Over the next few months, we're proud to announce special guest posts by local nutritionist, LeAnn Crowell. She be helping us explore the topics of health and nutrition when it comes to the coffee we love.

 

Coffee. Java.  Cup of Joe.

Health food?

Well…not quite yet. But take heart—literally! Research is encouraging us to embrace this timeless beverage!

Bad Rap to Good Guy

As a fourth grader, I remember lecturing my hard-working mother, who carried her reliable thermos of coffee with her to work every day, about how coffee wasn’t good for her or her heart. I was only repeating what I was taught: health professionals associated high coffee consumption (more than three cups a day) with increased risk for cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, various cancers, and a host of other ills.

We are learning this was guilt by association: a high percentage of avid coffee drinkers also participate in unhealthy behaviors such as smoking, lack of physical activity, and consuming a poor quality diet (1).  In the last decade, however, the behavior of coffee, and its consumption, has been scrutinized by researchers worldwide.  I will be discussing some of this research in the next few months. The results are encouraging–it looks like coffee can be part of (almost) every complete breakfast!

Take HEART

I’m very thankful my mother didn’t listen to coffee lessons from her 9-year-old, because studies now show that coffee drinkers actually live longer. One of the many endings coffee drinkers are less likely to succumb to is heart disease.

Researchers aren’t yet clear as to why this protective phenomenon occurs, and with over 1,000 naturally occurring compounds in a cup of brew, it may be a while before they single out the exact heart-healthy ingredient.  Of course, there is also the possibility it may not be the ingredients at all, but social behaviors associated with java consumption (3).  Just another reason to meet friends for coffee!

coffee health benefits

Brain Food

As many former and current college students can attest to, caffeine can be your best friend during finals week. Studies are proving this is true, as coffee improves mental performance, both in memory and alertness (4).  Due to many factors, coffee is one of the smart options for caffeine delivery.

Beyond college, those who drink coffee also have a decreased rate of age-related cognitive decline (3). In other words, coffee helps keep your brain functioning as you get older, a phenomenon even more pronounced in women! As if that wasn’t reason enough for a cup or two, people who drink coffee on a regular basis throughout their lives are 17-20% LESS likely to develop Alzheimer’s (5).

Love Your Liver

Drinking coffee may also be benefiting the most important organ you never think about: your liver. Studies show that as coffee intake goes up (up to five cups per day), risk for liver cancer goes down. In addition, individuals with progressive liver diseases, such as fibrosis, cirrhosis, or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, have a slower disease progression when they are coffee drinkers (4). This doesn’t mean coffee can undo too many happy hours, but it is a good reason to keep drinking a cup or three per day.

If you’ve never consumed coffee, research isn’t necessarily calling for you to start. For many of us though, especially in dark and stormy Seattle, the research is a soothing comfort as we sip our third (or fourth) cup of the day. Drink wisely. Watch the fat, sugar, calories and chemicals available as additions to coffee, and that third cup of the day may continue to be good for you!

Author’s note: Caffeine consumption should still be limited in pregnant women and those with high blood pressure. The upper limit during pregnancy is 2 regular cups per day, or 200 mg of caffeine (caffeine content of coffee may be higher per cup depending on concentration and brewing method). Decaf is a safer option in both instances!

{LeAnn Crowell is a Registered Dietitian, military spouse, mother of three girls, and a dedicated coffee drinker. She currently resides in the greater Seattle area.}

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