10 December 2015

Is it healthy? Coffee

What constitutes as healthy, especially in terms of food can be a complex question to ask. It seems that for many foods, there are just as many people professing health benefits as there are proclaiming they'll lead to cancer, obesity, heart disease or dementia. In some cases it's also generational - eggs are healthy, then they're not, now they are again, and the same goes for margarine, rice, milk and dozens of other staple foods. It is not too hard to get people into a heated debate about carbohydrates. This is why so many people become frustrated and apathetic and end up leaning on two superficial sentiments that are wrong, right, superficial and insightful all at the same time.

Everything will kill you
This line falls closer to the apathetic side of the scale. Red meat will give you cancer, not enough meat will lead to iron deficiencies, not enough of certain fats will lead to dementia, grains will lead to diabetes, milk will cause indigestion and skin problems, too much sun will cause skin cancer, and not enough sun will lead to other cancers and mood disorders.

Everything in Moderation
This is the more optimistic view of things. Nothing is entirely healthy or entirely bad for you and therefore you can eat whatever you want as long as your portions are reasonable. It’s very much a common sense approach. Of course, pounding away a litre of ice cream every night or starting every morning off with a few doughnuts is unhealthy. Everyone knows that, but one of the most troublesome realities when it comes to health and nutrition is that many things, aren’t common sense. Green vegetables and almonds are good, and chocolate and colas are bad, but there are many things, where the situation is far more gray than people may realise. What does the research say about the foods with which the health profile isn’t entirely clear and common sense may not apply?

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Is coffee healthy?
Coffee is one of the oldest drinks there is, dating back to at least the late 10th century. Like various teas, coffee has been enjoyed historically for centuries stretching from Turkey to Ethiopia. Like most time-tested, ritualistic foods, coffee is said to have been a key meditative, social and stimulating ingredient and therefore highly sought after by empires from North Africa, Persia, Asia and the Middle East.


On the one hand, coffee is celebrated for numerous health benefits such as anti-oxidants, containing little calories, and being linked with lower incidence of conditions such as type 2 diabetes and Parkinson’s.  That being said, coffee is often maligned due to caffeine content, as well as high sugar and processing that comes with flavoured drinks lattes, cappuccinos and iced coffees that are popular today. These concerns come on top of the issues of caffeine such as connections to heart attacks, digestive problems and the nature of its addictive properties.

Of course though, it’s important to always remember that nutrition isn’t a scale of good and bad. It’s more of a quantum - foods are optimal in certain situations influenced by season, method of production and preparation and what else they’re consumed with - as well as the amount.

While the concerns around coffee are legitimate, most are associated to flavoured coffees. The processed creams and flavoured syrups from unknown sources are what do the real damage and should be avoided. As for the coffee itself, if taken without sugar or sweeteners, and with local, organic, full-cream milk if not black, coffee lovers should be at peace.


Coffee is the number one source of antioxidants. Research in emerging in 2001 from Harvard’s Nurses Health Study, has built toward the following highlights:

  • A 2005 study exploring concerns that too much coffee was bad for blood pressure found no link between higher blood pressure and coffee and found some suggestion that it improved blood pressure.
  • Regular coffee drinking was linked in a 2011 Harvard study to lower risk of a deadly form of prostate cancer.
  • Also in 2011, a study showed that drinking four or more cups a day lowered the rate of depression among women.
  • A 2012 study tied three cups a day to a 20 percent lower risk of basal cell carcinoma.
  • A 2013 Harvard study linked coffee consumption to a reduced risk of suicide.
  • Also in 2013, a Harvard analysis of 36 studies covering more than a million people found that even heavy coffee consumption did not increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and that three to five cups of coffee daily provided the most protection against cardiovascular disease.
  • Also in 2014, Harvard Chan School researchers found that increasing coffee consumption by more than a cup a day over a four-year period reduced type 2 diabetes risk by 11 percent.
  • The same study showed that those who decreased their coffee consumption by more than a cup a day increased their type 2 diabetes risk by 17 percent.

The overarching theme with almost all food and drink should be the premise that nutrition is a complex quantum of beneficial and hazardous influence. Some foods are absolutely healthy, others are the opposite, but most are not only somewhere in between, but in various areas of this scale depending on the production methods, combinations, and the metabolism and genetic properties of the individual consumer.


So is coffee healthy? Mostly, yes. The fears of caffeine are over exaggerated, and the antioxidant, metabolism, and brain stimulating contents justify this.  Just stay away from heavily sweetened flavoured varieties, and if you’re using milk, make sure it’s local and full-cream.