Coffee drinkers around the world have celebrated the freedom to consume without guilt over the past few weeks.
The USDA Dietary Guidelines Committee recommended that the new guidelines allow 3 to 5 cups of coffee per day. Their report states that “Strong and consistent evidence shows that consumption of coffee within the moderate range (3 to 5 cups/d or up to 400 mg/d caffeine) is not associated with increased risk of major chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease (CVD) and cancer and premature death in healthy adults.”
On the heels of this good news, a new study published in the journal Heart reported an association between moderate coffee consumption and decreased coronary artery calcium (CAC). CAC is used as an early marker for heart disease.
Since it is my responsibility to suck the joy out of everything you love, I decided to break down this information and see where it takes us.
It is true that moderate coffee consumption doesn't appear to increase chronic disease. But, when we talk about a “cup” of coffee, we are talking about a six to eight ounce serving of black coffee and a total caffeine intake of less than 400 mg per day. Under these guidelines, something like Starbuck's “short” Blonde Roast, without added cream or sugar fits the bill. We aren’t talking about a “venti” anything here, much less a Caramel Macchiato with its 20 ounces and 40 grams of sugar.
So if you drink a few small cups of black coffee each day, you can carry on without worry.
But don’t tell yourself coffee prevents heart disease, even as popular headlines claim that it does. Writing in Forbes, medical journalist Larry Husten offers a quick take down of the media’s misrepresentation of the Heart research. In short, the study in Heart was an observational study. This means they looked at the habits of a specific population and noticed a correlation between moderate coffee consumption and decreased CAC. This does not mean the coffee consumption was responsible for the decreased CAC.
Consider for a moment what other habits coffee drinkers might have in common. Maybe they drink less alcohol. Maybe they consume fewer calories because they are filling up on liquid. Maybe they meditate while drinking coffee and so have less stress. An observational study cannot control for such differences, so we don’t have any idea what the true reason for the decreased CAC is. We just know that the association exists.
This research doesn’t tell us that we should all add coffee to our diets. Rather it emphasizes the need for controlled studies of the effects of coffee on heart disease.
So, don’t go add coffee to your diet thinking you’ve found the superfood that will prevent heart disease. But, if you like to enjoy a cup of coffee and two eggs over easy for breakfast, you can do so without worry. Salut!
Amy Rogers MD is not a practicing physician and nothing written here should be taken as medical advice from either Amy or AssetBuilder. Medical decisions should be made with care in consultation with your health care provider.