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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Column: Bean me up

As a student suffering the quarter system, it is likely you or a friend has turned into a pot-hugging coffee addict. You are not alone. Among coffee consumers — myself included — the average American has 3.1 cups per day. But before you decide to cut back or drink more, read on. You may finish this article with reason to have less. On the other hand, I may introduce a statistic or two that will leave you enjoying your cup of Joe even more.

In the words of the Dutch proverb, coffee has two virtues: it is wet and warm. This is true, but I have a rebuttal. According to studies, coffee has a dark side, no pun intended, but it might not be all that bad — perhaps, even beneficial.

Coffee contains potent antioxidant activity that may help ward off cancer. In fact, chronic consumption is correlated with the lowest risk for several cancers. For example, long-term studies have shown that drinking three to six cups per day of either caffeinated or decaffeinated coffee is associated with a lower risk for uterine and prostate cancer compared to those who drink none. The chemicals kahweol and cafestol have also been linked to a decreased risk for digestive cancers by improving cellular defense and inhibiting carcinogen activity.

Not only that, but consuming about two cups of coffee has been shown to burn more calories by as much as 3 to 23 percent for up to three hours. Decaf, unfortunately, does not show the same effects. Yet, for both types alike, there are very few calories in coffee: only seven per cup. That is, of course, sans milk and sugar. Personally, I take coffee without sugar. You know, just cream.

You still won’t want to skip your daily vitamin, but coffee also has its vitamins and minerals. One cup yields a decent amount of niacin, magnesium, potassium and phosphorous, in addition to small amounts of choline, copper and calcium. These vitamins and minerals will help boost your mood and immune system.

Despite these benefits, there are a few things to watch out for, whether or not you drink coffee regularly.

Coffee can greatly raise blood pressure from the moment you drink it. As we all know, consistent high blood pressure can be dangerous, leading to vision loss, stroke, kidney failure and erectile dysfunction.  Most of the time though, coffee will only increase blood pressure for a few hours after drinking it — even regular coffee drinkers don’t typically see a permanent rise in blood pressure. That being said, non-habitual drinkers are more sensitive to the effects of coffee and are likely to experience higher blood pressure, even with decaf. However, decaf is a must if you do have high blood pressure or a vascular disease.

Coffee addicts (you know who you are) also need to beware of withdrawal symptoms that can result from over-consumption. Susceptibility varies among individuals, but not getting your coffee fix within 12 to 24 hours can leave some with headaches, fatigue, depression, irritability, vomiting and muscle pain, lasting up to nine days. Even decaf has a small amount of caffeine — roughly one-tenth the amount of caffeinated coffee — and can result in dependence among sensitive drinkers. It took me an entire year to wean myself from three cups a day, down to just one. On the upside, withdrawals don’t mean you have a problem with caffeine; just that you have a problem without it.

Like every food, coffee has its pros and cons depending on the individual. There is no set limit to how much coffee is too much — it all depends on the person and how his or her body responds. Students can choose what amount of coffee will best give them the right balance of its benefits. If you decide you are a person who should lay off the beans but needs alternative pick-me-ups, next week’s column will cover brain foods that help keep you alert and focused through Winter quarter.

THERESA RICHARDSON is bringing you the latest research to keep your college waistline and health in check. For questions or comments contact her at terichardson@ucdavis.edu.


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