How to drink your coffee for maximum health benefits, now that doctors confirm a few cups a day can do you good
The type of coffee you choose and how you prepare it determines how much of its proven health benefits you gain; filter coffee lightly roasted, drunk black and unsweetened, may be your best bet
Does the type of coffee you drink affect your health?
The short answer: yes
Vanessa Lee loves her coffee. The assistant coffee trainer from The Coffee Academics, which operates speciality coffee shops in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing and Singapore, usually enjoys hers black and without sugar.
“For maximum flavour, I go for beans that have been lightly roasted,” she says. “And I like filter coffee, because the paper filter absorbs most of the coffee oil, [including the compounds cafestol and kahweol, which raise cholesterol levels] resulting in a healthier cup.”
Lee, who trains baristas, conducts coffee science research and is involved with drink and product development, consumes one cup of black filter coffee a day.
Whether you are like Lee and enjoy coffee for its beautiful flavour and smooth texture, or you’re one of the thousands of coffee drinkers who consume the drink for a caffeine boost, you’ll be happy to know that your daily brew is doing your body a world of good. In mid-November, the BMJ published a review that touted the benefits of moderate coffee drinking. The review, which looked at 200 research studies, found that consuming three to four cups of coffee a day was associated with a lower risk of death from all causes and a lower risk of several cancers, as well as Type 2 diabetes, gallstones and gout. Coffee consumption was also found to lower the risk for other serious conditions, such as cirrhosis of the liver, depression, and Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
There’s an explanation for its disease-fighting powers. According to the BMJ report, coffee is packed with antioxidants, including chlorogenic acid. While this antioxidant is degraded by roasting, the report says alternative antioxidant compounds are also formed in the process.
Surprisingly, caffeine, which is a stimulant, also possesses antioxidant effects, while the compounds cafestol and kahweol, while raising cholesterol levels, also contribute towards an anti-carcinogenic effect.
Prefer decaffeinated coffee? Apart from having little to no caffeine, the report says that your brew is compositionally similar to the caffeinated variety, so drink up.
To avoid negating the drink’s health benefits, Sally Poon, a dietitian at Personal Dietitian in Hong Kong’s Central district, warns enthusiasts to watch what they put in their cup.
“Pay attention to the amount of full-cream milk, evaporated milk, condensed milk, cream, syrup, and sugar that you add to your coffee,” she says. “Full-fat dairy products are loaded with saturated fat, which can increase the levels of bad [LDL] cholesterol in your blood. High levels of LDL cholesterol can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.
“In addition, full-fat dairy products, sugar and syrup are high in calories, and this can increase your risk of obesity, which is linked to various chronic illnesses, from type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease to hypertension and certain types of cancer.”
For a healthy pick-me-up, Poon recommends drinking your coffee black. If you really must, a splash of skim or low-fat milk or unsweetened soy milk is fine, as is a tiny bit of sugar. If you like instant coffee, avoid two-in-one or three-in-one mixes, as these usually contain a lot of sugar and high-fat creamer or milk powder. She adds that there is no need to switch to an organic brand, since organic foods have the same nutrient content as conventional varieties.
The better the quality of the coffee beans, the healthier the final product, says Lee. “Quality” has much to do with how and where beans are stored, how soon the crop is processed after harvesting, and how the beans are treated.
To slow the green coffee beans’ ageing process, her company maintains the warehouse in which they are stored at a temperature of 22 degrees Celsius and a humidity level of 65 per cent. It consumes the beans it purchases within a year to ensure freshness.
“Finally, we only do a light roast. Roasting results in a series of chemical changes in the beans; a light roast ensures that the natural substances in the coffee cherries are retained,” she says.
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The good news presented in the BMJ report does not mean that you can or should drink coffee to your heart’s content. The researchers behind the report say three to four cups a day deliver the greatest benefit; anything more than that was not linked to harm, although the beneficial effects might be less pronounced.
Poon also warns that too much caffeine can cause heartburn, stomach upset, headache, insomnia, dizziness, dehydration, anxiety, and even an abnormal heart rhythm in some people, as well as increase blood pressure.
She adds that it is not harmful to consume up to 400mg of caffeine, or four mugs of instant coffee, a day. One mug of filter coffee contains 140mg of caffeine, so have less than three. If you are pregnant, she says to limit your caffeine intake to 200mg a day – that’s two mugs of instant coffee. Too much caffeine, she points out, is linked to miscarriage and a higher risk of babies having a low birthweight.