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Health Meets Pleasure in Coffee


Is it true that drinking coffee can reduce health risks?  Several studies have linked coffee drinkers with lower rates of diabetes.  It is theorized that the relatively high amounts of the minerals magnesium and chromium, which help the body use insulin, may account for this health benefit.  In 2009, the Nurses' Health Study showed a 20% lower risk of stroke in those who reported drinking two or more cups of coffee daily compared to those who drank less coffee or none at all.  Coffee may also lower by as much as 65% our risk of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.

While these studies show that coffee drinkers are less likely to have certain health problems, they do not definitely prove cause and effect.  For example, it's possible that coffee drinkers have other advantages that account for improved health, such as better diets, or greater activity.  So there isn't solid proof.  But there are definite trends in the data that are pretty convincing. 

It is worthy to note that if you have high blood pressure, it’s prudent to limit coffee to two cups per day.  Caffeine increases heart rate and raises levels of the fight-or-flight chemical adrenalin.   It has also been reported that younger adults may suffer ill effects if they drink more than 4 cups/day.  Again this finding may not be a causal relationship but rather reflect higher alcohol intake or tobacco use.

Some of the health benefits might be explained by very high anti-oxidant content in coffee.  Fresh brewed not instant is preferable both for flavor and health benefit.  So the “Flavor is in the Freshness!” mantra continues with this food.

If we are just talking flavor, the best cup of coffee comes from beans that have recently been roasted and recently ground.  This is because the volatile oils that give that rich flavor and aroma begin to diminish after roasting and they diminish faster after grinding.  Since we don’t have a lot of control over when the beans were roasted, our best practice is to buy whole beans and grind them as we use them.
Storage matters.  Flavor will be preserved if we reduce exposure to air, light and heat.  So store your beans at room temperature in a sealed container that keeps out light and away from the oven.  It has been fashionable to store beans in the freezer, but current information does not support this practice.  Changes in temperature can expose the beans to moisture which will reduce flavor.

There are many different types of coffee makers these days.  The one that I prefer is a low tech device that originated in France known as a French press.  The French press does not require electricity or filters and so is a very economical way to brew.  And more importantly, it delivers a superior cup of coffee.  For a French press or for most home coffee makers with a flat basket, grind your coffee to a medium grind, about 10-13 seconds in a coffee mill.  Fine grind is better for cone shaped filters.  Use one to two tablespoons of coffee to one cup of water.  Add boiling water and stir with a wooden spoon.  Let the coffee brew for 4 minutes.  Then, gently press down on the French press to move the grounds to the bottom.  Now it’s time to enjoy the pleasure of a gourmet cup of coffee.

 

Tim Scallon is a registered dietitian nutritionist and Director of Clinical Nutrition and the HC Polk Education Center at Memorial Health System in Lufkin.  The Polk Center provides individual and group education on diabetes, heart disease and stroke; monthly classes on healthy cooking; and monthly support groups in Lufkin and Livingston.  In cooperation with Sodexo Food Service and the City of Lufkin, the Polk Center produces the nationally viewed TV series Memorial Cooking Innovations where dietitian Tim Scallon teams up with Chef Manuel Marini to demonstrate how healthy eating can taste great.  The show can be seen on cable in 46 cities and on the Memorial web site at http://www.memorialhealth.org. Call 639-7585 for more information.
 

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