MODERATE CONSUMPTION OF COFFEE IS ASSOCIATED WITH a reduced chance of dying prematurely. That’s the conclusion of a recently reported study from the United Kingdom, where researchers analyzed the habits of over 170,000 individuals.
But do you still get the health benefits of coffee consumption if you add a bit of sugar to your cup?
In the form of observational studies, we have lower-level evidence that coffee intake reduces the probability of premature death. Still, these studies did not distinguish between coffee consumed with sugar or artificial sweeteners and coffee consumed without such additives.
In this context, Chinese investigators sought to determine if we could destroy coffee’s life-lengthening properties if we added sweeteners.
Coffee is popular
Coffee is one of the most widely consumed beverages globally, with my medical office being no exception. You may wonder about the health upsides and perils of consuming it.
We Americans consume over half a billion cups of coffee daily, with two-thirds of us reporting consumption within the past day.
A 2017 study demonstrated an inverse association between coffee consumption and early mortality: High coffee consumers had lower all-cause mortality risks than non-consumers after adjustments and for covariates such as smoking.
The researchers in the historical study reported similar inverse associations for caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee consumption. However, among men, the association of caffeinated coffee with all-cause mortality appeared less pronounced than for decaffeinated coffee.
Coffee and early mortality
Researchers sought to evaluate the associations of consumption of sugar-sweetened, artificially sweetened, and unsweetened coffee with all-cause and cause-specific mortality.
They used data from the United Kingdom Biobank study to evaluate the associations of sugar-sweetened, artificially sweetened, and unsweetened coffee consumption with mortality.
Here are the findings after a seven-year follow-up period:
- Those who drank any amount of unsweetened coffee were up to one-fifth (16 to 21 percent) less likely to die prematurely than participants who did not drink coffee.
- Those who consumed 1.5 to 3.5 daily cups of coffee sweetened with sugar were nearly one-third (29 to 31 percent) less likely to die than participants who did not drink coffee. On average, adults drinking sugar-sweetened coffee added only about one teaspoon of sugar per coffee.
- Results appeared inconclusive for participants who used artificial sweeteners in their coffee.
Coffee and longevity: My take
Coffee contains numerous substances that make health benefits possible. Observational studies have the problem of controlling for confounding variables, including diet, socioeconomic status, and other lifestyle characteristics.
Please note that the amount of daily sugar per cup of coffee is, on average, much lower than specialty drinks at your local popular coffee chain (no names offered by this Seattle resident).
Still, it is heartening to know that I can keep my single cup of espresso in my diet, but I will continue to be careful with high-calorie specialty coffees. I will also continue to dodge sugary drinks such as soda.