If you’re like 54 percent of the adult population, you drink at least one cup of coffee daily. I know I look forward to my morning cup. In the past the only thing we thought coffee provided was a good caffeine buzz. But the latest research has unveiled health benefits of this favorite American beverage.  

— Brain Gains.

Studies suggest drinking one and five cups of coffee daily may help reduce risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as Parkinson’s disease.  Coffee’s antioxidants may prevent some damage to brain cells and boost the effects of neurotransmitters involved in cognitive function.

— Defeating Diabetes. Studies link frequent coffee consumption (4 cups per day or more) with a lowered risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Scientists suspect that antioxidant compounds in coffee—cholorogenic acid and quinides—may boost cells’ sensitivity to insulin, which helps regulate blood sugar. While most of the research didn’t assess whether the brews were caffeinated, decaf may be even better, since other studies have found that caffeine tends to blunt the insulin-sensitivity boost.

— Hearty Benefits. Studies show that moderate coffee drinkers (1 to 3 cups/day) have lower rates of stroke than non-coffee-drinkers; coffee’s antioxidants can decrease inflammation’s damaging effects on arteries.  More java isn’t better: a 5-cup or more daily habit is associated with higher heart disease risks. Researchers believe excessive caffeine may sabotage the antioxidants’ effects.

— Best for the Breast A Swedish study suggests that drinking plenty of coffee every day may lower the risk of ER-negative breast cancer, a form of breast cancer difficult to treat. In the study, researchers looked at the coffee habits of approximately 6,000 people. About half the participants had postmenopausal breast cancer. Among breast cancer overall, coffee consumption did not appear to affect cancer risk. But when separated by tumor type, participants who reported they drank five or more cups of coffee daily had a 57 percent lower risk of ER-negative breast cancer compared to those who drank one cup or less of daily coffee.

— Prostate Pleasing. Studies demonstrate that regularly drinking either caffeinated or decaffeinated coffee significantly lowers the chances of developing the most aggressive form of prostate cancer. Researchers analyzed data on 47,911 American adult males. Analysis revealed that men who drank at least six cups of coffee a day had a 20 percent lower chance of developing any type of prostate cancer, and a 60 percent lower chance of developing the most lethal form. Consumption of one to three cups per day produced a 30 percent lower chance of developing lethal prostate cancer.

With all this said, there are a few things to keep in mind.  Too much caffeine can cause jitteriness and can even rob us of sleep.  For most people it takes 6 hours for the effects of caffeine to leave the system so the earlier in the day you drink it the better. Boiled or unfiltered coffee (such as that made with a French press) contains higher levels of cafestol, a compound that can increase blood levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Always use a paper filter when brewing. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology says it’s safe for pregnant women to get a moderate amount of caffeine (no more than 200 mg, equivalent to 2 cups of coffee per day), but warns that it’s still not clear if higher intakes could increase risk of miscarriage. Since caffeine can pass into breast milk, nursing moms should cut down if their babies are restless or irritable. Lastly, be couscous of those “frilly” coffee drinks.  A small frappuccino or latte can run you on the upwards of 400 calories.  It only takes an extra 500 calories a day to gain one pound, so if you’re trying to lose weight this can sabotage your efforts.

If you have a nutrition question you’d like answered in this column send it to   oconeenutrition@yahoo.com.

Lisa Eisele, RD, CSO, LD is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian. She also holds a Board Certification as a Specialist in Oncology Nutrition. Lisa and her partner Stacy Paine, RD, LD own Oconee Nutrition Consultants, LLC located at Cowles Clinic. (706) 473-5801

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