The year was 1979 and I was living in Palo Alto, California. I stood at a Deli counter, waiting to receive my 12 ounce cup of black coffee before going to work across the street. The young man behind me actually thought he’d delivered a pick-up line by showing his concern for my health, as he began to deliver his treatise on the dangers of the evil bean. “Coffee can raise a person’s blood pressure, erode stomach lining because of the acid and interrupt sleep patterns.”
I’m sure my reply was far more acidic than the watery brew in my styrofoam cup. I swept past my advice-giver without a backward glance. He couldn’t have imagined his well-meaning attempt to point out my ignorance would elicit such irritation but, for me, he had blown any chance for a date. Coffee, like eggs (cholesterol!), red meat (fat and cholesterol!) and white sugar (poison!) had a terrible reputation in those days and of course I knew it.
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Oddly enough, my first taste of espresso had occurred just a few blocks away, where a European-style coffee bar had opened in Palo Alto the previous year. It dealt a savage, snobbish blow to the I-Hops, Village Inns and Howard Johnsons across the US. Even though all the health experts insisted that coffee was as dangerous as cigarettes, the coffee culture blossomed as the cappucinos, lattes and flavored syrups emerged to take over for the dining counters of the 50s and 60s.
Coffee is drunk all over the world and every country has it’s favorite ways of consuming the dark, fragrant liquid.
At Guatemalan bus stops, peasant women ladle out a steaming, syrupy brew. Imbibers add cubes of fresh, unsalted cheese, stirring it into a melty goodness to be spooned out of the bottom of the cup.
In Thailand, people add sweetened condensed milk to their brew. They call it “Thai coffee” and even the children drink it.
In Colombian markets, men, women and children walk around with big coffee pots and bags of small paper cups, dispensing a brew they called “tinto”. They sweetened the coffee with raw cane sugar purchased from vendors as chunks resembling huge caramels. Cane sugar as raw as this is loaded with nutrients. “Tintos” delivered a caffeine buzz, a sugar rush and a nutritional boost from the raw cane sugar in one swallow.
Fast forward to 2015. The current Dietary Guidelines for America now states: “Moderate coffee consumption (three to five 8-oz cups/day or providing up to 400 mg/day of caffeine) can be incorporated into healthy eating patterns.”
Observational research in the U.K., concluded that the health benefits of drinking coffee outweighed the negatives. The study also reported that drinking three to four cups of coffee a day lowered the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by 19 percent. Death from coronary heart disease went down by 16 percent and there was a 30 percent lower risk of dying from a stroke. Drinking coffee was also linked to a lower risk of certain kinds of cancer, diabetes, gallstones and gout. Despite all this, the guidelines caution pregnant women not to consume more than 200 milligrams a day and also suggest that coffee is not something to begin doing for health reasons, especially if loaded with sugar and cream.
It is generally acknowledged that coffee is not only stimulating, it is also high in antioxidants and assists in cleansing toxins from the body. It has been given some credit for helping with weight loss and reducing the risk of diabetes and Alzheimer’s, though studies of these claims have not been conclusive.
The good news is that the benefits of coffee apparently outweigh the risks of consuming it.
Drink up everyone.