Coffee is one of the foods that most polarizes the opinions of consumers. Either you love it or you hate it , there is no middle ground. This is also transferred to the nutritional field, where coffee consumed as a drink or infusion has had different verdicts over the years regarding its healthy role within the eating pattern.
The current panorama on the benefits and risks of coffee, what is the win?
In recent years, various investigations have become very popular in relation to the consumption of coffee and the prevention of cardiovascular diseases , cancer and, in general, mortality from all causes.
This last parameter in particular aroused a lot of consumer interest in 2017, due to the publication of a study that associated coffee consumption with a reduction in mortality from all causes . The study brought together 502,641 participants and caused a sensation in the media, making quite controversial headlines at the time. However, despite its large sample, the research was still an observational study that did not allow for solid conclusions on this relationship.
Despite this, research in later years yielded similar results, reinforcing the idea that consuming 2-5 cups of coffee a day could be considered a beneficial health practice , an amount close to the maximum daily 400 mg of caffeine that Institutions like EFSA recommend for healthy adults with no apparent caffeine problems.
Caffeine: the star component
If we focus on the predominant compound in coffee, we know that caffeine in high doses can have adverse effects on health , altering the sleep pattern, showing irritability, anxiety and even severe tachycardias. This is one of the reasons why the misnamed "energy" drinks in Spain have certain regulations on their food labeling. Its consumption should be reduced and even be omitted in pregnant women , children and young people.
However, we cannot be categorical in the recommendations on caffeine either, since this compound has shown great utility in the context of sports practice to improve physical performance and also to stimulate cognitive abilities in adequate doses.
If we assess together all the current benefits that scientific evidence has shown on coffee and its possible damages, we see that the balance shows a positive result . In other words, for the moment, we know that coffee consumption has more benefits than health risks. It all depends on the context and the population group we are addressing. In addition, it would be a mistake to focus exclusively on caffeine, we must also assess the rest of the bioactive components of coffee.
Does coffee help us lose weight?
One of the main positive effects in relation to coffee consumption, and that generates more attention in consumers, is its possible favorable effect towards weight loss and appetite control. In fact, in recent years we have seen an increase in scientific studies aimed at reaching solid conclusions on this matter.
This recent meta – analysis from last year 2019 analyzed 12 epidemiological studies on coffee consumption and obesity that included measures such as body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference. Their results were modest , suggesting that higher coffee intake could be associated with a reduction in adiposity, that is, body fat, particularly in men.
These same conclusions have been supported by other studies like this one , carried out both in vitro and in vivo , where it was concluded that caffeine consumption could intervene in the activation of a mitochondrial protein called UCP1, related to the metabolism of lipids and , therefore, with the mobilization and loss of adipose or fat tissue.
On the other hand, we also found interesting conclusions in this review that analyzed coffee consumption with decreased appetite. It was concluded that the consumption of coffee between 30 minutes and 4 hours before the meal could reduce the subsequent energy intake .
Analyzing all these data together, we can conclude that the scientific evidence about the relationship between coffee consumption and weight loss is not conclusive, but it is promising . The truth is that there is enough evidence to think that coffee could have a certain regulatory function in body weight, however, there is still no solid scientific support behind it. This demonstrates the need for further investigation of this relationship in the future in order to obtain clearer answers.
What we must be clear about is that the format of coffee consumption is very important, since it will not be the same to consume coffee alone than with a good amount of added sugar, or accompanied by ultra-processed products such as pastries. In these cases, the potential beneficial effects of coffee would be overshadowed by the clear harms of sugar and other unhealthy ingredients.
The relationship between coffee and the microbiota
Another aspect that has been thoroughly investigated in recent years is the role played by the human microbiota —that is, the community of microorganisms found in our body— against obesity and weight gain in general. This means that relationships between the consumption of certain foods and changes in the microbiota are also investigated.
For example, this in vitro study carried out by the University of Granada Medical Research Center suggests that there are differences in the composition of roasted coffee and green coffee that could be related to certain variations in the microbiota .
Specifically, they found that roasted coffees had a higher antioxidant capacity, but that green coffees caused a greater production of short-chain fatty acids after fermentation. All these data suggest that the different chemical compositions of coffee could also be related to diverse effects on the microbiota, a factor that also appears to be linked to body weight, but about which we still have a lot to learn .
Microbiota and obesity: they seem to go hand in hand
In recent years, the relationship between the intestinal microbiota and obesity has been extensively studied. The fundamental premise on which this hypothesis is based is that obese people present a different type of microorganisms compared to people who are normal weight. Some researchers even suggest that after bariatric surgery operations in obese people, the intestinal microbiota could be modified in some way.
So, do people who are obese see their microbiota modified? Or, on the contrary, are people who genetically have a different microbiota are more likely to develop obesity? That is the big question. At the moment, we know that obesity and microbiota have a certain relationship , but science has not yet unraveled the mystery about which of these variables is the one that influences the other.
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