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For many Americans, coffee is a daily habit, even an addiction.For others, it is a guilty pleasure. But some new research suggeststhat coffee often gets a bad rap, and that coffee drinkers have noneed to be ashamed.

“Coffee has been blamed for everything from indigestion tocancer,” says Dr. Roseane M. Santos, co-author of “An UnashamedDefense of Coffee: 101 Reasons to Drink Coffee Without Guilt.” “Butalmost everything people think about coffee is wrong. It’s actuallyone of the healthiest beverages we can consume.”

Santos is a professor at SouthUniversity’s school of pharmacy in Savannah, Ga., where sheruns a research team focused on coffee and health. And while manyhealth experts now advise drinking a glass of red wine each day,Santos would recommend drinking coffee as well.

Santos is certainly not alone in thinking that coffee can behealthy. But some health experts have been slow to warm up to itsbeneficial effects.

Why don’t more experts recommend coffee? It probably stems fromthe fact that for decades, people have focused on one component ofcoffee – caffeine. But coffee is much more than a steaming cup ofget-up-and-go. It contains important minerals such as potassium,iron and zinc, and an abundance of natural antioxidants known aschlorogenic acids.

“The age- and cancer-fighting qualities of antioxidants are wellknown to the health-conscious,” explains Santos. “But what is lesswell known, and what the American Heart Association recommends, isthe importance of getting antioxidants from natural sources:fruits, vegetables and coffee. The coffee bean is, after all, afruit.”

Much like the health benefits of red wine have been separatedfrom the detrimental effects of excessive alcohol, coffee andcaffeine are beginning to be understood independent of one another.The truth is that adults will not see any negative effects fromcaffeine – and will get all the healthy benefits of coffee – aslong as they limit their intake to three to four cups of regularcoffee per day.

Adults are not the only ones who are drinking coffee, Santossays. “In Brazil, my native country, the health ministry recommendscoffee with milk for schoolchildren’s breakfasts, since it improvesmemory and attention skills.”

Santos does raise one warning to those who would turn to coffeeas a health drink. The blacker your ground coffee is, the lesshealthy it is. The reason is that when coffee is roasted for toolong, there is not much left but caffeine. Most of the nutrientshave been chemically altered by the roasting process.

As for indigestion, “There is no evidence that coffee causesgastric problems,” says Santos, citing a 2006 study by StanfordUniversity researchers Kaltenbach, Crockett and Gerson. “Somepeople may be intolerant of coffee or caffeine, just as some peopleare intolerant of hot pepper sauce or dairy products. But dailycoffee intake cannot be considered responsible for the onset ofgastric ulcers or gastritis in healthy people.”

And cancer? There was a scare in the early 1980s when a studyinitially tied coffee to a higher risk of pancreatic cancer. Butfollow-up research determined that smoking, not coffee, was thereal cause.

So grab that cup of coffee and sip to your health. There’s noneed to be ashamed anymore.

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