February 9, 2017


Heard about goat herd?

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Joe. Java. Mud. Go Juice. Whatever you call it, coffee is the beverage 54 percent of Americans over the age of 18 drink every day. People in this country drink an average of 3.1 cups of coffee every day, 65 percent of them with breakfast. Coffee drinkers in the U.S. spend $40 billion a year on the beverage, with the average price of a brewed cup coming in at $1.38. According to the National Coffee Association, coffee can trace its heritage back centuries to forests on the Ethiopian plateau. Legend has that it was there that a goat herder first noticed the effect certain berries had on his goats. The goat herder found that his goats became so energetic after eating berries from coffee trees that they didn’t want to sleep at night. The goat herder shared this information with the abbot of a local monastery, who brewed a drink with the berries and found that it improved his alertness. The abbot shared this information with the other monks and the rest is history.

Two important species

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How much do you know about that cup of coffee you have in your hand right now? Coffee traces its origin to a genus of plants known as Coffea. Within the genus there are over 500 genera and 6,000 species of tropical trees and shrubs. Experts estimate that there are anywhere from 25 to 100 species of coffee plants. All commercially grown coffee is from a region of the world called the Coffee Belt. The trees grow best in rich soil, with mild temperatures, frequent rain and shaded sun. There are two important coffee species in the commercial coffee industry, Arabica and Robusta. Arabica trees produce a fine, mild, aromatic coffee and are responsible for approximately 70 percent of the world’s coffee production. The beans are lower in caffeine than Robusta beans, which are primarily used in blends and for instant coffees. The beans themselves are actually the processed and roasted seeds from a fruit, which is called a coffee cherry.

Source of antioxidants

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Would you like a little antioxidant with your coffee? Most Americans would probably be surprised to know that besides the jolt that they get from their morning coffee, it’s also a good source of disease-preventing compounds. Coffee beans contain antioxidants called quinines, which become more potent after roasting. According to the American Chemical Society, coffee is actually the leading source of antioxidants in American diets, mostly because we drink so much of it. This type of antioxidant, along with the magnesium found naturally in coffee, affect blood sugar levels and are thought to be responsible for the link to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. A 2013 analysis of 36 studies involving more than a million people conducted by researchers at Harvard University found that even heavy coffee consumption did not increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and that three to five cups of coffee daily provided the most protection against cardiovascular disease.

Cutting back on caffeine?

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Many of the health benefits associated with coffee are due to caffeine, a naturally occurring stimulant found in coffee beans. The amount of caffeine in a cup of coffee can vary, depending on factors ranging from the type of bean to how it’s brewed. Caffeinated coffee affects individuals differently, based on heredity, body weight, gender, metabolism and a person’s coffee drinking habits. Despite what many may believe, there is no nutritional need for caffeine and it will not reduce the effects of alcohol on the human body. An eight-ounce cup of brewed coffee contains between 95 and 200 milligrams of caffeine while a specialty drink like a latte or mocha may contain as much as 175 milligrams. It’s a good idea to take a look at how much caffeine you consume in a typical day, individuals who consume more than 500 milligrams a day may want to consider cutting back. But beware of possible withdrawal symptoms, which can include drowsiness, headaches and irritability.

Counting calories?

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Adding milk to your coffee is a good way of maintaining your daily calcium intake but what about some of the other things that you add to your daily cup of joe? Be aware that some of those things can turn a next-to-nothing cup into a meal’s worth of calories. For example, two tablespoons of flavored liquid non-dairy creamer contains 80 calories and four grams of fat. One tablespoon of cream has 50 calories and six grams of fat. Two tablespoons of flavored syrup has no fat but 80 calories. And just a tablespoon of whipped cream has 90 calories and nine grams of fat. The next time you order your favorite coffee, consider drinking it black or with non-fat milk or artificial sweeteners to get the health benefits without the extra calories. And just be sure to keep your intake moderate, to be on the safe side. If you experience palpitations, a rapid heartbeat or any symptoms associated with caffeine overload, be sure to talk to your doctor about your coffee intake.

Trusted by thousands of listeners every week, T. Glenn Pait, M.D., began offering expert advice as the host of UAMS’ “Here’s to Your Health” program in 1996. Dr. Pait began working at UAMS in 1994 and has been practicing medicine for over 20 years.