Few things are worse than suddenly discovering that one of your favorite foods is bad for you. We were shocked to discover that grilled meat, roasted potatoes, and toast can all carry serious health risks (okay, maybe the grilled meat wasn’t completely surprising). But if you’re a coffee drinker, we’ve got good news: You probably don’t need to lay off your java habit.
Research backs up coffee as a healthy drink.
Two recent studies from Annals of Internal Medicine show a link between coffee and decreased mortality. The studies don’t attempt to explain the link, opting to simply demonstrate the relationship between coffee consumption and the incidence of various diseases. One study focused on European countries, and the other chose participants of varying ethnicities in Los Angeles and Hawaii. The results were similar across the board: Increased coffee consumption led to longer lives. The European study followed more than 500,000 people from 10 countries. Researchers followed up with the participants after 16.4 years to assess their health. The 25 percent of men who drank the most coffee were 12 percent less likely to die than the group who drank no coffee at all. For women, the difference was slightly less noticeable; the heavy coffee drinkers had a 7 percent lower mortality rate.
Multi-ethnic study backs up European findings.
Many earlier studies focused on Europeans and Americans of European descent. An American study funded by the National Cancer Institute tracked people of diverse ethnicities to determine whether genetics played a role in coffee’s apparent benefits. The researchers confirmed that coffee decreased mortality in African Americans, Japanese Americans, Latinos, and Caucasians. However, the study did not show a statistically significant decrease in mortality for native Hawaiian coffee drinkers.
Polyphenols may be the key.
Although scientists have extensively studied coffee’s beneficial effects, they haven’t conclusively shown how the beverage decreases mortality. Some scientists believe that polyphenols, a type of antioxidant, could be the key to the coffee’s health benefits. A recent study showed that consuming dietary polyphenols can protect against hypertension, dyslipidemias, inflammation, and other conditions that are associated with cardiovascular disease. Dietary polyphenols are found in dark chocolate, tea, and coffee. That’s good news for decaf drinkers, since the results also indicate that caffeine probably isn’t an important factor. In fact, caffeine causes several of coffee’s detrimental health effects, including headaches, insomnia, anxiety, and upset stomach. Insomnia is especially problematic, as scientists have linked poor sleep habits with fibromyalgia and various other conditions.
Should everyone drink coffee?
Additional studies should show how coffee affects specific areas of health. In the meantime, coffee seems to be a perfectly safe addition to your diet, provided that you drink it black. Adding sugar and cream can increase the risk of obesity, counteracting many of the heart-healthy benefits of your daily cup. One study even showed that milk can reduce the antioxidant capacity of coffee or tea. Finally, if you can’t stand java, don’t feel compelled to start. Other substances like dark chocolate and tea can also provide substantial benefits by delivering the same types of polyphenols.