Monday, July 18, 2011

Ask Us Anything: How Much Coffee Is Too Much?

"I drink six or seven cups of coffee a day. I'm generally without a cup at 3 p.m., which is when I feel tired and worn out. Is it possible that I'm depending on coffee to keep me alert? What could so much coffee do to my body? Are there any health risks? And if so, how can I reduce the amount that I'm drinking?"

Registered Dietitian Deborah Richter Responds:

Registered Dietitian Deborah RichterMost people enjoy a cup of Joe in the morning, and some people enjoy a lot of coffee through out the day.

The question about coffee and health benefits or health harm have been discussed by many. After 20 years of research, it has been determined that coffee is safe in moderation and may even offer some health benefits.

Moderation is the key. It is defined as a few cups of coffee per day. So 7 cups per day is on the high end of the recommendations.

To decrease the amount, use smaller cups or only plan to drink half the cup. There is research that indicates that the “stay alert” benefit of caffeinated coffee is best if a small amount is consumed through out the day. So, instead of that large 16 ounce coffee on the way to work, try 2 to 3 ounces consumed every hour or two.

As for health benefits, research has found that coffee drinkers, compared to nondrinkers, are less likely to have type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and dementia, have fewer cases of certain cancers, heart rhythm problems, and strokes.

According to Frank Hu, MD, MPH, PhD nutrition and epidemiology professor at the Harvard School of Public Health: “There is certainly much more good news that bad news, in terms of coffee and health.”

To overcome the afternoon slump, make healthy food choices for your lunch and be sure that your meal includes lean protein, whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low fat dairy. A 3 p.m. snack of a small piece of fruit and low-fat string cheese or a Greek yogurt might be just the “pick-me-up” needed to prevent being tired. Additionally, regular physical activity significantly improves the energy levels. Take a 10 minute walk at the mid-afternoon break, or use part of the lunch hour for some brisk exercise.

The good news is that you can enjoy your coffee, but possibly less of it. Work to include the benefits of healthy eating and regular daily physical activity to maximize your health and energy levels.

— Deborah Richter, RD

Deborah Richter is a registered dietitian at Sisters of Charity Hospital, St. Joseph Campus in Cheektowaga. She teaches diabetes education classes and provides outpatient nutrition counseling. She has helped her clients to lose weight, reduce their blood pressure and feel better about themselves through healthy eating choices.

If you have a question about your health, click here to ask our experts.

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