Friday, July 15, 2011

Kicking Back with Coffee

Good Morning Joe! I’ve come to the conclusion that sipping on my morning coffee gives me a sense of comfort and pleasure that I truly value and that this outweighs my concern potential negative effects on my health. Now, I am a big fan of the axiom, “everything in moderation,” so I drink a cup or two in the morning and am ready to move on with my day. All of those potent antioxidants bound up in the roasted aroma! It just may be the best part of waking up (except for snuggling, of course:).   
Like all nutrition topics, the debate about coffee’s effect on health will likely be forever that—a debate. However, a good deal of research shows that moderate coffee consumption may even confer some health benefits. Studies show that regular java drinkers tend to have a lower risk for type 2 diabetes, gallstones, Parkinson’s disease, and colon cancer. To an extent, coffee has also been shown to improve cognitive function and prevent neural degeneration responsible for aging and brain disorders, but do remember that once you cross your personal caffeine threshold, that perk can morph into jitters or even feelings of anxiety. No bueno for a clear head.
While some studies have found an association between coffee consumption and decreased cardiovascular problems, such as heart disease and stroke, it should be noted that caffeine is a stimulant and can increase heart rate and blood pressure, thus people with fibrillation may want to consider decaf.
Coffee has also shown improvement of endurance performance in long-duration physical activities. Perhaps this is partly due to the fact that caffeine is a bronchodilator, lessening airway resistance and allowing for greater oxygen intake. Studies have shown that even small amounts of caffeine can improve lung function for up to four hours. More O2 in leads to better distribution to muscles for sustained performance, but before downing a triple Americano for your next trail run, remember to assess your GI sensitivity so you aren't desperately searching for a bush and some broad-leafed greenery! 
While research about coffee’s effect on women’s health has been largely inconclusive, many women find relief from fibrocyctic breast when they switch to decaf or eliminate it altogether. During pregnancy caffeine clearance from mom’s blood slows, and some observational studies have noted high caffeine intake may cause growth restriction, reduced birth weight, preterm labor or stillbirth. Baby can also suffer withdrawal symptoms if mom was really serious about her coffee drinking--eight or more cups per day! Talk about a cranky kid! No worries ladies, a couple cups a day in early pregnancy has shown no effect on birth weight, preterm births or growth restriction.

An important factor that I consider as a dietitian is whether the benign cup of coffee becomes a vehicle for less than desirable additives. I understand the need to cut through the tanic bitterness, but when I start thinking about all of the “crap” that might be hidden in a caramel macchiato or sugar-free snickerdoodle I start to wince. Ever (try to) read the ingredients on a flavored Coffee-mate bottle (here's a good summary: This is not just a calorie thing; it is an empty calorie, highly refined sugar and “other” chemicals thing. This is where health concerns really enter the picture!

Consider this: wean yourself from those sugar/chemical-laden drinks (can you really even taste the coffee?) and try a splash of plain cream and a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg. Similarly, when brewing coffee at home, you can sprinkle these aromatics in with your grounds prior to brewing for a simple, clean version of flavored coffee. No cinnamon “flavoring” here, just real ingredients, delicious taste.

*Note: As always, choose organic and fair trade when you can. Coffee growing and harvesting is well known to be high in pesticides and many companies take advantage of the farmers that labor those luscious beans.

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