Celebrity Trainer Harley Pasternak: 5 Reasons to Have Another Cup of Coffee

04/22/2015 at 11:49 AM ET


SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg/Getty

Harley Pasternak is a celebrity trainer and nutrition expert who has worked with stars from Halle Berry and Lady Gaga to Robert Pattinson and Robert Downey Jr. He’s also a New York Times best-selling author, with titles including The Body Reset Diet and The 5-Factor Diet. His new book 5 Pounds is out now. Tweet him @harleypasternak.

It’s official: The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recently released its updated recommendations to the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Agriculture and other government agencies, and coffee is now considered not just benign but actually good for your health. After decades of the popular beverage being regarded as just the opposite, it’s refreshing to see that government policy will finally catch up with the positive research that has been emerging for years.

Coffee is chock-full of health-protective antioxidants. As a confirmed coffee lover — I drink at least two cups a day, just a tad above the average intake of 1.7 cups — I invite you to join me in a toast to this long-overdue news with a nice cuppa joe. First, let’s look at some of the studies and conclusions upon which the committee based its recommendations.

1. Banish the blues. One out of five women is diagnosed with depression at some time. According to a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, which followed more than 50,700 women who were initially free of depression, after 10 years, slightly more than 2,600 of them were suffering from the condition. However, the research revealed what is called an inverse correlation: more coffee, less depression. Specifically, women who drank two to three cups of caffeinated coffee a day were 15 percent less likely to have developed depression, compared with those who had only a single cup or less each week. Those who drank four or more cups daily decreased their risk by even more, 20 percent, but even women who had only about one cup a day reduced their risk somewhat.

2. Diminish the risk for diabetes. Over the last decade there have been a number of studies that linked drinking a few cups of coffee a day with a lower risk of getting Type 2 diabetes. Recent research looked at the impact of either increasing or decreasing the amount of coffee. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health analyzed the health records of more than 120,000 health professionals over a four-year time period. The findings were published in the journal Diabetologia: People who increased their intake by more than a single cup a day saw an 11 percent lower risk than those who did not change their intake. And those who cut their coffee consumption by more than a cup per day increased their risk by 17 percent.

3. Reduce the risk for developing endometrial cancer. This is the sixth-most common cancer among women worldwide, usually those who are in menopause. In an analysis of eight prior studies, researchers at the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund found that both regular and decaffeinated coffee appear to offer some protection against this disease. The various studies looked at different amounts of coffee consumed per day, but it appears that even one daily cup can reduce risk by 7 to 8 percent. Because there was no significant difference in the results between caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee, it means that caffeine is not the beneficial agent. Instead, the researchers think that it is the antioxidants in coffee that are the protective agent, specifically the compound chlorogenic acid, which is also found in stone fruits such as peaches and prunes.

4. Nurture your brain. Coffee’s well-known ability to kick-start your day results from its ability to block adenosine, a brain chemical that promotes sleepiness. Caffeine is also a mood elevator. But its impact on your brain goes much further. Antioxidants known as polyphenols, which are found in fruits, tea and red wine, are also present in coffee and are thought to inhibit inflammation in areas of the brain. But the most exciting recent research suggests that coffee may reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. As yet-unpublished research presented at the 2014 Alzheimer Europe Annual Conference found, regularly drinking three to five cups of coffee a day appears to decrease the risk for the disease by as much as 20 percent. According to Dr. Arfram Ikram, a neuroepidemiologist at Erasmus Medical Centre Rotterdam, who presented the findings, the polyphenols in caffeine reduce inflammation, thereby putting a brake on the formation of beta amyloid plaques and tau tangles, both of which have been strongly associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

5. Cut the risk of certain cancers. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that men who drank more than six cups of coffee a day had a lower risk for prostate cancer, but the risk was even more significantly reduced in the case of lethal prostate cancers. Before you go and get hopped up on six cups of joe, the study, which was published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, points out that “The association appears to be related to non-caffeine components of coffee.” Meanwhile, a Swedish study published in Breast Cancer Research found that drinking five or more cups of coffee per day could lower the risk of getting one form of breast cancer. In this case the form is estrogen-receptor-negative breast cancer. The authors wrote, “A high daily intake of coffee was found to be associated with a statistically significant decrease in ER-negative breast cancer among postmenopausal women.”

What should we make of this promising research? Well, first of all, it you are currently a once-a-day guy or gal, don’t suddenly triple your intake of coffee. But can you refill your cup without guilt? Absolutely. However, before you order yourself a celebratory mocha latte, keep in mind that coffee drinks can also be calorie bombs. Avoid sugar- and fat-laden creamers and syrups and stick to nonfat milk or milk substitutes. My favorite is a nonfat cortado, which has less milk than a latte but more than a macchiato — the perfect size for an afternoon pick-me-up.

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