Coffee – safe, low-energy beverage!


“Coffee is far more than a beverage.
It is an invitation to life, disguised as a cup of warm liquid.
It is a trumpet wakeup call or a gentle rousing hand on your shoulder.
Coffee is an experience, a rite of passage, a very good excuse to get together.
Coffee is magic” 

                    – Harish Bhat of Tata Global Beverages

It was in 2000, my early days of professional career. I used to drink two-three cups of coffee during my nine hours of night shifts. The drink gave me the little more calories to focus on work with concentration and increased alertness and motivation.

Gurunath, working with an event management firm, has been an avid drinker of coffee for the past 20 years. His day won’t start without having his first cup of morning coffee. He feels very fresh with his coffee drinks.

Krupa Prashanth, chief nutritionist, Vikram Hospital, Bangalore, says, “I can’t function without my coffee” is a sentiment moaned in millions of homes every morning. The early morning cup of brew is considered to kickstart our days basically because the chemical theobromine, in coffee, is a mild stimulant. It is associated with wakefulness and sleep latency.

So why do people drink coffee? Raising this question to the audience that included coffee planters, roasters, processors, manufacturers, traders, brewers and many who are into coffee business for many years at the India International Coffee Festival (IICF 2014) held on January 24 in Bangalore, Harish Bhat of Tata Global Beverages, said there are seven fundamental human drivers for coffee consumption, namely thirst quencher, indulgence, health and wellness, platform for conversations, status symbol, mood transformer and warmth and comfort.

A few in the audience, as against most of them, told the gathering that coffee has been consumed for health and wellness. Coffee, enjoyed by millions of people around the world every day, also accompanied many myths. Some of the myths include drinking coffee raises risk of heart disease, coffee can cause hypertension, coffee causes bone loss in women, drinking too much coffee can cause cancer, coffee can stunt the growth, especially in children, drinking too much coffee can cause ulcers, coffee can generate heat in the body, coffee can cause dehydration, coffee can help recover from a hangover faster, coffee causes insomnia etc.

Krupa Prashanth said coffee is a mild diuretic, meaning a substance which increases the frequency of urination. An average 2-3 cups of coffee contains 85-140 mg of caffeine. Heavy doses of caffeine, i.e. over 5-6 cups of coffee per day can increase the risk of heart failure. And it has a high content of antioxidants. But this doesn’t mean you should disregard the old maxim ‘Everything in moderation’. Coffee can fight depression and make the drinker happier if taken in moderation.

There are over 20,000 research papers published since 1974 related to coffee and health. Most of the research findings reveal coffee has many health benefits as it contains many useful compounds, vitamins, minerals besides caffeine, a naturally occurring and most commonly consumed stimulant in the world. Absorbed easily and rapidly, by the stomach and small intestine, it then circulates throughout the body, including the brain.

To understand and provide the true picture about coffee, seven of the major European coffee companies: illycaffè, Mondelez International, Lavazza, Nestlé, Paulig, DE Master Blenders 1753 and Tchibo formed a non-for-profit organisation in 1990 – Institute for Scientific Information on Coffee (ISIC) – to study and disclosure of science related to coffee and health. ISIC’s activities are focused on study of scientific matters related to coffee and health, collection and evaluation of studies and scientific information about coffee and health, support of independent scientific research on coffee and health and active dissemination of balanced coffee and health scientific evidence and knowledge to a broad range of stakeholders.

According to ISIC, coffee naturally contains a variety of compounds that display antioxidant properties. These include chlorogenic acids and melanoidins which can deactivate oxidants, and N-methylpyridinium, which can boost cell defence mechanisms. Oil contained in coffee also has shown the presence of diterpenes, cafestol and kahweol. Studies have shown that high consumption of these compounds can raise serum levels of total and LDL cholesterol. A typical cup of coffee provides approximately 80-100 mg caffeine, a major pharmacologically active compound in coffee and it is a mild central nervous system stimulant. Extensive research has shown beneficial effects of caffeine in the diet, such as improved attention, alertness and physical performance. In some individuals, however, there can be adverse effects, such as disturbed sleep patterns.

In last 23 years of its existence, ISIC has been focusing on research related to cardiovascular health, cancer, fluid balance, gallstones, liver function, mental performance, neurodegenerative disorders, pregnancy, sports performance, type 2 diabetes and has embarked on a Pan-European education programme, working in partnership with national coffee associations in nine countries namely Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Spain and United Kingdom. Coffee Health Education Programmes, among the participating countries, are focused on providing medical and healthcare audiences with up-to-date scientific information on a range of topics.

Coffee drinking was studied in relation to total coronary heart disease, angina pectoris, myocardial infarction, sudden death, and death from all causes. The results of the research on Coffee and Cardiovascular Disease — Observations from the Framingham Study, first published on October 24, 1974, showed that coffee drinking, as engaged in by the general population, is not a factor in the development of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, according to Jaakko Tuomilehto, Professor of Vascular Prevention, Danube-University Krems, Austria, and Professor Emeritus of Public Health, University of Helsinki, Finland.

Sharing his thoughts Ramesh Rajah, Member, Coffee Board of India and Chairman and Managing Director, Ramesh Exports, said, “Three decades ago, coffee as a beverage was seen as being detrimental to health. Recent studies, however, have shown many positive benefits in coffee consumption. There is a common perception that much of these studies have been sponsored by the coffee industry. The industry does much work in this field and there are some studies which have been sponsored by them.”

He further said, “The International Coffee Organisation (ICO) set up in London in 1963 in collaboration with the United Nations (UN) to enhance co-operation between nations that consume, distribute and produce coffee, has a website called Positively Coffee to build awareness to this. Similarly, the Coffee Board in the past has also done much work in propagating the message that coffee has many beneficial aspects by holding seminars, publishing booklets and so on. I, however, believe that it is still early days and we cannot promote coffee as a health beverage. Many more empirical studies have to be done. This can only be done by food scientists either in universities or in large companies. The Coffee Board and India Coffee Trust will help spread this message.”

He also pointed out that the speakers at the IICF 2014, have done independent studies and are in no way influenced by the industry. As we believe that such researchers carry more credibility, I am sure a day will come in the not too distant future, when coffee will be perceived as a health drink.

Commenting on promoting coffee in the developing world, Robério Oliveira Silva, Executive Director, International Coffee Organisation (ICO), said “We have taken up specific projects with additional funding of $2 million for promotional activities of coffee in specific countries. We are working with associations and member countries through campaigns to promote positive aspects of coffee drinking.”

Debate still persists whether coffee is beneficial or problematic for human health. Prof Jaakko Tuomilehto, Proffessor of Vascular Prevention at the Danube-University Krems, Austria Prof Emeritus of Public Health of the University of Helsinki, Finland says, “Coffee consumption has been associated with a decrease in risk for developing type 2 diabetes and numerous epidemiological studies have demonstrated that healthy, habitual coffee drinkers are more protected from the risk of contracting diabetes than individuals who do not drink coffee. Coffee consumption has been associated with a reduced incidence of impaired glucose tolerance, hyperglycemia and insulin sensitivity. Data suggests that several coffee components, such as chlorogenic acids, are involved in the health benefits of coffee. Various mechanisms for this protective effect have been proposed, including effects on incretin release, liver glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity. While these apparent health benefits still need further substantiation, there is a sound scientific basis for pursuing such investigations.”

Prof Tuomilehto further said, “Epidemiological data support numerous other health benefits for coffee, including reduced cardiovascular disease, a protective effect against some neurodegenerative conditions, in particular Parkinson’s disease, a favorable effect on liver function and a protective effect against certain cancers. These associations are based mainly on observational studies and are currently insufficient to recommend coffee consumption as an interventional strategy for risk reduction in type 2 diabetes and other metabolic diseases.”

Recommending coffee drinking, Satish Rao, Life & Wellness Coach, said, “Coffee is one of the most effective natural stimulants found on earth. It not only helps each one of us in spiking our metabolism, but also plays a crucial role in control of sugar level. I strongly advocate my clients, couple of cups a day (sugarless of course). Just like the aroma of fresh roasted coffee does wonders to our senses, in a similar way it plays a significant role, fuelling our workout, just before hitting the gym. Caffeine in the coffee minus the sugar, ‘stimulate the muscles’. I strongly advocate and practice having a large cup of coffee, just before hitting the gym.”

Bangalore-based registered dietitian Geetha G H says, “The morning cup of Joe has been around centuries.” Coffee addicts take solace as the world’s most popular beverage packs’ umpteen health perks. It is brimming with polyphenolic antioxidants and several micronutrients – potassium, magnesium, niacin and riboflavin. A fat burning aid and the bonus of stimulating caffeine revs up metabolism marginally, boosting physical performance. It is also favourable in elevating mood and cognition, with affirmative results in lowering the risk of diabetes, heart ailments, liver disease, cancer and several other neurological disorders like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and dementia. The black java also prevents premature skin ageing.

Sharing her views, Krupa Prashanth said, “Caffeine is one of the very few natural substances that have actually been proven to aid fat burning. Several studies show that caffeine can increase fat burning in the body and boost the metabolic rate. Caffeine can also increase adrenaline levels and release fatty acids from the fat tissues. It also leads to significant improvements in physical performance. Several observational studies show that coffee drinkers have a much lower risk of getting type 2 diabetes, a serious disease that currently afflicts about 300 million people world-wide. Coffee drinkers have a much lower risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease, which is a leading cause of dementia.

Referring to the latest Harvard study on coffee and health that seems to offer good news for coffee drinkers, Dr V Prakash, distinguished scientist of Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) India, said that researchers looked at the relationship between coffee consumption and overall mortality in the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, which together included about 1,30,000 study volunteers.

At the start of the study, these healthy men and women were in their 40s and 50s. The researchers followed them for 18 to 24 years, to see who died during that period, and to track their diet and lifestyle habits, including coffee consumption. Researchers did not find any relationship between coffee consumption and increased risk of death from any cause, death from cancer, or death from cardiovascular disease. Even people who drank up to six cups of coffee per day were at no higher risk of death. This finding fits into the research picture that has been emerging over the past few years. For the general population, the evidence suggests that coffee drinking does not have any serious detrimental health effects.

Speaking on “The Role of Coffee in Health and Wellness and its Economic impact for Estates, Industry and the Consumer” at IICF 2014, Dr Prakash suggested that the Coffee Board along with Indian Coffee Trust need to work on setting up Centre of Excellence of Coffee by investing on state-of-art analytical lab facility for coffee so as to work on many aspects related to coffee including working on developing improved coffee products with benefits of nutraceuticals.

The Coffee Board, which has received an increased funding of Rs 140 crore in the 12th Plan only for Research and Development (as informed by J S Deepak, Additional Secretary, Department of Commerce, Government of India in his address at IICF 2014) need to spend a portion of this on coffee and health related projects by involving local nutritionists, doctors, dieticians. This will only help support promotion of coffee in a healthy way with claims.

“Coffee has a great market for emerging lifestyles and perhaps India would be leading because of the diversity of coffee varieties in years to come if Coffee Board and Coffee Trust generate the health trust of consumers for every cup of coffee,” said Dr Prakash. “Clinical evidence (supporting health benefits of coffee) may remain elusive but one cannot forget the traditional consumption of coffee and the benefits that a family of large ethnic population has derived cannot be overlooked. Most of the times science, by trying to prove the benefits, has more or less supported the observation done by humans over several decades and centuries.”

Geetha, who is also a certified diabetes educator and exercise & sports nutritionist, pointed out that the regular black coffee is almost calorie free (without milk and sugar is only 1-2 kcal per 100 ml). The cuppa is worth indulging as latest research has debunked its diuretic effect. However, excess coffee can catapult anxiety and if one is not mindful of the trimmings, cream and sugar, it’s guaranteed to burst the calorie budget. Kahweol and cafestol found in coffee also raise cholesterol. Moderation be thy mantra!

“While excessive consumption can have adverse effects on some, particularly in terms of sleep quality, these effects vary among individuals and most people do not have any symptoms from coffee drinking. Moderate coffee consumption is associated with no or little risk of severe diseases and may offer substantial health benefits. Thus, coffee is a safe, low-energy beverage and suitable for most adults’’, concludes Prof Jaakko Tuomilehto.

Coffee and Economics:

Coffee is one of world’s most widely traded commodity and is produced in over 60 countries. Many of these countries are heavily dependent on coffee, which can account for over 50% of their total export earnings. It provides a livelihood for over 125 million people around the world and is particularly important for small holder farmers who produce most of the world’s coffee. Among consumers, coffee is a universally popular drink, with over 600 billion cups consumed each year.

Heath history of coffee:

– Coffee was first consumed as a ‘medical nutrient’ because of its stimulatory effects on digestion
– In the 11th Century, the virtues of caffeine were described by Avicenne
– In mid-15th Century, Sufi monks in Yemen used berry seeds that helped them to stay up and recite prayers
– By 1600, what had once been reviled as a ‘Muslim drink’ had gotten the endorsement of the Pope
– P Alpin, an Italian botanist and medical doctor, studied coffee during a trip to Egypt in 1580
– The first citations of coffee are from A de Jussieu in 1713 and Carl von Linné in 1753
– The Encyclopedia by Diderot and d’Alembert (1751-1772) describes the virtues of coffee in ‘obesity and migraine’
– Ethiopean shepherds first noticed the effects of caffeine when they saw their goats appearing to become frisky and dance after eating coffee berries


Nutritional properties of coffee

– The composition of coffee is quite complex – coffee contains more than 2,000 substances. In addition to caffeine, coffee contains proteins, minerals, vitamins and numerous other constituents
– Minerals – Calcium (3 mg), sodium (1 mg), low quantities of iron, zinc and copper
– Vitamins – Vit B3 (400-1200 µg), B2 (2 µg), B5 (80 µg) and B6 (0,6 µg)
– Phenolic compounds – chlorogenic acids: antioxidant properties and cellular detoxification. A normal coffee consumption delivers 0.5-1 g polyphenols which activate enzymes for reduction of free radicals
– Diterpenes – kawheol and cafestol: antioxidant properties and cellular detoxification in vitro and in-vivo; increase LDL-cholesterol


Positive topics related to coffee drinking

  – Coffee and Social Pleasure
  – Coffee and Safer Driving
  – Coffee and Exercise Performance
  – Coffee and the Workplace
  – Coffee and Mental Performance
  – Coffee and Antioxidants
  – Coffee and Diabetes
  – Coffee and Parkinson’s Disease
  – Coffee and Liver Function
  – Coffee and Alzheimer’s Disease
  – Coffee and Cancer
  – Coffee and Cardiovascular Disease



A cup of coffee contains:

  – 6% of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for Pantothenic Acid (Vitamin B5)
  – 11% of the RDA for Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)
  – 2% of the RDA for Niacin (B3) and Thiamine (B1)
  – 3% of the RDA for Potassium and Manganese
  – May not seem like much, but if you drink several cups of coffee per day then this quickly adds up.
  – Coffee also contains a massive amount of antioxidants
  – Caffeine: Good for the brain, bad for other parts?
  – Cafestol and kahweol: Filtering out cholesterol  

Narayan Kulkarni

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