Coffee Talk
Buy Organic

An article by Susanna Baird
Courtesy of "Taste for Life" magazine

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Those of us who drink a few of the 1.1 billion cups of coffee consumed each day describe our bait as a guilty pleasure. This aromatic beverage is often lumped with alcohol and cigarettes in the bad-for-you-but-legal category, and it’s been blamed for ills ranging from fibrocystic breasts to cancer. But the roughly 19,000 coffee studies conducted in the past few decades suggest that coffee conveys numerous benefits upon those who partake.

The Beneficial Bean

Coffee contains several micronutrients including potassium, niacin, and magnesium, as well as antioxidants- super substances that protect the body from the damaging effects of oxidation. In tests performed at the University of Scranton, coffee contained more antioxidants than the might blueberry and beneficial broccoli. Herein lines a major source of coffee’s healthful wallop. Antioxidants are associated with a slew of health benefits, including reduced risk of both heart disease and cancer.

Antioxidants may play a role in coffee’s ability to increase insulin sensitivity and protect against Type 2 diabetes and related conditions. A long-term Harvard study found the more coffee you drink the better, when it comes to diabetes. A few cups a day slightly reduced the risk of Type 2 diabetes, but drinking at least six cups conveyed a 30 percent risk reduction for women and 54 percent for men. Both decaf and regular seem to offer these benefits.

Caffeine, often cited as the ‘big bad’ in coffee, actually bestows health benefits as well: Consumption helps treat asthma, may slow long-term weight gain, probably fights depression, and soothes headaches. (Over-the-counter pain relievers contain a hefty dose of caffeine, equivalent to a large cup of coffee.) British research suggests that caffeine in coffee even enhances nerve cell activity in the brain, potentially helping to protect against memory loss.

Other recent coffee studies support its role in preventing additional diseases and conditions. Several studies imply that caffeine in coffee and other beverages significantly reduces the risk of Parkinson’s disease. In one Hawaiian study of 8,000 Japanese-American men, coffee drinkers were roughly 5 percent less likely to develop the disease.

Evidence also indicates that coffee protects against cirrhosis as well as cancers of the liver and colon. Drinking at least two cups a day can cut your risk of gallstones by 50 percent. Coffee even assists basic hydration; in 2004, the Institute of Medicine determined that it hydrates thirsty bodies as well as water.

A Bad Rap

Despite all the positive research, coffee’s reputation bears the stain of years of negative publicity, some of it warranted, some of it disproved. Coffee consumers are more likely to drink alcohol and smoke; some researchers suspect that these two habits, and not the coffee, may be responsible for increased health problems in test subjects.

Coffee and tea were linked to osteoporosis in earlier studies; a Swedish study published this year concludes that coffee does increase the risk of fracture-but only in women who drink at least four cups a day and who are not getting enough calcium. As for women worried about breast cancer or fibrocystic breasts, the link between these conditions and coffee is slim, as is the supposed connection between coffee and pancreatic cancer.

Those who imbibe too much ‘Joe’ may have experienced the caffeine jitters. Coffee can act as a stimulant, temporarily raising blood pressure (especially in the infrequent caffeine drinker) and sometimes leading to restlessness, anxiety, nervousness, difficulty concentrating, and insomnia. Large quantities of coffee can factor into the risk of highly blood pressure and blood clots in the brain, as well as clogged arteries.

A number of studies, however, indicate that coffee isn’t as bad for the heart as often assumed. In fact, one small study of heart failure patients revealed that these patients could exercise longer and more vigorously after ingesting caffeine, while other research suggests that coffee reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality.

One chemical in coffee, Cafestol, can raise cholesterol, but this is found primarily in European brewed (boiling ground beans) or French-press brewed coffee. American percolating and filtering methods don’t have the same effect, as long as the coffee is ‘regular’ instead of ‘defaf.’

Buy Organic

Organic coffee sales are on the rise, hitting $89 million in the United States last year. While some researchers suspect that pesticides used in conventional coffee production may be to blame for some of the drink’s negative health effects, little evidence exits at present that organic coffee conveys greater individual health advantages than non-organic varieties. However, the benefits to coffee growers and to the environment are myriad. And, says the Organic Trade Association’s Holly Givens, “if the environment is in a better state, it’s better for public healthy.” By growing organic coffee farmers

  • avoid pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, and genetically modified materials
  • create habitat for wildlife
  • provide seasonal employment in rural areas.

For a truly guilt-free brew, buy organic.

Selected sources

“Caffeine Could Protect Against Memory Loss,” Food Navigator
“Changes in Caffeine Intake and Long-term Weight Change in Men and Women” by Esther Lopez-Garcia
“Consumption of Coffee is Associated with Reduced Risk of Death Attributed to Inflammatory and Cardiovascular Diseases” by L.F. Anderson
“Coffee and the Environment” by
“Coffee the New Health Food” by Sid Kircheimer
Personal Communication with Holly Givens, Organic Trade Association


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