Monday, April 4, 2011

Does Your Morning Coffee Love You Back?

It’s not a surprise that Seattle ranks No. 1 for coffee consumption in America. We love our caffeine, but what exactly are the effects of drinking so much coffee? Research can bring to light some of the facts about our favorite beverage.

Picture of a heart made of coffee beans
Coffee heart

Many people believe that coffee causes dehydration. Recent studies have shown that consuming moderate amounts of caffeine actually has no effect on our hydration status. So exactly how much is "moderate"? The average person weighing 150 pounds can safely consume up to 400 mg of caffeine per day, which equals between one to two 16-ounce cups of brewed coffee or two to three double lattes, depending on the roast of the beans.

Are there any health benefits to our morning ritual? Good news! Moderate caffeine intake temporarily increases metabolism. However, this small boost in metabolism can quickly be canceled out by the excessive calories in drinks with added cream, sweeteners, flavorings and syrups, so beware those sneaky additions. Furthermore, caffeine can help to increase physical performance, making your time at the gym more effective and efficient. Not only can you work out longer or harder, but studies have found that drinking coffee before a workout can also make the activities seem less difficult.

In addition to the physical effects, caffeine also has interesting influences on our brain. When consuming moderate amounts of caffeine, short-term memory improves, our reaction time quickens and our ability to reason increases. Consuming caffeine before a test or a long day at the office may help improve your focus and sharpen your performance.

Though these may seem to be benefits from drinking coffee, there are some risks to watch out for as well. Caffeine can cause nervousness, irritability and heart palpitations, as well as loss of calcium from bones and increased blood pressure. Those sensitive or prone to anxiety can find that symptoms worsen and sleep becomes difficult after consuming caffeine. So as with most things recommended in moderation, Seattle, enjoy your coffee, but make sure not to overdo it.

— Leah Goldstein, dietetic intern, and Debra A. Boutin, MS, RD, chair and dietetic internship director, Department of Nutrition and Exercise Science at Bastyr University.

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