Last week I was on the island of Malta in middle of the Mediterranean teaching a health-focused course to delegates from several European countries. At one point, I found myself having a conversation over breakfast with our course administrator – an Italian – on the topic of how to make a great espresso coffee. I was lapping up tips she was giving me on various crucial matters, including the type of espresso maker and the water one puts in it. I became aware that some of the delegates that were party to this conversation were looking somewhat surprised that I was taking such an interest in the making of a beverage which generally has a reputation as the devil’s brew.
The reason for my interest is that when I’m at home, I make and drink espresso coffee each morning. This is partly due to the fact that I like the taste, and don’t believe that everything that passes my lips need be healthy. But the other reason that I drink coffee is that, broadly speaking, it is healthy.
There is now a stack of evidence which links coffee drinking with a reduced risk of several conditions including diabetes and cardiovascular conditions such as heart attack and stroke. Earlier this year a study was published which found that drinking four or more cups of coffee a day was associated with a 23 per cent reduced risk of type 2 diabetes in men . In another study, also published this year, coffee consumption was associated with a reduced overall risk of death in individuals with type 2 diabetes . Yet another recent study found that women drinking 1-3 cups of coffee a day were at a 24 per cent reduced risk of death due to cardiovascular disease . I have particular personal interest in the prevention of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, as there is a history of these conditions on both sides of my family.
The idea that coffee might be beneficial to health may seem far-fetched, but coffee is very rich in substances called ‘antioxidants’ (including what are known as polyphenols), which have the ability to quench the action of disease-promoting chemical entities known as ‘free radicals’. And let’s not forget that a cup of coffee is mainly water ” a substance which has general health-giving properties.
It is possible, obviously, to overdo coffee. In its most natural form it contains caffeine and other stimulants that can, in excess, provoke symptoms such as anxiety, heart rhythm irregularities and insomnia. One simple way to avoid drinking too much coffee is to ensure that when you do drink it, you make sure it’s a good one.
All that rubbishy instant coffee and stuff from machines that usually makes up the bulk of an excessive coffee habit can usually be dispensed with without being missed. Making your own espresso or cafetiere coffee or getting a decent brew from a coffee-shop generally ensures that whatever coffee you consume can be enjoyed and even savoured. And the time and effort in opting for quality coffee tends to put an automatic ceiling on the amount that is consumed. For coffee lovers like me who want to keep some sort of lid on their consumption of this beverage, concentrating on quality will generally take care of any issues with regard to quantity.
The fact that coffee seems to have broad benefits for health, and the tips I recently had from my Italian ‘barista’, mean that I have no plans to give up my morning espresso any time soon.
1. Paynter NP, et al. Coffee and sweetened beverage consumption and the risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus. American Journal of Epidemiology. 2006;164(11):1075-1084
2. Bidel S, et al. Coffee consumption and risk of total and cardiovascular mortality among patients with type 2 diabetes. Diabetologia 2006;49(11):2618-2626
3. Andersen LF, et al. Consumption of coffee is associated with reduced risk of death attributed to inflammatory and cardiovascular diseases in the Iowa Women’s Health Study. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2006;83(5):1039-1046