If you’re a Starbuck’s lover, a new study will make you do a happy dance. Drinking a cup of coffee not only has health benefits – it may lower your risk for dying early. Tea may be the favored beverage in some parts of the world, but in America, coffee rules. That’s a good thing! Now you don’t have to feel guilty about sipping your favorite hot beverage, as long as you don’t destroy the health benefits by adding too much sugar.
Can a Cup of Coffee Lower Your Risk for an Early Death?
In a recent study, researchers followed a group of more than 90,000 healthy adults for almost 11 years. After analyzing their diet and coffee-drinking habits, they took note of any health problems the participants developed or deaths that occurred over the course of the study.
The results? Coffee drinkers had a lower risk of death from a variety of causes, including heart disease, lung problems, suicide, some infectious diseases, and diabetes. Despite previous studies suggesting a link between coffee consumption and a lower risk of some cancers, including breast, malignant melanoma, and liver cancer, this study didn’t show a lower risk of cancer among coffee drinkers, but as the researchers point out it’s difficult to determine whether drinking coffee impacts cancer risk over such a short time period.
Before assuming that coffee is as healthy as a plate of steamed broccoli, there are a few points to keep in mind. This study doesn’t prove coffee reduces mortality. It may be that coffee drinkers are more conscious about their diet in general or coffee lovers get more exercise etc., although the researchers controlled for many of these factors. The study just shows a correlation between drinking more coffee and a lower risk of death. Still, it’s an intriguing one.
Healthful Chemicals in a Cup of Coffee
The list of chemicals with possible health benefits in coffee is impressive. In fact, coffee contains 1,000 or more different chemicals, not all of which have been studied. The one you’re probably most familiar with is caffeine, a compound that increases alertness and makes you feel ready to tackle the day when you drink a cup of java first thing in the morning.
The health benefits of coffee likely stem from the antioxidants your body takes in when you sip a cup of coffee. In fact, the number one source of antioxidants in the American diet is – you guessed it – coffee. So rich in antioxidants is coffee that a study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry showed used coffee grounds contain substantial amounts of antioxidants and even proposed using them in antioxidant supplements.
In fact, when researchers measured the number of antioxidants in a variety of foods and beverages, coffee was near the top of the list, beating out better known antioxidant-rich foods like chocolate, tea, and cranberries. Not that you should use coffee as a substitute for fruits and vegetables but coffee can be a healthy addition to an overall healthful diet.
One of the most potent antioxidants in coffee is chlorogenic acid. When you roast coffee, the roasting process produces another compound called N-methylpyridinium, or NMB. What’s unique is NMB enhances the activity of antioxidants, so chlorogenic acid and NMB act synergistically as super-powerful antioxidants.
According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, chlorogenic acid slows the release of glucose into the bloodstream after you eat a meal. This may explain why coffee is linked with a lower risk for type 2-diabetes. Research also shows chlorogenic acid modestly lowers blood pressure. Chlorogenic acid isn’t unique to coffee. In fact, it’s what gives eggplant its bitter flavor.
Just as coffee contains chemicals that offer health benefits, coffee also contains contaminants like pesticide residues, aluminum, hydrocarbons, and acrylamide, a compound formed when coffee is roasted that’s linked with cancer in animals. That’s why it’s a good idea to buy organic coffee whenever possible.
What about Decaf?
What if your energy level is already through the roof and you don’t need the extra stimulation that a cup of coffee gives you? According to the American Institute of Cancer Research, decaf coffee still contains antioxidants, although the levels may not be as high as in caffeinated brew. Where the levels really drop off is with instant coffee. So, sipping decaf still offers some health benefits, but stay away from the instant stuff.
How Much Coffee Do You Need to Drink?
In the most recent study, people experienced the greatest reduction in death when they drank 3 to 5 cups of coffee a day. That’s a lot of coffee, especially if you’re already high strung. Fortunately, at least in this study, decaf coffee is also linked with lower mortality.
Keep in mind that each of us metabolizes caffeine differently. Some people are slow metabolizers, meaning a cup or two of coffee might keep you stimulated for hours. On the other hand, if you’re a fast metabolizer, the boost you get from caffeine may be short-lived. Plus, the amount of caffeine in a cup of coffee is variable. It can range from 250 milligrams to more than 400 milligrams in a single cup. Experiment to see what works best for you.
Other Possible Health Benefits of Coffee
Research links coffee drinking with a lower risk for premature death, but coffee is also associated with a reduction in several other diseases, including Parkinson’s disease, cirrhosis of the liver, type 2-diabetes, and kidney stones.
The Bottom Line
Now that you know drinking coffee can be beneficial, make sure you’re getting the full health benefits. Start by being aware of what you’re putting in your coffee. Topping it off with a ton of cream and sugar adds to the calorie count and the sugar causes a rapid rise and drop in blood sugar, which can leave you feeling wiped out once the caffeine wears off.
One healthy ingredient you can add to your coffee is a pinch of cinnamon. Research shows cinnamon helps with blood sugar control and is especially beneficial if you have type 2-diabetes. Enjoy your morning cup of coffee!
WebMD. “Does Coffee Cut Breast Cancer Risk?”
Research Gate. “How Many Chemicals Are Present in a Cup of Coffee?”
Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. “Evaluation of Spent Coffee Obtained from the Most Common Coffeemakers as a Source of Hydrophilic Bioactive Compounds”
Phys.Org. “Coffee is number one source of antioxidants”
American Institute for Cancer Research. “Foods that Fight Cancer”
Am. J. Clin. Nutrit. 78 (4): 728-733. PMID 14522730.
Hypertens Res 35 (4): 370-4. doi:10.1038/hr.2011.195. PMID 22072103.
American Diabetes Association. “Cinnamon May Help Improve Blood Glucose Levels in Type 2 Diabetes”
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