By John Salak –
The most enduring question facing mankind is debatable. Certainly, many ponder the existence of God and/or an afterlife. Others continue to focus on what did or didn’t happen on the Grassy Knoll in Dallas in ’63, while some muse over the prospects of whether James Dolan or the Wilpons will ever sell their respective sport franchises and free their long-suffering fan bases. Admittedly, these are all important issues. Yet, ultimately, there is a deeper, more profound question that cuts across all demographics: Is coffee harmful or healthy?
Unfortunately, the answer to the great coffee conundrum remains unclear, although science continues to toll away at providing some guidance. There is, in fact, a growing number of studies that suggest coffee generates substantial health benefits. Obviously, moderation is the key to everything and even those who promote coffee’s benefits would be hard-pressed to support anyone consuming a dozen cups of Joe a day.
The biggest issue for better or worse behind coffee is caffeine. Many doctors recommend coffee drinkers limit their intake to between 300 and 400 milligrams a day—which equates to about 3 to 4 cups of coffee daily (or 6-8 cups of green tea or 7-10 cans of soda). For those with chronic high blood pressure, even four cups (400 milligrams of caffeine) may even be too much, Dr. Matthew Chow, a neurologist and assistant clinical professor at UC Davis recently told CNET.com
Limits aside, the University of Arkansas released a recent study that showed caffeine consumption is a great way to boost a person’s focus and problem-solving ability. The research was based on a study of 80 volunteers who were given either a 200 mg caffeine pill (equivalent to a strong cup of coffee) or a placebo. Afterwards, university researchers measured their convergent (problem solving) abilities and divergent (idea generating) capabilities.
“The 200mg enhanced problem solving significantly, but had no effect on creative thinking,” reported Darya Zabelina, assistant professor of psychology and the study’s first author. Thankfully, the caffeine boost didn’t have any negative impact either. “It also didn’t make it worse, so keep drinking your coffee; it won’t interfere with these abilities.” Zabelina added.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign chimed in with its own positive coffee-caffeine findings that showed coffee might even help fight obesity and body-fat gains. Of course, any potential benefits in this area would be tied to black, sugarless coffee.
Its study shows that rats fed a diet that included caffeine gained 16 percent less weight and accumulated 22 percent less body fat than their compatriots who enjoyed a caffeine-free diet. The caffeine-laden diet apparently was linked to reducing the storage of lipids in fat cells and limiting weight gain and the production of triglycerides.
“Considering the findings, mate tea and caffeine can be considered anti-obesity agents,” reported Elvira Gonzalez de Mejia, a co-author of the study and director of the university’s Division of Nutritional Sciences. “The results of this research could be scaled to humans to understand the roles of mate tea and caffeine as potential strategies to prevent overweight and obesity, as well as the subsequent metabolic disorders associated with these conditions.”
If weight loss and problem-solving boosts aren’t enough to warm the heart of coffee lovers, there is positive news on the cold-brew, hot-brew front.
Studies conducted at Thomas Jefferson University discovered while there is very little difference in the acidity and antioxidant levels when it comes to hot- and cold-brew coffees involving light and medium roast beans, there is apparently big difference when it comes to dark roast coffee.
“Hot brewing extracts more antioxidants from the grind than cold brew, and this difference increases with the degree of roasting,” explained Niny Z. Rao, Ph.D., the project’s principal investigator. This means hot-brew of dark roasts produces a potentially healthier drink, the study concluded. Hot brew coffee also contains more of certain kinds of acids and total dissolved solids.
“My advice to consumers has always been to drink what they like,” Rao says. “But if you want to craft a coffee beverage with antioxidants or acidity in mind, you may want to pay attention to roast. If you want a low-acid drink, you may want to use a darker roast. But remember that the gap between the antioxidant content of hot- and cold-brew coffee is much larger for a darker roast.”
Admittedly, none of these studies provide a final answer to the ongoing iconic question of coffee’s ultimate worth. They do, however, provide more time to contemplate these weighty matters while sipping a cup of Joe.