Wellness Wednesday: Go beyond the headline in assessing health and nutrition studies

ByLois C

Jun 9, 2022 , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A good example is a recent report suggesting drinking coffee reduces your chance of dying

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You have probably read the headline by now: drinking coffee daily, even with sugar, reduces your chance of dying.

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Last week a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine suggested that your morning java may be linked to a lower mortality risk. Those who drank 1.5 to 3.5 cups of coffee per day, even with a teaspoon of sugar, were up to 30 per cent less likely to die during the study period than those who didn’t drink coffee. Those who drank unsweetened coffee were 16 to 21 per cent less likely to die during the study period, with those drinking about three cups per day having the lowest risk of death when compared with non-coffee drinkers.

Before you brew another pot of coffee, consider this. These studies usually attract a lot of attention from media. I heard the study mentioned twice on the radio during my morning commute. After all, coffee is the most widely consumed beverage in the world – the Global Coffee market is valued at USD $465.9 billion.

Previous studies on coffee have linked consumption to lower risk of developing dementia, type 2 diabetes and even some cancers. The recent headline is definitely an attention grabber; drink coffee to be healthy. A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.

But there’s much more to the study than a headline and brief description. Just as I recommend reading nutrition labels so as not to be tempted by food packaging and marketing, it’s important to review the published work before you ‘buy in’.

The actual title of the study is: Association of Sugar-Sweetened, Artificially Sweetened, and Unsweetened Coffee Consumption with All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality. The objective was to evaluate the associations of consumption of sugar-sweetened, artificially sweetened and unsweetened coffee with all-cause and cause-specific mortality.

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It’s an observational study that doesn’t conclusively prove that coffee itself is the reason behind lower mortality risk. Lifestyle factors like diet and regular exercise are also determinants of mortality risk.

Dietary consumption of coffee, sweetened or not, was self reported, which demonstrates limitations in the research – humans typically overestimate or underestimate when it comes to self-reporting.

Interestingly, in this study, the amount of sugar added by study participants was a mere teaspoon, which is about 4 grams of sugar, about five times less than a large caramel macchiato or iced coffee found in popular coffee chains.

So, is drinking those fancy coffees good for you, too? The answer is no. Excess sugar consumption is linked to a long list of preventable diseases and provides extra calories with zero nutritional benefit. That any headline should suggest sweetened coffee is healthy is careless and discredits the research.

So rather than pouring – or ordering – another cup of coffee, reach for a glass of water instead.

Coffee has caffeine, which has diuretic properties, potentially affecting your hydration status. While drinking a cup or two is unlikely to dehydrate you, research shows that five cups of brewed coffee can.

If you are looking to lower your caffeine intake, you may want to try green tea or switch to another type of coffee. Brewed or drip coffee, the most popular in North America, has the highest caffeine, between 70-140 mg per 8-ounce cup, while espresso has around 63 mg per 1-1.75-ounce cup and decaf has about 3 mg.

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There are many options out there, including the decision to eliminate caffeine entirely. Caffeine withdrawal and associated unpleasant symptoms like headaches, fatigue and anxiety are just short term. But long-term benefits outweigh the short-term effects, and include better sleep, slower skin aging, better nutrition absorption and lower blood pressure.

Laura Stradiotto is a holistic nutritionist, mother of three and writer in Sudbury. She works as a nutrition coach and content developer at Med-I-Well Services, a multidisciplinary team of health professionals who collaborate with companies to develop a healthier more productive workforce. Wellness Wednesday is a monthly column that appears in the Sudbury Star. To get in touch with Laura, email [email protected]

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By Lois C