Coffee and long life

Drinking a few cups of coffee every day just might help you live a little longer, according to two new studies. Researchers found that daily coffee drinkers were up to 18 percent less likely to die over the next 10 to 16 years, versus non-drinkers.

The findings were based on research on over 700,000 middle-aged and older adults, and back up results from other studies on moderate coffee drinking.

Earlier studies have already tied coffee consumption to lower risks of various diseases -- from heart disease and type 2 diabetes, to liver cancer, to neurological diseases like Parkinson's and multiple sclerosis.

However, none of those studies prove coffee, per se, provides the benefit. And it's unlikely that your doctor will start recommending coffee as some sort of elixir, according to Veronica Setiawan, senior researcher on one of the studies. Setiawan is associate professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine.

"But if you've always been a coffee drinker, there's no reason to stop," said Setiawan.

She recommends adding moderate coffee consumption with a healthy lifestyle.

Setiawan and colleagues used data on nearly 186,000 middle-aged and older Americans of all races. At the study's start, in the 1990s, people reported on their diet and lifestyle habits, including coffee drinking. During the next decade, more than 58,000 study participants died. It turned out that coffee drinkers had better survival odds. Those who downed one to three cups a day were 12 to 18 percent less likely to die, versus non-drinkers.

A second study had similar findings. The second study at Johns Hopkins University included more than 520,000 Europeans. During the investigation, nearly 42,000 died. People who drank about three cups of coffee (23 to 29 ounces) per day were 7 percent to 12 percent less likely to die over the next 16 years, compared with non-drinkers. And they had a 40 percent to 59 percent lower risk of dying from digestive disorders, such as liver disease.

The researchers said that finding makes sense. Past studies have hinted that coffee might support liver function; and coffee drinkers in this study typically had lower levels of certain proteins that can signal problems with the liver.

Both studies were published in the July 11 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Researchers aren't sure if it's the caffeine or the antioxidants responsible for the health boosts.

"Coffee provides one of the greatest sources of antioxidants in the American diet, due to the amount of coffee that is consumed," says Joy Dubost, registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

So how much coffee is too much? Dubost says around 3 8-ounce cups a day is considered moderate coffee consumption.

"Caffeine does not cause hypertension," she adds, however, it has been shown to increase blood pressure for a short duration. Certain groups, such as people with hypertension and the elderly, may be more susceptible to the adverse effects of caffeine. Pregnant and breast-feeding women will want to limit intake to a maximum of 200 to 300 milligrams a day of caffeine (the amount in 2 to 3 cups of coffee). The March of Dimes recommends that pregnant women cap caffeine consumption at 200 milligrams a day.

Q and A 

Q: Are the freeze-dried berries in some breakfast cereals as nutritious as fresh? 

A: Freeze-dried berries retain most of their vitamins and other potentially beneficial substances (notably flavonoids). Freeze-drying means quick freezing followed by drying in a vacuum chamber. It preserves more nutrients than air-drying. The berries emerge in recognizable form, retaining their color but not their original taste and texture. The catch is that a serving of cereal typically contains only a tiny amount of freeze-dried berries. Keep in mind that many cereals contain fake fruit masquerading as real fruit. Those plump berries, pomegranates and other pieces of fruit enticingly pictured on the package may be nothing more than sugar-sweetened gobs of flour with flavoring, colorings and other additives. To avoid this marketing scam, check the ingredients. Better yet, add your own fresh fruit to cereal and other foods. If you can't get fresh berries, try conventionally frozen ones, which taste better than freeze-dried and are as nutritious as fresh. You can also add dried cranberries, blueberries, raisins and other fruit, though they may not retain as many nutrients as freeze-dried or fresh. -- University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter.

RECIPE 

Looking for a quick, healthy dinner? Try this Seared Salmon Salad (from Cooking Light magazine), that includes fresh blackberries and heart-healthy salmon.

Seared Salmon Salad 

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

4 (6-ounce) salmon fillets

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided

1/2 teaspoon black pepper, divided

2 (6-ounce) golden beets, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch wedges

1/4-cup water

1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar

1/2 teaspoon grated lime rind

2 teaspoons fresh limejuice

1 (5-ounce) package mixed baby greens

1-cup fresh blackberries, halved

1/4 cup torn fresh mint

Heat 1 1/2 teaspoons oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium. Sprinkle fillets with 1/2-teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Add fillets, skin side down, to pan; cook 4 minutes on each side or until done. Remove from pan. Place beets and 1/4-cup water in a microwave-safe bowl; cover with plastic wrap. Microwave and HIGH 6 minutes or until tender. Drain. Whisk together remaining 2 1/2 tablespoons oil, remaining 1/4-teaspoon salt, remaining 1/4-teaspoon pepper, vinegar, rind and juice in a small bowl. Combine beets, greens, blackberries and mint in a large bowl. Add vinegar mixture; toss. Place 2 cups salad on each of 4 plates; top each serving with 1 fillet. Serves 4.

Per serving: 894 calories, 39 g protein, 15 g carbohydrate, 20 g fat, 90 mg cholesterol, 5 g fiber, 539 mg sodium.

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