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To Brew, or not to Brew

Karen Alexander, Licensed Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

May 20, 2020

Many people depend on coffee as part of their morning (or all day) ritual. It helps us perk up, warm up, and can be flavored to suit almost anyone, but is it good for us? Yes, and no.

Coffee is the most widely consumed beverage worldwide. Believed to have originated in Ethiopia, coffee is consumed mainly for its refreshing and stimulating effect. The latest studies percolating the health world give credit to coffee for reducing our risk of type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and dementia.

Coffee and cancer prevention
According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, coffee’s compounds are likely responsible for the lower risk of some forms of cancer (liver and endometrial). People who drank one cup per day had a 14% lower risk of liver cancer than people who did not drink coffee. Potential reasons for this benefit:

  • speed carcinogens passage through the digestive tract
  • help regulate cell growth
  • reduce inflammation
  • increase self-destruction of cancer cells
  • block carcinogens

Note:  Be careful not to add too much cream or sugar because that adds calories, and will undo all of the potential benefits of drinking coffee, and increase your risk of cancers related to a higher BMI.

Coffee and mental performance
Count on coffee to keep you awake during a long meeting, but don’t rely on it to help you remember facts and figures. Research report shows that caffeine consumption in the low (∼40 mg) to moderate (∼300 mg) range can enhance alertness and reaction time. Less consistent effects are observed on memory, judgment, and decision making.

Caffeine use for athletic performance
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, caffeine seems to have a positive effect on physical performance. However, it doesn’t appear to affect everyone the same. Those participating in endurance activities, such as running or playing sports, may benefit more than those doing resistance activities, such as weight lifting. In fact, caffeine is a banned substance by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and urinary caffeine concentration exceeding 15 micrograms per milliliter (6-8 cups of brewed coffee) two to three hours before competition results in a positive drug test. Not to mention 6 to 8 brewed cups of coffee could result in other negative health impacts.

How much caffeine is safe to consume?
According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, average adults should not consume more than 400 milligrams of caffeine per day.

  • 1 oz. shot of espresso: 47-75 mg caffeine
  • 8 oz. brewed coffee: 95-200 mg caffeine
  • 8 oz. Latte: 63-175 mg of caffeine

The negative impacts of too much caffeine

  • Too much coffee can be harmful during pregnancy. It can cause insomnia, restlessness, breast tissue cysts in women, and incontinence digestive disorders.
  • Headaches, nausea, shaking, or gastrointestinal issues
  • Overstimulation that can negatively impact physical performance and sleep
  • Caffeine is an addictive substance when consumed regularly, and withdrawal symptoms include headache, fatigue, depression, irritability, insomnia, increased or irregular heart rate, and increased blood pressure.

Although coffee has health benefits, there is no doubt that consistency in following a healthy diet and physical activity is the first step for living a long and healthy life.

The recipe of the week
Middle Eastern-Style Coffee with Cardamom

Add a pod or two of green cardamom to your regular scoopfuls of coffee beans before grinding, then grind, brew, filter and enjoy! Optionally, you can add your favorite milk or a sweetener, such as maple syrup or coconut sugar.

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