Coffee lovers must read!

Nutrition & fitness / Bienestar Sanitas Magazine Ed.128. Text: Maricielo Acero.

Coffee lovers must read!

A reason to share with others, coffee improves your mood and makes everyone feel at home. Cappuccino is sophisticated, black coffee or "tinto" brings friends together, and iced coffee has a youthful quality. 

Originally from Ethiopia, Kaffa to be exact, in the Middle Ages arbusto coffee was introduced to Arabia by Africans sailing across the Red Sea, and it was there that the first coffee crops were planted. Towards the end of the 16th century, German, Dutch, and Italian botanists and travelers began to learn more about drinking coffee and in 1690 a Dutch merchant brought it to his country. From there, its reach expanded throughout Europe. In 1723 Captain Gabriel Mathiew de Clieu introduced the plant to Martinique, in the Antilles, and the Dutch began to send coffee bushes to the Guianas; from there, coffee moved to Brazil and Colombia, putting down deep roots.

In the 19th century, some voices in the medical community began to view coffee as harmful to humans, lumping it together with cigarettes and alcohol. However, recent research has shown that this small bean, which has been so significant for the Colombian economy, actually provides many health benefits.

In response to disagreement about coffee's effects in the scientific community, over the last couple of decades there have been numerous studies aimed at a detailed understanding of coffee's chemical composition and its impacts on the human body.

Although it was previously believed that coffee causes gastritis, that it is harmful to human bones, that it causes infertility, that it is addictive, and makes the heart race, these days coffee is considered an almost miraculous bean useful in the prevention of many illnesses.

Recently, researchers have revealed that moderate consumption of coffee (up to six cups per day, prepared using six grams of coffee for each 150 cc cup) is actually beneficial, says John Duperly, a physician with a doctorate in sports medicine.

The most recent study conducted by the National Cancer Institute of the United States and published in The New England Journal of Medicine in May 2012 demonstrated that drinking coffee can extend your life. The study analyzed more than 400,000 men and women between the ages of 50 and 71. The results were puzzling to everyone, as they indicated that drinking three to six cups of coffee every day is associated with fewer deaths due to cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, cerebrovascular accidents, cancer, diabetes, infections, lesions, and accidents.
Just a few years before, in 2007, an article was published in the journal Neurology that summed up what any regular coffee drinker knows: that this bean allows them to be more awake and alert, improves physical performance, and can even wake the dead (dead-tired, that is).

Inside the coffee bean

According to legend, one day a shepherd known as Kaldi was grazing his flock near a convent, when he noticed that his goats began behaving very strangely after eating beans that were hanging from a tree. The shepherd gathered some of the beans and cooked them, but immediately threw them in the fire as the resulting drink was quite bitter. It was then that the delicious aroma of roasted beans prompted him to make a different infusion, and then, voila! Coffee was born.

According to Dr. Duperly, what the goats actually ate was a coffee cherry, composed mainly of caffeine, a white alkaloid that circulates in the bloodstream after 45 minutes, and whose effect lasts for three to four hours on average. But in addition to caffeine, this small bean also has polyphenols, which are antioxidants that help combat free radicals (molecules that result from eating, breathing, exercising, as well as from the pollution and radiation in the environment, and which are damaging to human cells).

After all this research, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) included caffeine in the category of substances generally recognized as safe (GRAS). The American Medical Association (AMA) has also reaffirmed that caffeine consumed in moderation by people with healthy lifestyles should not constitute a health problem.

And to appease those who believe that one sip of coffee will turn you into an addict, Duperly says even the World Health Organization has stated that there is no evidence to believe that coffee causes addiction. Coffee is not the second-most popular drink in the Western world after bottled water because it is addictive, but simply because its aroma is so attractive and the sensation it leaves on the palate after one sip makes it impossible not to fall in love with it.

So why is it considered the best antidote for everything by some, but causes nightmares for others? The answer is in our genetics. According to nutritionist Gloria María Agudelo, everyone has a unique sensitivity to caffeine that depends on their body weight, physique, the amount of coffee they consume, and the frequency. The variety of coffee and the way it is prepared are also part of the equation.

Yet another sign that coffee is safe is that many people who avoid coffee with the excuse that it stains their teeth (which is true) actually consume caffeine when eating candy and cakes and drinking liquor, soft drinks, energy drinks and even medications. Caffeine is used, for example, in some of the analgesics used to treat migraines, sold over the counter at pharmacies.

In Colombia, coffee is consumed in more than 90% of households and by 83% of those over 18. Black, strong, light, alone or a "pintadito" (mostly milk with a small amount of coffee): it doesn't matter how you drink it because it always tastes good. So there's no reason to deprive yourself: invite your friends to enjoy a delicious cup of coffee. If it's healthy when you drink it alone, it's even healthier when you drink it in good company.
What we didn't know about coffee

Coffee contains micronutrients such as magnesium, potassium, niacin, and antioxidants such as polyphenols and flavonoids. Other health benefits include:

  • In 2012, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a study concluding that drinking four cups of coffee per day (caffeinated or decaffeinated) protects against colon cancer and increases the motility of the large intestine.
  • According to research published in the journal Diabetología in 2007, and in numerous other studies, regular coffee consumption can help protect against diabetes mellitus type 2.
  • One cup of black coffee (without milk, sugar, or sugar cane) contains between 2 and 5 calories, so it doesn't affect glucose levels.
  • It protects against atherosclerosis and has cardioprotective effects. Coffee doesn't increase levels of cholesterol or triglycerides, nor does it cause abnormal heartbeat (arrhythmia) or boost blood pressure; on the contrary, it improves the capacity to repair blood vessels. That is according to the journal Circulation, in an article published in June 2012.
  • It boosts the performance and endurance of athletes. According to a scientific study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, among the benefits attributed to moderate coffee consumption are greater muscle endurance, higher anaerobic metabolism, and better performance times.