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March 28, 2016

The Hottest Health Drink

by Amanda MacMillan

You probably don’t need another reason to pour yourself a cup or three of coffee today—if you’re a fan, you probably already figure that coffee’s something you just don’t want to live without. Still, maybe you’ve wondered if your daily habit is really okay for your health. In that case, we’ve got some good news. “Coffee has a lot of health benefits that people don’t think about,” says Debra Epstein, RD, chief clinical dietitian at Glen Cove Hospital. “Not only is it naturally low in calories -- as long as you don’t add too much to it, that is -- but it’s also a huge source of antioxidants.”

To be clear, the research isn’t the final answer on the question, since most studies have simply compared coffee-drinkers to people who don’t indulge in the stuff -- and that means it’s always possible that other habits are really responsible for coffee’s apparent benefits. (Other studies have been done in mice or other animals, so the results are tantalizing but not definitive.) Still, recent research suggests that drinking coffee regularly may play a role in:

Diabetes prevention. One review of studies concluded that people who drink three to four cups a day may be 25 percent less likely to develop the disease.

Heart health. Drinking three to five cups a day might cut a person’s risk of dying from heart disease by as much as 21 percent, a team of scientists concluded after analyzing 21 studies.

Safeguarding your liver. Another review of studies indicated that drinking coffee can lower a person’s risk of developing liver cirrhosis, a potentially fatal condition that can be caused by heavy alcohol use, obesity or hepatitis.

Extending your life. Last year, the American Heart Association published -- what else? – a review of three large, long-running studies that had followed more than 200,000 people for as long as 30 years (and counting). The review found that the people who regularly drank moderate amounts of coffee -- less than 5 cups a day -- were less likely to have died during the course of the study from heart problems, neurological disease, diabetes or suicide.

But there’s a catch. Coffee itself is healthy, Epstein says, but the stuff you put in it? Not necessarily. “An ounce of milk -- preferably low fat milk -- and a teaspoon of sugar is fine,” she says. “But when you start adding huge amounts of cream and sugars and syrups, it can get bad fast.” Case in point: Just check the nutrition stats of your favorite coffee-shop concoction.

Even if you take it black, going overboard isn’t a good idea. Epstein recommends up to four cups a day -- that’s 8- to 10-ounce cups, not 24-ounce Ventis -- but don’t drink that much if it makes you jittery or anxious, or if you find yourself having trouble sleeping. (Don’t go over 12 ounces a day if you’re pregnant, says the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology.)

And if you simply don’t like coffee? Don’t worry -- there are lots of other ways to get good-for-you antioxidants into your diet. Black or green teas are good sources, for instance. And eating more fruits and vegetables will do the trick, too.