Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Coffee as a health drink?

Coffee as a health drink?
Mon, Mar 29, 2010

How many times have we heard health experts tell us to abstain from coffee, drink less of it, or avoid it at certain times of the day?

While tea's health benefits are widely acknowledged, coffee is - for many Singaporeans at least - linked to sleepless nights, weight gain and other health woes.

Many may have overlooked the black brew's manifold health benefits.

AsiaOne Health recently had a short chat with restaurateur and coffee connoisseur Mr Keith Loh, director of Oriole Cafe & Bar, about coffee, the way it is imbibed and its health benefits.

Singapore's coffee culture

Mr Loh, who took first place in the Singapore National Barista Championship 2010, remarked that Singapore has "its own unique coffee culture" that is influenced by the Americans' preference for espresso-based drinks with lots of milk, sugar and syrup.

It is very different from the coffee culture of Europe, where black coffee is the norm, he pointed out.

Interestingly enough, drinking plain, black coffee is the best way to obtain the drink's health benefits.

This is because it has next to no calories and fat. In contrast, a latte (essentially a mug of milk with a shot of espresso) contains approximately 200 calories, half of which come from fat. A latte also contains 8.5 - 14g of sugar (equivalent to 2 - 3 packets) - all of which come from the milk itself.

Black coffee, anyone?

However, many (especially those aged below 40) are resistant to the idea of drinking black coffee because they prefer sweeter drinks. Another reason is that much of the black coffee one drinks here is often bitter, sour or simply bad-tasting.

Find the right coffee
To learn which types of coffee beans suit your taste best, go to a good cafe and see what they have available. At some cafes, like Oriole Cafe and Bar, you can order a pot of coffee ($6) brewed from your own choice of beans. If you like its taste, you can buy a whole bag of grinds home - making your own coffee can be the healthiest way to enjoy it.

Mr Loh hopes to change that perception. Oriole Cafe and Bar sources for high quality coffee beans from different regions around the world, and even has its own industrial-grade coffee roaster so that coffee beans can be carefully roasted in small batches.

By giving customers access to high-quality, freshly ground coffee beans, Mr Loh hopes to introduce Singaporeans to good coffee and allow them to appreciate the beverage for themselves.

And there is no "best" coffee for everyone, he clarified. Instead, whatever pleases your taste buds is the best coffee for you, even if another drinker hates it.

What's in coffee?

A cup of black coffee has zero fat and next-to-no calories.

Coffee also contains many antioxidants, which studies suggest help prevent Type 2 diabetes and heart disease, as well as stave off Alzheimer's disease. A cup of coffee can contain up to 350mg of chlorogenic acid, which can help inhibit the growth of tumours.

It also contains numerous trace minerals such as Niacin, Thiamin, Magnesium, Phosphorous, Folate and Manganese.

Interestingly enough, coffee is the number one source of antioxidants for most Americans, according to a study conducted by Dr Joe Vinson at University of Scranton. His team found that the average adult consumes 1,299 milligrams of antioxidants daily from coffee, and less than 300 milligrams from tea.

The best way to get your caffeine fix

Caffeine is the reason why coffee is a perk-me-up. It is a stimulant that can temporarily decrease drowsiness and increase alertness. It stays within your body for quite some time, which is why one should avoid coffee if one intends to go to bed anytime soon.

Most people think that an espresso is best way to get a caffeine fix, but they are mistaken. A serving of espresso contains only about 100mg of caffeine - up to 40 per cent less than a cup of brewed coffee which contains about 175mg.

This is because caffeine is a water-soluble chemical - the longer the coffee beans are in contact with water, the more caffeine seeps out of the beans and into the beverage. Hence, espresso, which is made by quickly passing water through coffee grinds at high pressure, contains significantly less caffeine than coffee which is brewed for several minutes.

Mr Loh's advice for those who really want a caffeine fix is to go for a cup of drip or filtered coffee, rather than an espresso-based drink.

Love your coffee

Among its many health benefits, coffee can cut the risk of liver cancer by almost half, as well as improve liver performance. Studies have linked it to a reduced risk of Parkinson's disease, as well as to a lower risk of Type 2 diabetes.

Coffee also reduces the risk of gallstones and prevents strokes. There is also evidence that suggests that coffee can help control asthma, boost one's moods and even treat headaches.

While the healthiest way to drink coffee is to have it black, it is admittedly not something that everyone can get used to. For those who must have some milk in one's coffee, Mr Loh recommends using full cream milk rather than the low- fat kind. This apparently counterintuitive advice is based on the fact that full cream milk provides a sense of satiety that low-fat and skim milk lack.

One good news about adding coffee to milk is that although it will increase the amount of fat, calories and sugar in your drink, it will not destroy the potent antioxidants in it.

Naturally, one should limit oneself to only one cup of coffee served in this way each day, so as to control one's fat and sugar intact. In this way, you can enjoy the health benefits of coffee while limiting the impact on your waistline.