Coffee…with a grain of salt

Have you heard the news about coffee?  The latest research shows that coffee drinking is associated with longer life.  Good news for coffee lovers everywhere!

A very large European study found that men and women who drank more than 3 cups a day had lower mortality from digestive and circulatory diseases, and a large American study found lower risk for all-cause death, including death from heart disease, cancer, respiratory disease, stroke, diabetes, and kidney disease.

Most adults like coffee, but have felt vaguely guilty for drinking it.  To discover that 3 cups a day lowers the health risks for so many of the diseases that plague us – that’s amazing.

It’s also a little frustrating.  That same research also indicates a higher death rate for ovarian cancer with the same level of coffee consumption.  And beyond that, this research highlights the ever-changing face of scientific recommendations about what’s healthy.  Because not too long ago, coffee was considered bad for you.

It’s not an unusual switch.  For years, all we heard about fats was how bad they were – until we discovered that many fats are associated with better health and longer life.  And consider the much-maligned egg.  Research showed we should avoid them to avoid high cholesterol.  If we just had to eat them (because we were weak?) then at least we should only eat the whites.  But now research shows that the yolk has high levels of valuable nutrients that make eggs good for us, and good quality eggs may actually help reduce cholesterol. 

So what’s the take-away for healthy eating choices?  How do we know what “healthy” is?    

Here’s my suggestion.  We need to keep up with the research, but we also need to look carefully at where the research came from, and how it fits with other things we have good reason to believe are true. 

And we need to remember that scientific research is not a new gospel from on high. 

Years ago, scientists scoffed at the idea of brain waves, knowing they were clearly impossible – until they were irrefutably demonstrated.  Science was clear that adult neurogenesis was absurd, and the scientist who posited it was mocked – until about 15 years ago when it became the exciting new scientific truth.  Glia cells were just “packing peanuts” in the brain – until new research techniques showed they may run the whole show. 

Science is amazing and wonderful, valuable and helpful – and sometimes totally wrong.  Researchers keep working away, and “truth” changes with the next new discovery.   Our job is to keep up, to learn from what makes sense…and always remember that there are many sources of wisdom. 

People have been around for a long time.  If something valued by humans over thousands of years is suddenly “bad for us” – wonder about that.  Put it into context.  And remember that while the slicked-up, chemical-ridden version of the latest “bad” food really may be bad…that doesn’t necessarily mean that the original, natural version is bad as well!

And listen your own wisdom, especially the wisdom of your own body.  I’m not talking about our half-joking rationalizations for all those sweets or too much drinking or really foolish choices – we all know when we’re doing that!  But honor your internal voice.  Value the healthy experiences you have had, and trust your deep sense that “this works for me.”  Keep reading the research, consider it openly – and keep listening to yourself.  And let that wisdom guide your path.

Meanwhile, I’m off to have a cup of coffee to round out my morning tea! 


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