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The average amount of added sugar per cup of sweetened coffee in the study was a little more than a teaspoon — far less than what is typically added to many sugary drinks at coffee chains across the country. A tall Caramel Macchiato at Starbucks, for instance, contains 25 grams of sugar, about five times as much sugar as a sweetened cup of coffee from the study.
“All bets are off when it comes to matching this with a latte, a Frappuccino, the super mocha whipped whatever,” said Dr. Eric Goldberg, a clinical associate professor of medicine at the N.Y.U. Grossman School of Medicine. These beverages tend to be high in calories and fat, he said, potentially negating or at least blunting any benefit from the coffee itself.
This new study is the latest in a robust line of research showing coffee’s potential health advantages, he said. Previous research has linked coffee consumption with a lower risk of Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, liver and prostate cancers and other health issues.
Scientists don’t know exactly what makes coffee so beneficial, Dr. Goldberg said, but the answer may lie in its antioxidant properties, which can prevent or delay cell damage. Coffee beans contain high amounts of antioxidants, said Beth Czerwony, a registered dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Human Nutrition in Ohio, which can help break down free radicals that cause damage to cells. Over time, a buildup of free radicals can increase inflammation in the body, which can cause plaque formation related to heart disease, she said, so dietitians recommend consuming foods and beverages that are rich in antioxidants.
There’s also the possibility that coffee drinkers tend to make healthier choices in general. They might opt for a cold brew or a cup of drip coffee instead of a less healthy source of caffeine, like an energy drink or soda, Dr. Goldberg added. “If you’re pounding Mountain Dew or Coca-Cola or Red Bull or all these other drinks, they have tons more sugar, all the artificial stuff — versus coffee, which is a generally unprocessed food.”