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Is coffee better than tea?: 9 facts about your cuppa

Independent.ie logo Independent.ie 15/6/2019 Tanya Sweeney
a white plate topped with a donut and a cup of coffee: Drinking up to 25 cups a day is no worse for your heart than one. Drinking up to 25 cups a day is no worse for your heart than one.

We tend to like our coffee how we like our men: strong, sweet and in small doses. Except now, science says that if you're a fiend for a latte, or your Americano habit is insatiable, you're pretty much in the clear.

Where once it was recommended that coffee lovers curb their enthusiasm for the drink, as it was believed to stiffen arteries and increase risk of stroke or heart attack, science now has had a change of heart. A new study, partly funded by the British Heart Foundation, says that a high intake of coffee doesn't have the effect that we once thought.

And in fact, drinking up to 25 cups a day is no worse for your heart than one.

One in three Irish people now buys a coffee at least once a day - an increase of 10pc on the previous year according to a 2017 survey of 1,011 people by Allegra World for UCC Coffee Ireland. The number of specialist coffee houses grew by 8.5pc in 2016, according to Euromonitor.

But now that everything we thought we knew about the health effects of coffee has been upended, what is the truth about our favourite morning beverage? We asked a couple of experts on whether it really is all good news for espresso aficionados.

So how much coffee is really okay now?

"For a long time, we have been told that four or even six cups of coffee a day is fine," says nutritionist Sarah Keogh. "I certainly wouldn't be rushing out to drink 25 cups a day. This recent study was conducted with people who already drank lots of cups of coffee a day and it found that there wasn't a significant difference in their risk of heart disease. The big thing is that most studies say that coffee is nowhere near as bad for you as once thought."

Are there other health benefits?

"One study suggests that drinking coffee was more often associated with benefit than harm," says dietitian Orla Walsh of the Dublin Nutrition Centre. "It was shown that three to four cups of coffee a day was linked with; a 17pc lower risk of dying; a 19pc lower risk of dying from heart disease and 15pc lower risk of developing heart disease; and an 18pc lower risk of cancer.

It's often good news to coffee drinkers to hear that coffee counts towards their fluid intake each day."

Do the findings have impact on the advice for pregnant women?

"We know that caffeine has an impact on the birth weight of a baby - usually they tend to be small for their age if their mother has had a lot of caffeine," says Keogh. "It's a good idea to limit to one to two cups of tea or one cup of coffee a day."

Does it have an effect on the heart?

"We now know from studies that coffee can reduce the risk of heart disease, but other lifestyle factors may be at play," says Keogh. "People who drink coffee may also be quite sociable or do plenty of exercise, and that could have an effect on their hearts. It's hard to say what its effect is all by itself."

What about insomnia?

"Caffeine has a half-life of about six to seven hours, which means that the caffeine is still half in your system six to seven hours later," explains Walsh. "Therefore it's a good idea not to have coffee in the second half of the day."

What about your tummy?

"Caffeine can stimulate your gut, which can be good news for those with constipation," says Walsh. "This does mask issues within the diet, which can lead to other issues further down the line. For some people caffeine irritates the gut and exacerbates their IBS. For these people, decaf may be the better choice. Caffeine can feed negatively into a cycle of poor gut health and increased feelings of anxiety with or without disturbed sleep."

What about affecting your teeth?

"It can stain teeth - anything that has tannins will stain your teeth, but fortunately, those stains can be removed easily," says Keogh.

What about calories?

"Coffee has very little calorie content, especially plain black coffee (about 2 calories in an 8-ounce cup)," says Keogh. "Cappuccinos and lattes are great for calcium intake, but if you're having six of them a day and trying to watch your weight, it's worth keeping an eye on that."

Adds Walsh: "Coffee is low-calorie. However, if you add cream, syrups and milk, the calories do add up. A latte or cappuccino can be a great choice mid-morning if feeling peckish and needing something to keep you going until lunch."

So, is it better than tea?

"Generally speaking, both are good for you!" says Walsh. "As long as we don't overdo it. It seems likely that coffee is beneficial due to its antioxidant content - over 1,000 antioxidants exist within the cup, with each antioxidant unlikely to exert the same beneficial effect."

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