Coffee in its many forms is one of the most popular drinks worldwide yet its effects on health continue to be a contentious subject. Is it as bad — or as good — as they say?
Coffee has long had a reputation for being somewhat "bad for you". But I have never wanted to believe it Bad for me? Not my morning saviourthat makes me feel like airs right with the world.
Coffee has been a social lubricant for half a millennium. Where would cafe society have been without coffee fuelling the genius of all those artists and writers? What would old Middle Eastern gents do if they couldn't gossip and complain over a muddy Turkish coffee?
Its believed that drinking coffee originated in Ethiopia more than 500 years ago, spreading from there to Egypt and Yemen. It was certainly widespread throughout the Muslim world by the 16th century.
The blessed brew made its way to Italy via the Ottoman empires busy trade with Venice, where the first European coffee house opened in 1645. From Italy, the rest of Europe was relatively quick to catch on to the pleasures of coffee drinking, with Vienna in particular developing a vibrant cafe culture by the late 17th century Paris soon following suit How can you argue with tradition like that?
If anything, coffee drinking is stronger than ever. Its even claimed that Americans get more of their antioxidants from coffee than any other dietary source - yes, coffee beans, like cocoa and tea, are high in antioxidant polyphenols. But the question remains, what is it about coffee that gave it its unhealthy image and is it still all bad news for coffee addicts?
It seems there's more on the plus side of the equation than was previously thought with numerous studies uncovering a variety of benefits from moderate consumption: Several studies have found that coffee drinkers are up to 50 per cent less likely to develop the most common type of liver cancer and have a significantly lower risk for cirrhosis, which can lead to liver cancer.
A few studies have found ties to lower rates of colon (25 per cent less), breast and rectal cancers, too, and a Harvard School of Public Health study showed that men who drank one to three cups a day could cut their prostate cancer risk by 30 per cent.
Studies have shown that coffee may decrease the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, possibly by increasing insulin sensitivity.
A US study of 46,000 men who drank two to three cups of coffee daily over a 10- year period were 40 per cent less likely to develop gallstones, possibly because coffee afters the cholesterol content of bile produced by the liver.
Coffee appears to protect men but not women against Parkinsons disease by as much as 25 per cent. One possible explanation for the sex difference may be Ihat oestrogen and caffeine need the same enzymes to be metabolised and oestrogen captures those enzymes.
A study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease suggested there was something in coffee that interacted with caffeine to boost t he levels of granulocyte colony stimulating factor (GCSF), a growth factor that fights off Alzheimer's in mice. The risk reduction could be up to 65 per cent.
Speaking of coffee addicts, that's one of the problems. Coffee is a drug in that it has the ability to alter your mental state and become habit-forming. Most people who try to break a coffee habit by going cold turkey experience withdrawal headaches for a couple of days.
Coffee was thought to adversely affect cardiovascular health by raising blood pressure, but this is a temporary effect and probably not a problem for moderate coffee drinkers. In a 12- year study of 155,000 female nurses, even large amounts of coffee did not induce a "risky rise in blood pressure".
Over-consumption, though, may cause more pronounced effects, such as increased heart rate and palpitations. Those sensitive to the effects of coffee may also experience jitterines 5 anxiety and sleeplessness.
Two substances in coffee - kahweol and cafestol - are known to raise cholesterol leve 5 Researchers found the same link between cholesterol increases and decaffcmated coffee So if cholesterol levels concern you, reducing your coffee consumption may help.
There are two main health reasons for choose organic over conventionally grown coffee: To avoid pesticide and herbicide residues you could be consuming with conventionally grown coffee. Coffee plantations, like most commercially grown crops, tend to be monocultures, which means high chemical use because the lack of bidiversity makes them open house for pests and diseases.
Organic coffee contains higher quantities of antioxidant phenols. The reason for this is that the antioxidants that are good for our bodies arc what strengthen the plants immune system to fend off disease and pest attack.
Without help from chemicals, the plant needs to produce more in order to defend itself.
It goes without saying that organic cultivation of any crop is vastly better for the planet too.
Fairtrade is a scheme that guarantees fair payment to coffee farmers in third-wore countries. Not all Fairtrade coffee is organic though, so when buying organic and Fairtrade, look for the official logos that mean it is certified.
Finally, its always preferable to use the whole food and that is especially true of coffee, so make your coffee from whole beans rather than consume a stale product whose oils have oxidised. There is emerging evidence that South American societies who drink freshly ground coffee from whole coffee beans have the lowest rates of Alzheimer's and Parkinsons disease.
Importantly, as in all things, don't over-indulge. Oh, and leave out the sugar.