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Moderation is key to consuming caffeine

| Sunday, May 19, 2002

Caffeine, a natural component of coffee, is a concern for people with heart problems and high blood pressure. While caffeine should be avoided by those with heart disease and by expectant mothers, having some caffeinated coffee or other beverages still is considered OK by the medical and dietetics community - in moderation.

Moderation is defined as 3 to 4 cups a day. (Mind you, those are standard cups, not mugs or those supersize takeouts.) However, studies reported recently in the media indicate that we will continue to hear more about one of our favorite picker-uppers.

Let's sort it out.

Caffeine is not always a "bad guy." It has been found to be helpful for relieving headaches in some migraine sufferers. Researchers have mixed evidence on the association of caffeine or coffee with certain types of cancer. Some evidence suggests that drinking coffee might lower the risk for colon cancer. Other studies suggest that coffee drinking might add to the risk for bladder, pancreas or breast cancer.

Moderation still is the message. Stay tuned for more news.

On the heart disease front, a Finnish study has reaffirmed that heavy coffee drinkers run a higher risk for heart disease. However, the subjects of this research were people who also tended to smoke more. Oops - there's that idea again that a healthful lifestyle, not a list of foods to avoid, should be everyone's goal.

One of the most intriguing pieces of research is that coffee and caffeine might offer some protection against Parkinson's disease. The theory is that caffeine could somehow have a moderating effect on nerve degeneration or on the transmission of chemical signals to the brain. The results sound hopeful but are preliminary. This is not a reason to start drinking coffee or caffeinated beverages, but it does give a green light for moderate intake.

THE BOTTOM LINE

How you prepare coffee and how much you consume are factors you can control:

  • Unless you are pregnant or your doctor tells you otherwise, enjoy coffee or tea with or without caffeine.

  • Keep the amount to less than 4 cups a day for coffee (regular or decaf). A cup is 8 fluid ounces.

  • When you buy decaffeinated coffee, look for an assurance that it was processed naturally or using water.

  • Use a preparation method for coffee that involves a filter. When brewing tea, remove the tea bag or filter out the leaves after steeping it.

  • Take time to enjoy the aroma and flavor. Coffee is not nutritious, but it certainly adds to our pleasure.

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