much more efficient and smarter way. Multiple studies show attention, logical reasoning, reaction time, and most of the complex functions we associate with intelligence all improve with coffee consumption.
Along with helping us become more alert and focused, coffee helps with lowering the risk of Alzheimer’s. Researchers from the University of South Florida found people older than 65 who had higher blood levels of caffeine developed Alzheimer’s two to four years later than others with lower caffeine.

2. INCREASED PHYSICAL PERFORMANCE
Caffeinated coffee is good for exercisers who want to fuel their muscles before physical activity. It actually helps us train longer and with more energy. Caffeine is known as a performance enhancer and contributes to greater stamina and concentration.

3. ANTIOXIDANTS
Coffee offers a high amount of antioxidants known to lower inflammation and oxidative stress in the body. Two of the key antioxidants responsible for coffee’s health benefits are polyphenols, like chlorogenic acid and caffeic acid; coffee is considered the richest source in the world.
We should increase our antioxidant intake from whole foods, like low-sugar veggies, but for those who are tolerant, coffee may be another good addition.

4. DISEASE PREVENTION
Scientists don’t fully understand coffee’s disease-fighting mechanisms; nevertheless, they exist. One theory is coffee helps to reduce inflammation, which is the root of most diseases. Here are a few coffee can help with lowering risk:
1. Type II Diabetes: It seems to go against what we’ve learned about coffee in the past—that it raises blood sugars. It might be true initially, but, actually, there is research how, over time, coffee lowers insulin and blood-sugar markers. It may be the work of chlorogenic acid. According to the Nurse’s Health Study, two or three cups of coffee a day can lower the incidence of Type II Diabetes.
One of the problems with coffee and raising blood-sugar levels may not be the coffee itself, but the sugar, milk and artificial creamers added to it.
2. Heart Disease: Because of key antioxidants, coffee is implicated in cholesterol lowering effects. In large epidemiological studies (the effects of health and disease conditions in defined populations) habitual coffee consumption is associated with reduced cardiovascular deaths. Coffee intake is also associated with lower risks of heart failure and stroke.
3. Some Cancers: Researchers don’t entirely understand why coffee is associated with less risk of cancer, including breast and prostate, but they have theories. Because it is an anti-inflammatory food, coffee lowers oxidative stress in the body. It also has an impact on metabolites and lipid fractions, which can act as a safeguard against some malignant cells.
4. Neurodegenerative Diseases: Because caffeine stimulates the brain and central nervous system and increases cognitive function, it also protects against neurodegenerative diseases, like Parkinson’s as well as Alzheimer’s as previously mentioned.
As with all the diseases mentioned, coffee’s antioxidants lower inflammation, oxidative stress and might encourage physical activity in some people. It is important to reduce the risk of all these diseases. LOL

TESTIMONIAL
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Lindy Ford, RD, LDN is a registered dietitian and licensed nutritionist in private practice in Wilmington, NC. 910.899.7954 or Email: [email protected]; Website: lindyfordwellness.com
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