Ask a nutrition student: espresso yourself

Stacey Arnold

  • I read somewhere that coffee causes cancer.  The number of all-nighters I have pulled with coffee as my only companion now has me worried about my future health. Should I be concerned?
  • — Cup of Joe

It is safe to assume that a “latte” of college students have depended on some sort of coffee beverage to fuel late nights of studying or to provide motivation to attend an 8 a.m. class. You will be pleased to find out that coffee brews some health benefits too.

At one point, an association between bladder cancer and coffee consumption was thought to exist. In 1991, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) labeled coffee “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”

Fortunately for students everywhere, this past June, IARC altered coffee’s status to “not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans.” Basically, after scouring new research, scientists found that there wasn’t enough evidence to label coffee as cancer-causing.

While IARC may have revoked java’s status, very hot beverages — those above 149 degrees Fahrenheit — were given a carcinogenic warning. IARC found that the high temperatures of beverages probably cause cancer of the esophagus in humans.

Keep in mind that the National Coffee Association recommends brewing coffee between 195 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit for optimal extraction, so make sure you let your coffee cool off before drinking.

Coffee isn’t just non-cancerous, it can also provide health benefits. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, drinking coffee may improve cognitive function, prevent type 2 diabetes and reduce the risk of colon cancer, liver disease and Parkinson’s disease.

Like green tea and dark chocolate, coffee is also rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants are natural compounds that remove damaging agents in the body, and can protect against heart disease and cancers. A 2005 study by University of Scranton scientists found that Americans get more antioxidants from coffee than anywhere else in their diet.

Like everything else, it’s best to consume coffee in moderation — limit yourself to three to five 8-ounce cups a day. People with high blood pressure, the elderly and pregnant or breast-feeding women should be mindful of their coffee intake. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, high caffeine consumption can pose health risks to these populations.

A cup or two of black coffee can remain as a permanent pick-me-up in your diet. Don’t worry about the all-nighters — grab a light roast (they contain slightly more caffeine than dark) and start your study grind.