Reviewed by Wendy
Marcason, RD, LDN
Wake up and smell the … antioxidants?
you think your morning cup of joe provides nothing more to your body than a
jolt of caffeine, you might be pleasantly surprised to learn that your daily
cup (or three) provides some health benefits as well. According to Academy of
Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson Joan Salge Blake, MS, RDN, LDN, the
healthiest perks of coffee include increased cognitive function, possible
disease protection and a carrier for milk — adding calcium, a mineral Americans
are falling short on.
And those antioxidants? "Coffee provides one of
the greatest sources of antioxidants in the American diet, due to the amount of
coffee that is consumed," says Academy spokesperson Joy Dubost, PhD, RD. So are
the antioxidants responsible for decreased disease risk? Although researchers
have yet to determine the exact mechanisms behind some of the
disease-preventing effects, Dubost notes it is important to keep in mind that
these compounds may be exerting other beneficial effects, such as acting as an
anti-inflammatory. Coffee also contains small amounts of some nutrients,
including potassium, niacin, vitamin E and magnesium — which helps the body use
the hormone insulin.
"I think the beauty of it is that people can go on
enjoying their coffee," says Salge Blake, who warns that not all
coffees are created equal. While an 8-ounce cup of coffee offers some health
benefits, coffee shop creations can be surprising high in sugar and fat. Salge
Blake warns, "One of these designer coffee drinks can be adding a fair amount
of calories to the diet."
A better option? Try a fat-free milk latte,
suggests Salge Blake. By ordering a latte, she says, "You can get as much as a
cup of milk in your coffee. This is fabulous because most Americans are coming
in at about half of the recommended daily servings a day." Making your coffee a
vehicle for fat-free milk is one way to ensure your daily calcium and vitamin D
needs are met. If your diet does not include dairy, a fortified soy beverage is
a calcium-rich alternative.
Dubost also advises spicing up your coffee
with cinnamon or vanilla powder. Cinnamon, in particular, is rich in
antioxidants and polyphenols, making your coffee even more beneficial.
So how much java is too much? Both Dubost and Salge Blake agree
that around 3, 8-ounce cups a day is considered moderate coffee consumption.
"Caffeine does not cause hypertension," assures Dubost, but warns it has been
shown to increase blood pressure for a short duration. Certain groups, such as
people with hypertension and the elderly, may be more susceptible to the
adverse effects of caffeine. Dubost says pregnant and breast-feeding women will
want to limit intake to a maximum of 200 to 300 milligrams a day of
caffeine (the amount in 2 to 3 cups of coffee). The March of Dimes recommends
that pregnant women cap caffeine consumption at 200 milligrams a day.
For those avoiding caffeine, a cup of decaf coffee has about 4 milligrams
(as opposed to about 130 milligrams in a cup of regular). "It's still a good
carrier for milk," says Salge Blake of decaf.