As I sit in the airport, sipping my “venti iced skinny vanilla latte,” I’m reminded of a conversation I had recently with some of my college girlfriends.
“Sometimes I have two cups of coffee in one day,” one said with a tone of guilt and embarrassment.
“I’m trying to switch to tea instead of coffee,” said another, going on to say she dislikes feeling “dependent” on the drug-like liquid. “I hate waking up feeling like I need coffee to function. If I don’t have time in the morning, I find a way to sneak out of work to get my fix.”
Finally, I chimed in saying proudly that I drink two cups of coffee daily, one on my way into work and the other after lunch. They looked at me — their I-never-eat-anything-that’s-unhealthy nutritionist friend — in shock. Isn’t coffee a harmful beverage packed with addictive caffeine?
While excessive intake of caffeine can be harmful (as we’ve seen with teens chugging multiple caffeine-filled energy drinks usually accompanied with alcohol), a cup of coffee has an average of 90 milligrams of caffeine. That’s a far cry from the 250 milligrams in some energy beverages.
Beat the Brain Drain
Not only is it typically not harmful, there is substantial scientific literature supporting coffee’s positives. For instance, it has been show to improve cognitive performance, including increased focus and alertness. Caffeine temporarily blocks the fatigue-inducing neurotransmitter adenosine in the brain, so you can function optimally. And, studies in everyone from athletes to nurses have shown that caffeine can improve mental performance.
Caffeine has also been linked to improved memory. A recent study at Johns Hopkins University found that caffeine enhances certain memories for at least up to 24 hours. Its brain health support isn’t just for short-term benefits: studies also show better cognitive function in older adults who are regular coffee drinkers.
Fight Free Radicals
Coffee beans contain polyphenols — plant compounds that act as antioxidants to neutralize the damaging effects of free radicals, a result of exposure to factors such as ultraviolet rays, poor diet, pollution and cigarette smoke. Polyphenols help protect the body and may play a part in the prevention of chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
While many foods and beverages (including fruits, vegetables, red wine and chocolate) provide polyphenols, coffee stands out as one of the richest sources with almost four times the antioxidant content of its greatest beverage competitor, tea.
But before you go running to the coffee shop because a dietitian said coffee is good for you, note that coffee loses its health benefits when it’s diluted with full-fat milk, doused with sugar-laden sweeteners and topped with a generous dollop of whipped cream. Some drink concoctions on coffee shop menus can run upwards of 500 calories with 30 grams of sugar. This type of coffee addiction can cause damage in the form of an expanding waistline.
The bottom line: There are far worse concerns than a coffee addiction — such as realizing you subconsciously sipped your whole coffee while writing an article. Time to get another “fix” before my flight. Cheers!