Coffee The Morning Eye Opener

Coffee is a universally loved morning beverage. Every culture the world over enjoys some type of caffeinated beverage, be it tea in England and China, espresso in Italy, or a "coffee regular" in the United States. Questions abound about the role of coffee in a healthy diet. Here are some answers to commonly asked questions.

Q: Is coffee bad for me? That is, will it hurt my health?

A: Because coffee is so widely consumed, it has been extensively researched. On the positive side, coffee drinkers might actually have a lower risk of diabetes and Parkinson's disease. To date, there is no obvious negative connection between caffeine and heart disease, cancer, or blood pressure. Hence, the general answer, according to leading medical and scientific experts, is normal coffee consumption produces no adverse health effects.

The average American consumes about 200 milligrams of caffeine per day, the equivalent of about 10 to 12 ounces—a large mug—of coffee. For the 10 percent of Americans who ingest more than 1,000 milligrams of caffeine per day and sustain themselves on the cream and sugar in coffee (plus a few cigarettes alongside), heart disease is indeed more common—and linked to the poor diet and unhealthful lifestyle.

In addition to smokers, those who should abstain from caffeine are ulcer patients and others prone to stomach distress (caffeine stimulates gastric secretions and may cause "coffee stomach"). Athletes with anemia should also avoid caffeine. Substances in coffee and tea can interfere with the absorption of iron (Zijp, Korver, and Tijburg 2000). If you have anemia and routinely drink coffee or tea with meals or up to one hour after a meal, you might be cheating yourself nutritionally. A cup of coffee consumed with a hamburger can reduce by about 40 percent the absorption of the hamburger's iron. However, drinking caffeinated beverages up to an hour before eating seems to have no negative effect on iron absorption.

The biggest health worries about coffee have to do with the following habits surrounding that beverage:

o Adding cream or coffee whiteners containing coconut or palm oils. These add saturated fat that contributes to heart disease. At least switch to milk or powdered milk for whitening your coffee.

Table 3.2 Gulp! It's a Calorie Cafe!

Beware of the calories in the popular beverages that are readily available at coffeehouses. A survey of 41 college women who drank one gourmet coffee a day suggests they consumed about 200 calories and 32 grams of sugar more than nonconsumers (Shields, Corrales, and Metallinos-Katsaras 2004). A large Coffee Coolatta can blow half the day's recommended fat allowance (for a person eating 2,000 calories, a low-fat diet offers 55 to 65 grams of fat). Using low-fat or nonfat milk instead of whole milk or cream can save considerable calories.

Table 3.2 Gulp! It's a Calorie Cafe!

Beware of the calories in the popular beverages that are readily available at coffeehouses. A survey of 41 college women who drank one gourmet coffee a day suggests they consumed about 200 calories and 32 grams of sugar more than nonconsumers (Shields, Corrales, and Metallinos-Katsaras 2004). A large Coffee Coolatta can blow half the day's recommended fat allowance (for a person eating 2,000 calories, a low-fat diet offers 55 to 65 grams of fat). Using low-fat or nonfat milk instead of whole milk or cream can save considerable calories.

Beverage

Calories

Fat (g)

Dunkin' Donuts coffee, black

0

0

Iced coffee with cream and sugar, 16 oz (480 ml)

120

6

Coffee Coolatta with skim milk, 16 oz (480 ml)

170

0

Coffee Coolatta with 2% milk, 16 oz (480 ml)

190

2

Coffee Coolatta with cream, 16 oz (480 ml)

350

14

Coffee Coolatta with cream, 32 oz (960 ml)

700

28

Strawberry Fruit Coolatta, 16 oz (480 ml)

290

0

Vanilla chai, 10 oz

230

8

Hot chocolate, 10 oz (300 ml)

230

7

Mocha Swirl Latte, 10 oz (300 ml)

220

8

Strawberry Banana Smoothie, 24 oz

550

4

Starbucks Latte with whole milk, 12 oz (360 ml)

210

11

Latte with skim milk, 12 oz (360 ml)

120

0.5

Coffee Frappuccino, 12 oz (360 ml)

200

2

Coffee Frappuccino, 24 oz (720 ml)

405

5

Java Chip Frappuccino with whipped cream, 16 oz (480 ml)

510

22

Nutrition information from www.dunkindonuts.com and www.starbucks.com, July 2007.

Nutrition information from www.dunkindonuts.com and www.starbucks.com, July 2007.

o Drinking coffee instead of eating a wholesome breakfast. A large coffee with two creamers and two sugars contains 70 nutritionally empty calories. Multiply that by three mugs, and you could have had a nourishing bowl of cereal for the same number of calories. Table 3.2 provides the fat content of some common coffee beverages. Many people who say they "live on coffee" could easily drink much less if they would eat a satisfying breakfast and lunch. Food is better fuel than caffeine. o Drinking coffee to stay alert. A good night's sleep might be a better investment. You could also try drinking a tall glass of ice water to perk yourself up. Sometimes dehydration contributes to fatigue.

These bad habits are more likely to harm your health than the caffeine itself. If you are concerned about caffeine and health, you might want to switch to tea. Tea drinkers tend to have a lower risk of heart disease. That might be because tea is a rich source of flavonoids that protect against heart disease or because tea drinkers, in general, tend to be more health conscious, smoke less, and eat more fruits and vegetables (Geleijnse et al. 2002).

Q: What does coffee do to my body?

A: The caffeine in coffee is a mild stimulant that increases the activity of the central nervous system. Hence, caffeine helps you stay alert and enhances mental focus. Caffeine's stimulant effect peaks in about one hour and then declines as the liver breaks down the caffeine. If you are an occasional coffee drinker, you'll tend to be more sensitive to caffeine's stimulant effects as compared with the daily coffee consumer who has developed a tolerance to caffeine.

Although a little coffee offers enjoyable benefits of alertness, enhanced performance, and happier mood, if you drink too much coffee, you start to get adverse effects: caffeine jitters, acid stomach, and anxiety. Drinking more than 32 ounces (1 L) of coffee or 64 ounces (2 L) of tea per day is pushing the limits of "reasonable intake" (CSPI 2006).

Q: Do people get addicted to coffee?

A: Although coffee has been a popular beverage for centuries, its sustained popularity fails to classify it as "addictive." Coffee is not associated with the behaviors found with hard drugs (such as a need for more and more coffee, antisocial behavior, severe difficulty stopping consumption). If you are a regular coffee drinker who decides to cut coffee out of your diet, you may develop headaches, fatigue, or drowsiness. The solution is to gradually decrease your caffeine intake rather than eliminate coffee cold turkey. And be aware, if you should get a headache due to caffeine withdrawal, taking caffeine-containing medicines such as Anacin or Excedrin will foil your efforts to reduce your caffeine intake.

Switching to tea reduces caffeine intake (and also increases your intake of a beverage that has potential benefits in terms of reducing heart disease and cancer). Other ways to reduce your caffeine include drinking more of the following caffeine-free alternatives: decaffeinated coffee, decaffeinated tea, herbal teas, hot water with a lemon wedge, low-sodium broth or bouillon,

Swiss Miss, Ovaltine, other hot milk-based drinks, mulled cider, and hot cranberry or apple juice. Without a doubt, the best caffeine-free alternative to an eye-opening cup of coffee is exercise. A quick walk and some fresh air might be far more effective than a cup of brew.

Q: How much caffeine is in espresso?

A: Ounce for ounce, espresso is about twice as strong as coffee (35 versus 17 mg of caffeine per oz—but a Starbucks gourmet espresso has 65 mg of caffeine per oz). Because a serving of espresso is small, however, you end up with less caffeine: 35 milligrams from one shot (one ounce) of espresso versus 135 milligrams from an 8-ounce (240 ml) cup of standard coffee.

Q: How much caffeine do Coke and Pepsi have compared with coffee?

A: A 12-ounce can of cola averages 35 to 50 milligrams of caffeine. This is far less than the typical 12-ounce mug of coffee, which averages 200 milligrams of caffeine. The real kick from soft drinks comes from sugar, not caffeine.

Q: Are there any concerns about women who consume caffeine?

A: Pregnant women should prudently limit their caffeine to less than 300 milligrams per day (less than 15 oz, or 450 ml, of coffee). Caffeine readily crosses the placenta and, in excess, may be associated with premature birth. Women who are breastfeeding should also limit their intake. Caffeine crosses into breast milk and can make babies agitated and poor sleepers. Women who are trying to get pregnant might want to reduce caffeine intake even more, but more research is needed to clarify the controversy over the effects of caffeine on fertility. Women who are worried about getting osteoporosis may have heard that caffeine is linked to low bone density. To help you achieve the recommended intake of at least 24 ounces (720 ml) of milk or other calcium equivalents per day, adding more milk to your coffee or enjoying some lattes are smart choices.

Q: If I drink too much alcohol, will coffee help me sober up?

A: No. Coffee will just make you a wide-awake drunk. Coffee does not speed the time needed for the liver to detoxify alcohol. But coffee does get some water into your body, and that can have a positive effect.

Q: Does coffee count toward my daily fluid needs?

A: Yes. All fluids count—plain water, juice, soup, watermelon, and even coffee. The rumor that coffee dehydrates people lacks scientific support (Armstrong 2002). Yes, coffee might make you urinate more in 2 hours, but not in 24 hours. Even during exercise in the heat, athletes can consume coffee and not be concerned about dehydration.

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