Nutrition Advice

The Health Perks of Drinking Coffee

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By Henry Ford Health System Staff

In recent years, there has been a lot of back and forth about coffee. One day drinking a couple of cups of joe is good for you. The next, not so much. No wonder java junkies are left scratching their heads.

First, the good news: According to Andrea Thelen, M.S., R.D.N., a registered dietitian nutritionist at Henry Ford Health System, getting your daily coffee fix offers plenty of benefits. Not only does a morning brew give you a much-needed energy boost and improved focus, it also delivers a hefty dose of antioxidants – some of which are also found in fruits and vegetables.

Plus, recent research links coffee to certain health perks. A study out of Europe reported that people who drink the beverage daily have a significantly lower risk of death than those who don’t. The study suggested that daily coffee drinking protects against everything from heart disease and cancer to stroke and diabetes. Other studies suggest coffee has neuroprotective effects, meaning it may help ward off diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and dementia.

The caveat: Not all coffee is created equal. “Black coffee is nearly calorie-free, but cafe-inspired creations, such as lattes, cappuccinos, frozen coffee drinks or even plain iced coffee with milk and sugar typically come packed with calories and saturated fat,” says Thelen.

Her top three tips:

  1. Stick with black. Instead of ordering a gussied up coffee concoction, drink black coffee or straight espresso with a splash of hot water.
  1. Request cream on the side. Even a standard iced coffee at a fast-food joint comes loaded with up to five creamers and five sugars. That doesn’t mean you have to sidestep your morning refreshment. Just ask for black iced coffee and order the cream on the side so you can control the amount used yourself.
  1. Skip calorie-laden syrups and sweeteners. If you’re a sucker for blended coffee drinks (and let’s face it, who isn’t?), ask the barista to make yours with skim milk, half the flavoring and nix the whipped cream, caramel sauce and chocolate syrup. Truth is, some extras like flavored syrups (even the sugar-free variety) contain additives and other chemicals that may be linked to chronic disease.

In addition to restricting calorie-packed extras, Thelen advises people with certain medical conditions, including high blood pressure (also called hypertension) and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, not to go overboard. Health authorities agree that pregnant and breastfeeding women should limit coffee to two or three eight-ounce cups daily. And while studies show that coffee does not cause hypertension, it does spike blood pressure levels for a short period of time.

Equally important, it’s never a good idea to rely on coffee – or any caffeine source – for a late afternoon pick-me-up. “Drinking caffeinated coffee late in the day can interfere with your sleep patterns,” Thelen explains. In fact, it’s best to avoid caffeine within six hours of bedtime. “Coffee stays in your system several hours after your last sip.”

So while it may be good to the last drop, coffee is best sipped in moderation – and when the sun is rising rather than setting.

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Andrea Thelen is a registered dietitian nutritionist for the Henry Ford Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention.