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Food/Nutrition Columnist Author: Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN - Food and Nutrition Columnist - Last Updated: Sep 7, 2017 - 10:06:33 PM

Caffeine – The Buzz is Good

By Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN - Food and Nutrition Columnist -
Jan 21, 2013 - 7:01:18 AM

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( - I attended a conference where a noted health professional closed his talk by saying one of the best things you can do for your health is drink regular coffee daily. In this column I recently examined the downside of caffeine consumption, the main stimulant found in coffee. Let's look at the brighter side and the reason why coffee may actually provide more benefits than hazards when used in moderate amounts.

For most of us drinking coffee equals its energizing effect. Caffeine boosts performance and makes us more alert because its boosts the action of neurotransmitters that affect concentration and depresses others that remind us to go to bed. You stay awake and feel alert for at least a little while.

Caffeine also enhances performance in high-intensity, short-duration activities, like sprinting. It releases substances such as adrenaline which makes your heart beat faster, sends more blood to your muscles, and tells your liver to release sugar into the bloodstream to be used for energy. Caffeine can help muscles to contract more efficiently which reduces the exertion that a specific exercise requires and the recovery time needed afterward. Animal studies have supported that caffeine can help muscles produce more force in adult mice. If this proves true for humans, as well, it might help preserve more muscle as we age.

Coffee, the product of a berry or fruit, is rich in antioxidants. As Americans we eat so few fruits and vegetables but drink so much coffee, that it is the major contributor of antioxidants to our diet. Coffee has 4 times the antioxidants of green tea and more antioxidants than red wine.

Drinking a moderate amount of coffee daily has been shown to reduce the risk for type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. Some experts believe that drinking moderate amounts of caffeinated coffee daily, throughout adulthood, may be the best dietary approach against the risk for Alzheimer's memory loss in later life. New research shows that in people 50 to 71, those who drank 4 cups of coffee a day had a lower risk for depression than those who drank no coffee.

A study reported in Gastroenterology suggests that drinking coffee may improve hepatitis C treatment. Worldwide between 130 to 170 million people are infected with hepatitis C virus. As many as 70% to 80% of those exposed to the virus become chronically infected and standard treatment with peginterferon ( Pegasys or Peg-Intron) and ribavirin (Rebetol or Copegus) only helps about half the patients resolve the condition. Increasing the success rates for treatment is critical to reducing the viral load and preventing further liver damage. Drinking 3 cups of coffee a day significantly increased treatment success. The researchers who reported this study acknowledged that more work needs to be done, but in the meantime if something as simple as adding some coffee to the treatment protocol may work, it is a simple, noninvasive option to try.

Among its complex effects on the body, coffee has been linked to both lower insulin and lower uric acid levels. This suggests that coffee may affect the risk of gout, the most prevalent inflammatory arthritis in adult men. In a large study of men aged 40 to 75, those with the highest intake of coffee had the lowest risk for gout, even after other risk factors for gout were considered. There was a modest decrease in risk with decaffeinated coffee, too. Interestingly, though regular coffee appeared to be most protective, it was the coffee and not the caffeine that seemed to be the risk reducing factor. The researchers speculated that it may be the powerful antioxidant effect that was responsible for coffee's gout-prevention benefits.

Coffee and caffeine consumption is a personal choice. There are those who carry a gene disposition for slow caffeine metabolism. For these unusually sensitive people, decaf is probably a better choice. Children and pregnant women should avoid or limit their caffeine intake. Mixing caffeine with alcohol or consuming large amounts in energy shots can pose health risks. But moderate consumption, 2 to 4 cups a day - 6- to 8-ounce servings, not 20-ounce extra-large cups - can have health benefits and may be good addition to your healthy eating plan.

How much caffeine is really in your coffee? Here are some values for milligrams of caffeine in 16 ounces of coffee.

  • Regular coffee - 215 to 350
  • Decaf - 12 to 24
  • Latte - 310
  • Café con leche - 90
  • Espresso double (3-ounce serving) 68 to 154

© NRH Nutrition Consultants, Inc.
Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and the author of the nutrition counter series for Pocket Books with sales of more than 8.5 million books.

Look for:

The Most Complete Food Counter, 3rd ed., 2013

The Calorie Counter, 6th Ed., 2013

The Complete Food Counter, 4th ed., 2012

The Diabetes Counter, 4th Ed., 2011

The Protein Counter, 3rd Ed., 2011

The Ultimate Carbohydrate Counter, 3rd Ed., 2010

The Fat Counter, 7th ed., 2009

The Healthy Wholefoods Counter, 2008

The Cholesterol Counter, 7th Ed., 2008

Your Complete Food Counter App:


For more information on Jo-Ann and her books, go to:


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