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Dietary Guidelines Committee Gives Coffee Thumbs Up

Earlier this year, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) – a group of experts in the fields of human nutrition, public health and medicine – released their report recommending changes and updates to the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans. These guidelines (for Americans ages two and older) are updated every five years and advise consumers on good food and exercise choices to promote health, prevent disease and encourage food safety. Also, they are the foundation for national nutrition policy and the basis for federally-funded nutrition education programs and assistance programs, including SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children), and the school lunch and breakfast programs. Even labels on consumer food products are influenced by these guidelines.

What the Report Says on Coffee
  • General Health – there’s strong evidence that moderate daily coffee consumption (3-5, 8-oz. cups or up to 400 mg caffeine) in healthy individuals is not related to increased long-term health risks
  • Type 2 Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disease, Cancer of Liver & Endometrium – consistent evidence indicates reduced risk of these in healthy adults drinking moderate amounts of coffee
  • Parkinson’s Disease – research indicates that coffee in moderate amounts may be protective against its development
  • Pregnancy – in general, a limit of two (8-oz.) cups of coffee – about 200 mg caffeine – daily; be sure to check with your doctor
  • Overall – drinking moderate amounts of coffee can be part of a healthy diet, along with regular physical activity, not smoking, and consuming a nutritionally-balanced diet
  • Keep in Mind – adding cream, sugar, whipped topping, etc., to coffee will increase calories; most of the research studies looked at black coffee

What About High Caffeine Intake?
Although there’s not a great deal of research yet, high levels of caffeine (more than 400mg daily for adults) are not recommended by authorities and are considered excessive. Coffee, tea and soft drinks are the main dietary sources of caffeine for adults and children, but the committee specifically took a look at high-caffeine energy beverages and products. Why? Likely because their availability and marketing are on the rise, they’re not regulated by the FDA, and adverse effects have been seen. Here’s the scoop:

  • Energy drinks contain a wide-ranging level of caffeine as their active ingredient, along with other ingredients such as vitamins, herbal supplements, sugar and taurine (an amino acid).
  • Some evidence links consumption of high-caffeine energy drinks with cardiovascular events and toxic caffeine levels.
  • It’s not recommended to combine alcohol and high-caffeine energy drinks by mixing them together or by consuming them at the same time. High caffeine levels may mask the intoxicating effects of alcohol and could increase the chance of alcohol-related injuries.
  • Though consumption of energy drinks for teens is quickly rising, limited amounts or no consumption of high-caffeine drinks or products for children and adolescents is advised. Safety is the issue. And more research is needed to understand differences in reaction to caffeine and the potential interactions between caffeine and the other ingredients found in “energy” beverages and food.

The actual revised Dietary Guidelines for Americans – based on the committee’s report – are scheduled to come out sometime in the fall, before the end of 2015. And though the committee took 20 months to review the current dietary guidelines, receive public feedback and make recommendations, it remains to be seen exactly what the new ones will state. So stay tuned.

Regardless of the new guidelines’ wording, however, coffee lovers can feel good about the evidence linking it to health. It’s true that we may not understand the exact mechanisms of why moderate consumption of coffee in healthy adults has well-researched positives. But I plan to go with what the science seems to say – keep on sippin’ coffee!

To read the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s complete report, click here.

Beth Witherspoon, MPH, RDN, has a passion for communicating culinary and nutrition information. She is a registered dietitian/nutritionist who consults with Community Coffee Company to help communicate the flavor and health benefits of coffee.