Knowledge and understanding of coffee and its role in a healthy diet

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Expert comment from Professor Chris Seal, Professor of Food and Human Nutrition, and Chair of Board of Studies, Food & Human Nutrition BSc at Newcastle University, UK.

Consumer research of over 4,000 people across 10 European countries conducted by the Institute for Scientific Information on Coffee (ISIC) to better understand beliefs, behaviours, and knowledge regarding coffee and a healthy diet in Europe, suggests consumers are confused about the potential health benefits of coffee, and that healthy diet messages are not always understood*. This research was particularly intriguing to me and it was pleasure to discuss and debate the findings during ISIC’s recent roundtable, alongside experts from Spain and France who contributed from a medical and consumer behaviour perspective.

Today, a vast amount of health information is easily accessible from magazines and the internet and it can be confusing and conflicting. In addition, research suggests that across Europe and North America, many people are overly optimistic about their diets1 believing them healthier than they perhaps are. ISIC’s survey revealed that respondents were using online sources and media outlets as their primary point of information about coffee and health, instead of seeking advice from doctors, nurses and dieticians. The problem is not that consumers are short of information, but that it is hard to identify which sources are reliable, outdated, or, perhaps, biased.

Whilst key dietary messages are well known, 39% of Europeans surveyed by ISIC were uncertain about the potential health effects of coffee – despite its popularity as a daily drink2. ISIC’s consumer research confirms a significant interest in healthy lifestyles, but points to a need for more information to help consumers make positive choices.

Recommendations such as those by the NHS in the UK advise consumers to eat a varied and mixed diet to maintain a healthy weight, to limit the intake of carbs and saturated fats, and drink plenty of water and fluids.

Coffee has been extensively researched. Scientific evidence suggests that moderate consumption of coffee at 3-5 cups per day has been associated with a range of desirable physiological effects and fits within a healthy diet and active lifestyle. Pregnant and breastfeeding women are advised by EFSA to consume no more than 200mg of caffeine per day4 from all sources, which is equivalent to no more than two cups per day.

While coffee is often regarded simply within its social or ritual functions, it is also an important source of fluid and provides a number of potential protective health benefits, along with certain nutrients and antioxidants.

For example:

  • Coffee forms an important part of the fluids that we consume daily. Caffeine in very high doses induces a short term diuretic effect, but people tend to develop a tolerance so that they become insensitive or less sensitive to the diuretic effect. Even in people who have a moderate to high consumption of coffee, studies show that coffee does not affect total body water, or distribution of water in the body3.
  • Coffee also contains a wide range of bioactive compounds such as chlorogenic acids and melanoidins, which together contribute to the overall role of coffee in a healthy diet. Moderate coffee consumption at 3-5 cups a day also provides small amounts of some nutrients, such as potassium, magnesium and niacin.

Most survey respondents confirmed that they would like more information on healthy lifestyles and it is important that the information available to them is accurate. There was unanimous agreement amongst the expert panel participating in the roundtable that healthcare professionals, including dietitians, nutritionists and clinicians, are the best source of reliable, scientifically-grounded information on healthy lifestyles for consumers.

Healthcare professionals are well-placed to advise consumers on where to find reliable information on coffee and a healthy diet, and could also encourage consumers to analyse the credibility and validity of health information they read or see in the media. I fully support the idea that this group of professionals should be supported with regularly-updated educational material to ensure that the advice they give is accurate at all times.

To read the roundtable report ‘The good things in life: coffee as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle’, click here.

-END-

* Note: 4119 respondents across 10 European countries were surveyed by ISIC through an independent research company in November 2015.

References

  1. Variyam JN et al. (2001) Consumer misperceptions of diet quality. Journal of Nutrition Education, 33(6):314-21.
  2. Killer S. C. et al. (2014) No Evidence of Dehydration with Moderate Daily Coffee Intake: A Counterbalanced Cross-Over Study in a Free-Living Population. PLoS ONE, 9(1):e84154.
  3. EFSA (2015) Scientific Opinion on the Safety of Caffeine. EFSA Journal, 13(5):4102.

This information is intended for Healthcare professional audiences.
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