Caffeine hit: The pros and cons of your daily cup of coffee

Coffee comes with many health benefits but some brews can have a negative impact on the environment and on your waistline, says Peta Bee.

Caffeine hit: The pros and cons of your daily cup of coffee

Coffee comes with many health benefits but some brews can have a negative impact on the environment and on your waistline, says Peta Bee.

Ourthirst for coffee shows no signs of diminishing.According to statistics produced last year on behalf of Retail Intelligence by Empathy Research, 56% of Irish adults now drink coffee at least once a day — an increase of 4% in two years — and over one third (34%) of us consume several cups of the black stuff every day.

The number of ways in which we drink coffee — from milky to mushroom lattes — can transform a cup into a healthier (or less desirable) version of itself.

“Population-based studies have found that drinking three to four cups of coffee per day might reduce the risk of diseases like heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and non- alcoholic fatty liver disease,” says Maeve Hanan, a Dublin-based dietitian.

“It is really high in antioxidants, which helps to balance out levels of oxidative stress and inflammation in our body, and it also contains small amounts of minerals and B-vitamins including niacin or vitamin B3.”

Coffee also contributes to our fluid intake — “it’s a myth that it dehydrates us”, Hannan says.

And the good news keeps on coming. In recent weeks, coffee has been found to help fightobesity by stimulating the body’s calorie-burning brown fat stores into action; to protect against gallstones, as reported in the Journal of Internal Medicine; and not todisrupt your quality of sleep even if you consume it just before bed,according to a study at Harvard Medical School and Florida Atlantic University.

There are some unwanted chemicals in coffee including acrylamide, used to make plastic, although studies confirm that the beneficial coffee compounds tend to offset any downsides.

“Some frappuchinos which contain syrups can have up to 20 teaspoons of sugar in one drink which is well above the recommended six to 12 teaspoons of sugar per day which is recommended for an adult,” says Hannan.

“They can also be very high in caffeine,containing 300-400mg of caffeine.”

So, which brew should you choose?


What it is: Steamed milk and a single shot of coffee with a small amount of foam added. There’s a much higher ratio of milk to coffee.

Average caffeine per cup: 80mg

Health points: Calories for a full-fat cows’ milk latte vary from 140 to 360, depending on size.

Don’t expect to save many calories by switching to milk alternatives (a small coconut-milk latte contains around 80 calories and a small oat milk latte around 130).

You will also lose valuable minerals including iodine, a trace mineral that’s important for healthy thyroid function, and also for fertility.


What it is: A shot of espresso, then a shot of steamed milk, topped with a layer of frothed, foamy milk.

Average caffeine per cup: 80mg.

Health points: A small, full-fat cappuccino contains around 80 calories and a large around 250. It provides protein from the milk,although skip the chocolate powder on top to save 15 calories.

Flat white

What it is: It uses the less frothy steamed milk from the bottom of the jug, poured over a shot of espresso

Average caffeine per cup: 150mg.

Health points: A standard flat white typically contains about 105 calories.


What it is: An espresso with added hot water added. Legend has it that American US soldiers developed this type of coffee during the Second World War in a bid to make their drink last longer.

Average caffeine per cup: 80mg.

Health points: This is one to choose if you want minimal calories, but with a caffeine kick. There are only two to five calories per cup in a standard Americano (and 15-20 in a large cup).


What it is: Two shots of espresso in an espresso cup.

Average caffeine per cup: 160mg.

Health points: It contains no protein, only around five calories and provides the kind of kick that can be useful pre-exercise. A single or double espresso taken before a workout has been shown in studies at Coventry University to increase your resting metabolic rate, helping you burn more calories at rest. It can also prompt the breakdown of fat.

Filter and cafetiere

What it is: Prepared by pouring hot water over ground coffee beans in a filter or cafetière jug.

Average caffeine per cup: 95mg.

Health points: Contains approximately 5-10 calories per cup served black. According to research at the KTH Royal Institute of Techonology in Stockholm, filter coffee is the worst choice from an environmental perspective because it uses more beans to prepare a cup of coffee compared to other methods.


What it is: A latte or cappuccino with added chocolate powder or syrup

Average caffeine per cup: 85mg

Health points: Little better for you than a hot chocolate, this highly sweetened drink contains a minimum 65 calories and around 6.3g of sugar, or as much as 350 calories and 30g of the sweet stuff in a large serving. Opt for a white chocolate mocha and the sugar shock is even greater — with up to 60g of sugar and a shocking 500 calories per cup. Topping with whipped cream adds 80-120 caloriesto your drink.


What it is: A shot of espresso topped with foamed milk. Similar to a cappuccino, but stronger and without the added layer of milk.

Average caffeine per cup: 80mg

Health points: A regular version contains anything from 80-230 calories. Beware switching to a caramel macchiato — the added syrup bumps up the calories to as much as 300 per cup. Typically syrup shots add 70 sugary calories (and sugar 10 calories per sachet) so avoid like the plague.


What it is: Made by shooting boiling water under high pressure through finely-ground coffee beans.

Average caffeine per cup: 80mg

Health points: Contains five to 10 calories per cup. A 2018 study published in Scientific Reports journal, by scientists at the University of Nottingham showed that a caffeine shot can trigger the activity of brown adipose tissue, a special type of fat that burns calories, and might help with weight loss.


What it is: Made from freeze-dried or spray-dried coffee. Instant coffee continues to be the type of coffee most consumed among the Irish adult population, according to the survey Retail Intelligence by Empathy Research.

Average caffeine per cup: 30-90mg

Health points: A study at Coventry University’s showed that consuming approximately a dessert spoon of instant coffee granules dissolved in water 60 minutes before exercise can help people toexercise harder for longer. Instant coffee might also be best for the environment. When University of Bath professor Alf Hill, analysed the impact of different coffee forms on the environment, he found instant came out top.

Cold brew

What it is: Made by steeping coffee grounds in cold or room-temperature or cold water for up to 24 hours to produce a concentrated coffee essence that is then diluted with water. The hipster coffee of choice.

Average caffeine per cup: 180mg-200mg

Health points: Said to be less acidic and thus kinder on the digestive system than regular coffee although there’s little evidence for this. In general, the calorie content is low (about five to 10 per cup), unless you opt for a flavoured (often meaning sweetened) cold brew, which could rise to 80-90 per cup.

Pods and capsules

What they are: According to Retail Intelligence’s research, 46% of our coffee consumption is now via a coffee pod or capsule machine.

There are two basic types — those that use metal or plastic capsules which are covered with a foil seal that is pierced by the machine so that heated water can be forced through, or ESE (easy servingespresso) pods, such as those that use Illy or Lavazza coffee, in which the pre-portioned serving of coffee is wrapped in paper filter, much like a teabag, and placed inside the machine.

Average caffeine per cup: 60-80mg

Health points: The ESE pods are a better choice for health and the environment — the paper filter removes two chemicals found in coffee (cafestol and kahweol) that have been shown in studies to raise blood cholesterol levels. Some metal or plastic capsules are lined with filter paper but it only serves to prevent the grounds from entering the cup.

Moka pot

What it is: This preceded the pod machines as the favoured homemade brew for coffee connoisseurs.

It’s a stove-top coffee maker that brews by passing boiling water pressurised by steam through ground coffee. It produces strong, concentrated coffee.

Average caffeine per cup: 110mg.

Health points: Many moka pots are made from aluminium and there have been concerns about their impact on health.

However, a 2017 study in the journal Environmental Sciences Europe found the risk to be minimal (and much lower than aluminium water bottles) provided moka pots were not put in the dishwasher which increases the release of the metal.

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