Like Dark Chocolate or Black Coffee? Here’s Why

I LIKE DARK, ARGUABLY BITTER CHOCOLATE. If you join me in this preference, you are more likely to prefer your coffee black. New research suggests that these taste preferences are in our genes.

Researchers are increasingly reporting health benefits associated with the consumption of moderate amounts of black coffee. Do you drink three to five cups daily? Good for you — we have some evidence that you may be lowering your risk of Parkinson’s diseasetype 2 diabetesheart disease, and some forms of cancer.

Of course, it is best if you dodge milk, sugar, and fattening flavorings many of us tend to add.

Let’s look at some new research that highlights the importance of genetics in determining our preferences when adding cream and sugar to coffee and regarding chocolate types. By the end, you’ll understand why some call coffee a “cup of Joe.”

Coffee consumption is common.

More than 150 million Americans join me in my coffee drinking habit. The developed world accounts for nearly 72 percent of the world’s beverage consumption.

In the United States, the average adult’s consumption is roughly two cups daily. There is great variability in content by coffee type and retailer. Here’s a breakdown:

  • Brewed coffee (8 ounces; 235 mL) — 133 mg (range 102–200)
  • Instant coffee (8 ounces; 235 mL) — 93 mg (range 27–173)
  • Coffee, decaffeinated (8 ounces; 235 mL) — 5 mg (range 3–12)
  • Espresso (1 ounce; 30 mL) — 40 mg (range 30–90)
  • Espresso, decaffeinated (1 ounce; 30 mL) — 4 mg

Males consume more coffee than females on average, at least in the USA. Consumption appears lower among African-Americans than among whites.

Photo by Manki Kim on Unsplash

Tea consumption is on the rise

Tea to the English is really a picnic indoors. — Alice Walker

While tea is not the primary focus today, I wanted to share with you some interesting statistics.

More and more Americans are drinking tea. The Tea Association of the USA offers that 87 percent of consumption is black tea, 12.5 percent green tea, and the small remaining percentage oolong and herbal teas.

More than 80 percent of consumers in the United States drink tea, with millennials the most likely at more than 87 percent. On any given day, more than half of Americans drink tea. The highest consumption is in the Northeast and South regions, respectively.

Consumers prefer tea over coffee in Asia, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay. Behind water, tea is the second most commonly consumed beverage globally. People take in three times as much tea as coffee.

Trivia question: Did you know that as much as 80 percent of tea consumed in the States is iced? I love that (without additives) it is nearly fat-free and has no sodium, carbonation, or sugar.

Tea contains flavonoids, natural substances that appear to have antioxidant properties. Tea flavonoids can help neutralize free radicals (which we believe can contribute to chronic disease).

Black coffee, dark chocolate, and genes

The greatest tragedies were written by the Greeks and Shakespeare … neither knew chocolate. — Sandra Boynton

Do you like your coffee black? If you answered yes, you probably also prefer dark and bitter chocolate. Recently writing in Nature Scientific Reports, Dr. Cornelis and colleagues analyzed types of coffee drinkers, separating black coffee lovers from those who prefer their coffee with cream and sugar (or more).

Let’s get right to the findings:

Coffee drinkers with a genetic variant reflecting a faster caffeine metabolism prefer bitter, black coffee. The same genetic variant is present in people who prefer plain rather than sweetened tea. We can find the gene change in those who prefer dark chocolate over milk chocolate.

Now it gets even more interesting: The researchers don’t think the coffee or tea preference is secondary to the taste of the drinks. Instead, they believe that people with this gene “prefer black coffee and tea because they associated bitter flavor with the improved mental alertness they crave from caffeine.”

In essence, we equate caffeine’s bitterness with a brain stimulation effect; this is a learned behavior and preference. The same holds for preferring dark chocolate over milk: Think caffeine, think bitter (and choose dark chocolate).

Dark chocolate has limited amounts of caffeine but also contains theobromine, a caffeine-related nervous system stimulant. High doses of theobromine may dampen your mood and increase your heart rate.

Researchers look forward to looking at genetic preferences for other bitter foods. Cornelis observes that bitter foods are “generally associated with more health benefits.”

Let’s hope that those genetically predisposed to prefer dark chocolate (or black coffee) are more likely to engage in other health-promoting behaviors.

Photo by Sebastian Schuppik on Unsplash

Coffee shops

Do you have a favorite coffee shop? I searched for outstanding coffee and chocolate, cafes, and museums on my last visit to Barcelona. Here is a cafe that I highly recommend: Granja M. Viader.

This historical cafe dates back to 1870, and the owners do an excellent job placing memorabilia on the walls. Picasso enjoyed its chocolates, and I loved (repeat: loved) the fresh churros. If you miss your childhood, consider a Cacaolat, a vintage refreshment.

Now, a trivia question: What is coffee sometimes called “Joe?” The use of the term dates back to the early 1900s when Joseph Daniels served as Secretary of the US Navy. A new biography explains that Daniels attempted to “imbue the navy with a strict morality.”

The Secretary increased the number of chaplains, discouraged prostitution at naval bases, and banned alcohol consumption. Stewards purchased more coffee to substitute for the beverage, and Daniels’ name became associated with coffee. Less than pleased folks called it “a cup of Joeseph Daniels,” a label soon shortened to a “cup of Joe.”

Thank you for joining me. I hope you have a health- and joy-filled 2022.

PATIENT ADVISORY

Medika Life has provided this material for your information. It is not intended to substitute for the medical expertise and advice of your health care provider(s). We encourage you to discuss any decisions about treatment or care with your health care provider. The mention of any product, service, or therapy is not an endorsement by Medika Life

General HealthLike Dark Chocolate or Black Coffee? Here’s Why
Michael Hunter, MD
I received an undergraduate degree from Harvard, a medical degree from Yale, and trained in radiation oncology at the University of Pennsylvania. I practice radiation oncology in the Seattle area.
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