Despite reported health benefits, students doubt coffee’s healthfulness

Sophomore Irene Georgiadis prefers to drink water instead of coffee. She said she does not think coffee is a healthy option. AINING WANG / PHOTO

Sophomore Irene Georgiadis prefers to drink water instead of coffee. She said she does not think coffee is a healthy option. AINING WANG / PHOTO

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Sophomore Irene Georgiadis sits down to the ring of the bell with the rest of her classmates. It is a late start, and everyone is still concentrated on polishing off his or her goodies from the morning circuit. A kid in the corner discreetly makes a mess with his white powdered doughnuts, another tosses her banana peel into the trash and all the rest, it seems, sip and sip and sip on their daily coffee. Except Georgiadis. Instead, she pulls out her water bottle to quench her thirst, citing in her defense that coffee is not a healthy option. That perception may be common, but is it valid?

A recent study by the Harvard School of Public Health says otherwise. Conducted by Rob van Dam, Adjunct Associate Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology, the findings showed that coffee, when consumed up to six cups a day, showed no signs of “any relationship between coffee consumption and increased risk of death from any cause.” In fact, van Dam said it might have some beneficial effects. Untitled-2

“A positive aspect of coffee (if you do not add a lot of cream or caloric sweeteners) is the low calorie content just as tea and water,” van Dam said via email. “Coffee consumption may have some added benefits, for example, a lower risk of Type 2 diabetes and liver cancer. But at this point we do not recommend increasing coffee consumption for this reason until the scientific evidence is stronger.”

Sophomore Irene Georgiadis prefers to drink water instead of coffee. She said she does not think coffee is a healthy option. AINING WANG / PHOTO
Sophomore Irene Georgiadis prefers to drink water instead of coffee. She said she does not think coffee is a healthy option. AINING WANG / PHOTO

The problem is that most people, coffee drinkers included, still think it is not healthy. One of these people is senior Lauren Flannagan, who, despite drinking coffee, believes it is not the best choice.

“I don’t want to say it’s unhealthy but there are other choices and healthier drinks. My diet is otherwise healthy and I eat healthy generally, so I can have one unhealthy drink every so often,” Flannagan said.

Even Kenzie Schwede, a manager of a local Starbucks, admitted that, in her opinion, coffee is not healthy.

“It’s actually very addicting and it’s just like any other thing. You can get addicted to it like cigarettes,” Schwede said. “I think a lot of people think the frappuccinos are just cool and they really don’t know that there is caffeinated coffee in them, which isn’t necessarily good for you.”

This raises a perplexing question: If the popular opinion on coffee is generally negative, why do high school students and adults alike continue to drink it without any second thoughts? Van Dam said people typically remain focused on the immediate impact coffee has rather than whether it is healthy or not.

“People generally prioritize short-term effects and de-prioritize long-term effects, so it will probably remain to be primarily consumed for short-term benefits such as the rapid impact of caffeine on alertness,” van Dam said.

Others shared similar viewpoints.

“I think people drink coffee to keep up with the homework load and stay awake,” Georgiadis said.

Van Dam said this perception is mostly a result of past studies but could change with more studies in the future.

“Coffee used to be perceived as an unhealthy lifestyle factor because earlier studies suggested several detrimental health effects,” van Dam said. “Coffee is a complex, natural product with hundreds of compounds that may affect health; thus the reality is probably that it will have both healthy and unhealthy effects.”

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