Coffee: Early morning pick-me-up or health risk?

If you do choose to drink coffee, you should continue to be weary of the addition of sugar, full fat milk, and rich creams

Racha Adib
Racha Adib - Special to Al Arabiya News
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The U.S.’s top nutrition panel released its most recent dietary recommendations last week and for the first time, they discussed whether people should be consuming coffee or not. Perhaps surprisingly, it provided great news for all the coffee lovers out there.

According to the panel, caffeine in coffee is no longer considered an enemy of the people. In fact, the advisory committee has actually supported the consumption of three to five cups of coffee a day, equivalent to 400mg of caffeine, as part of a healthy diet. Data to date, they mentioned, suggests that coffee reduces the risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.

This is an important message but one that should not be misunderstood. The panel isn’t saying you should start drinking more coffee. They’re basically saying that you no longer have to view coffee as an unhealthy habit because it’s unlikely to have any harmful effects, if not some beneficial ones.

Let’s take the latest Harvard study on coffee and health for example which offered good news. Men and women in their 40s and 50s were followed for 18 to 24 years in order to track their diet and lifestyle habits, which included coffee consumption. No relationship between coffee consumption and an increased risk of death was found, even when people were drinking large amounts of coffee. This finding fits nicely into the exact recommendation the committee is making today. A lot of people put a large effort to reduce their coffee consumption thinking it’s harming their health. The Harvard findings have suggested that if you really want to improve your health, put your effort into what counts, such as increasing physical activity, consuming more whole grains, and quitting cigarette smoking.

Like any other recommendation made by the committee, this one is targeting the general public. Some people, for specific health reasons, should still want to consider cutting down on coffee.

For example, some people are sensitive to caffeine and cannot tolerate even small amounts of it. They feel jittery and uneasy and may suffer heart tremors. These people are usually not used to consuming caffeine and feel more comfortable avoiding it, although with time most of their symptoms will become less pronounced as the body adapts.

For pregnant women, the relationship between excessive coffee consumption and miscarriage is still controversial. Because the caffeine reaches the fetus, it’s definitely better that pregnant women reduce their consumption of coffee and limit it to only one cup per day at most.

For people suffering from high blood pressure, the advice is the same. In several studies, consuming caffeine doesn’t increase your risk of getting high blood pressure. But if you already suffer from hypertension, then it would be better that you control the amount you drink because cutting down seems to have a beneficial effect on blood pressure levels.

Nonetheless, although the latest findings have deemed coffee harmless, you must keep in mind that these studies were mostly conducted on black coffee. If you do choose to drink coffee, or increase your consumption, you should continue to be weary of the addition of sugar, full fat milk, and rich creams to your coffee which can add unnecessary calories, saturated fat and sugar.

Some beverages containing various toppings and mix-ins can add up to 500 calories per cup, 80g of sugar, and 16g of fat of which 10 saturates. That’s equivalent to a decent meal. Remember to read labels, and personalize the coffee the way you like. Order it skimmed, with no cream on top or added sugar. You will eventually get used to drinking your coffee that way and won’t like it any other way.

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