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Is there a healthy way to drink coffee?
Food and drink

Is there a healthy way to drink coffee?

Pure Arabica coffee, naturally roasted and unblended, with no additives or additions of cream, liqueurs, condensed milk or sugar, can actually be good for you

Marta Fernández Vallejo


Friday, 17 November 2023, 14:35

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Coffee with cream, with ice cream, with whipped cream, with chocolate, with a liqueur, with caramel... nutritionists suggest that we are turning coffee into a dessert with so many add-ons. Science has already shown us that mixing coffee with such bad company wipes out the good that it can bring to the body. Furthermore, the positive effects for cardiovascular and brain health are only achieved if we use naturally roasted beans, not torrefacto (roasted with sugar) or blends that do more harm than good. Even better when using the filter method.

Caffeine and antioxidants

Coffee is a drink made with ground beans from the coffee bush. Although there are more than 66 different species of bean, only ten are cultivated for our consumption. Of these ten, Arabica, which accounts for more than 60% of world production, and Robusta are the most commercially known.

“Although coffee provides some carbohydrates, lipids and proteins, the content of each is very low. It also contains potassium, magnesium, phosphorus and calcium, in addition to a practically negligible quantity of vitamins,” said Carmen Vidal, professor of Nutrition and Bromatology (food science). “The lead role in the composition of coffee goes to caffeine. It is the bioactive compound responsible for the principal physiological effects of coffee and contributes to its bitter taste. It also contains phenolic compounds, substances with an important antioxidant capacity,” she added.

Benefits of coffee

Scientific evidence suggests that moderate and regular consumption of coffee has some positive effects for our health. A recent study presented at the Congress of the European Society of Cardiology concludes that a regular intake of coffee has benefits for the heart. Science has also shown a relationship between coffee consumption and a lower risk of suffering from certain metabolic disorders, especially type 2 diabetes, according to Vidal. Coffee is also associated with neurological benefits, yielding very positive results in the prevention of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

But the best known effect is “its potential to stimulate the central nervous system due to the caffeine, which reduces feelings of fatigue and increases intellectual performance. In addition, it provides a certain state of euphoria and well-being,” stated the professor. Both effects are a consequence of the block that caffeine imposes on “the neurotransmitters for any relaxing activity. Also from the increase in adrenaline and noradrenaline levels.”

How to choose the healthiest coffee

In the supermarket we typically find three types of coffee: naturally roasted, torrefacto (roasted with sugar), and a blend of the two. “When the raw bean is simply roasted, what we know as naturally roasted coffee is obtained. In Spain there is a tradition of roasting coffee by adding sugar during the roasting process (up to 15 kilos of sugar per 100kg of raw beans). Due to the effect of the heat, the sugar caramelises and envelops the bean, which remains shiny, darker in colour, and so the coffee tastes stronger, and bitter,” explained a spokesperson from OCU (an independent consumer association in Spain). “A blended coffee is a combination of natural and torrefacto beans, and most are half and half, but they are also mixed to other ratios: 70% natural to 30% torrefacto, 80/20%...”.

“Burnt sugar generates a large amount of acrylamide, considered a carcinogen by the World Health Organisation (WHO). For this reason torrefacto and any coffees mixed with torrefacto must be discarded,” recommended Dr Odile Fernández, author of the ‘Cook Naturally’ blog. How can we detect coffees that are not 100% naturally roasted? Sugar will appear in the list of ingredients.

This expert recommends the Arabica variety as it is roasted at a lower temperature and contains more antioxidants than the cheaper Robusta. “The healthiest thing: buy naturally roasted Arabica beans and grind them at home. If the coffee is ecological, even better,” she stated.

Making a healthier coffee

The espresso and filter methods follow the same process: you pour hot water over ground coffee, the water passes through the grounds, then through a filter and drops into a container. The difference is in the method in that the water is pushed through by pressure in the case of a coffee capsule, espresso machine or the stove-top, Italian Moka pot. When filtering, the water just drips through the coffee thanks to gravity. This tends to accentuate the flavours more.

“The healthiest way to prepare coffee is by the filter method,” advised the doctor. “It is the method that has proven to yield most benefits in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease”. She also pointed out that the antioxidants present in coffee do not disappear in the filtering process, including polyphenols, “which reduce bad cholesterol, in addition to applying anti-clotting effects and improving blood circulation.”

“It is better to be alone than to be in bad company” This popular saying can certainly be applied to coffee. Dieticians have sent out the warning message: the custom has spread of adding not only sugar to our coffees, but also liqueurs, condensed milk, pouring cream, whipped cream, ice cream and caramel. We have turned coffee “into a dessert,” was the health warning released a few days ago on social media by Marcos Vázquez, a physical trainer and content creator on nutrition.

So, what dose of caffeine is appropriate? Between one and three cups of filtered coffee per day, four at a push. “That’s the dosage that researchers link with the lowest risk of stroke and heart disease,” said Vázquez. Five cups or more can produce unwanted effects such as anxiety, insomnia, irritability, diarrhoea, stomach pains and nausea.

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