Coffee - Is it simply a very popular (and legal!) social drug, or does a couple of cups a day actually have some positive health benefits?
Most people know that a source of caffeine such as coffee can spark us up - it stimulates our central nervous system, makes us more alert, reduces reaction time, and is used by some athletes to improve their performance. For some individuals however, more than one or two coffees in a day has some some seriously negative effects.
Recently a number of studies have highlighted how coffee may reduce the risk, or help fight the effects, of some fairly major diseases.
In the case of Type 2 diabetes, insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance seem to be improved with coffee drinking. A moderate intake has also been linked to a lower incidence of liver cancer and some protection against cirrhosis. Another study showed that a few coffees per day may reduce the risk of prostate cancer, Alzheimers and even some aspects of heart disease. In some of these cases the benefits may be attributed to the particular antioxidants found in coffee rather than the caffeine per se.
In most case the amount of coffee required is within the 'safe' level for most people ie 3-5 coffees or about 600mg/day. Remember that if you choose your coffee from your favourite barista rather than good old instant spoonful, then 1 'cup' could give you anywhere from 80-300mg of caffeine per serve!
There are also of course some individuals who suffer the consequences of too much caffeine - insomnia, headaches, palpitations, hypertension, reduced iron absorption and diarrhoea. You need to know your own tolerance levels! Pregnant women, children and adolescents should definitely limit their intake.
So for most of us, a few guilt-free expressos or lattes per day can be on the 'healthy' menu - just keep an eye on any added fat and sugar kilojoules!