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Coffee Milk Controversy

August 11, 2010 Written by JP       [Font too small?]

A reader recently asked me whether adding cow’s milk to coffee negates any of its health benefits. My investigation into the topic lead me down a few different roads. However, all of the paths ultimately ended at the same destination – how to make a healthier “cup of Joe”. The solution is simpler and tastier than you might think.

On the whole, the news about the health benefits of coffee continues to remain very positive. This month alone there have been at least three encouraging studies of note. The first looked for a connection between coffee consumption and cardiovascular morbidity and mortality in a group of 37,514 men and women over a 13 year period. Those who drank between 2 to 3 cups of java a day were found to have a 21% lower “hazard ratio” for heart-related morbidity. An intake of 3 to 6 cups daily resulted in a 36% lower risk of coronary heart disease linked mortality. The two remaining publications included a meta-analysis of 24 studies that investigated a proposed link between coffee use and colorectal cancer, and a population study that looked for an association between coffee intake and depression. The cancer review found that the heaviest coffee drinkers were 30% less likely to be diagnosed with colorectal malignancies as compared to “non/low drinkers”. The depression inquiry found a dramatic 72% “decreased risk for depression when compared with non-drinkers”. The conclusion of the study states, “Coffee consumption may decrease the risk of depression, whereas no association was found for tea and caffeine intake”. (1,2,3)

There isn’t a great deal of evidence in the scientific literature exploring the issue of coffee and cow’s milk interactions. By far, the best data currently available can be found in the February 2010 issue of the Journal of Nutrition. There, a pilot trial examined the absorption and retention of coffee-derived antioxidants in 9 healthy subjects. On separate occasions, the study participants were given different coffee preparations: a) instant coffee; b) instant coffee + 10% whole milk; c) instant coffee + nondairy creamer + sugar. All of the coffee beverages contained an identical amount of chlorogenic acid, one of the primary, health promoting phytochemicals contained in coffee.

  • Blood samples were taken 12 hours after the consumption of each experimental drink.
  • The testing looked for various, beneficial phytochemicals associated with coffee’s health effects.

The findings indicate that the addition of milk did not significantly alter “the overall bioavailability of coffee phenolic acids, whereas sugar and nondairy creamer” did affect the “maximum plasma concentrations or Cmax” and the retention of these select antioxidants or Tmax. (4)

These results are largely consistent with several other laboratory studies conducted in animal and in-vitro models. To be clear, some research has shown that dairy protein (casein) does bind to antioxidants such as chlorogenic acid. But this interaction doesn’t appear to negatively affect total antioxidant capacity. This may partially have to do with a decoupling effect that naturally occurs during digestion. (5,6,7,8)

So to answer my reader’s question – At present, there’s no reason to be concerned about adding milk to your coffee. But I wondered whether there was an added benefit to doing so. It appears that there may be more than one justification.

Some, but not all, studies have found that men and women with certain genotypes are at greater risk for bone loss if they drink large quantities of caffeinated coffee. In addition, there are certain health conditions which can magnify that risk including kidney disease which requires dialysis. However, it’s important to note that not all scientific inquiries have reported negative associations with respect to coffee and skeletal health. For instance, a 5 year study involving male twins found that femoral bone mineral density was actually higher in regular coffee drinkers. Other investigations have failed to find any correlation whatsoever. A middle ground may be found in a 1994 publication appearing in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It concluded that drinking two cups a day of coffee can lead to decreased bone density *if* you don’t drink milk. (9,10,11,12,13)

Another realistic concern about coffee is how it can influence the risk of esophageal cancer. It’s long been known that drinking very hot coffee or tea can increase the likelihood of thermal burns to the sensitive tissues of the esophagus. This is an integral part of a process which can contribute to the risk of esophageal malignancies. Adding milk to coffee and tea substantially lowers the “starting temperature” of hot beverages and can render them considerably safer. (14,15,16)

High Caffeine Intake May Lower Bone Density in Certain Genotypes
Source: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 74, No. 5, 694-700, Nov. 2001 (link)

All of the data I’ve presented thus far might suggest that I’m a fan of adding cow’s milk to coffee. The true test is whether I use it myself or recommend it to my family. I certainly like the taste of cream and milk in my coffee. However, I don’t recommend or use it because of its allergenic potential and relatively high carbohydrate count. Instead, I use a calcium-fortified, hypoallergenic, low carbohydrate alternative – Blue Diamond unsweetened, vanilla almond milk. I think it tastes great and provides better nutrition than most dairy products. As a bonus, it’s also lower in calories. (17)

Using unsweetened almond milk is one way to improve the quality of coffee by the adding calcium to the mix and simultaneously lowering the beverage temperature. Another simple technique to supercharge your coffee is to add a dash or two of cinnamon. Recent studies demonstrate that cinnamon: a) targets inflammation-induced obesity by combating hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) and insulin resistance; b) possesses “potent anti-tumor” activity; c) may slow the aging process by countering the formation of advanced glycation endproducts (AGEs). (18,19,20,21,22)

If you need one more reason to consider cinnamon, please note that preliminary research hints that it may protect against bone loss by inhibiting bone resorption. I also think it adds a soothing complexity to the brew. Here’s how I’ve been making my afternoon coffee lately: I put a heaping tsp of organic instant coffee into a cup. To that I add about 1/4 tsp of organic cinnamon powder and 1 packet of organic stevia with inulin. I pour hot water over the powder and then top it off with a few ounces of unsweetened vanilla almond milk. It takes just like a treat that you might get a coffee house. But the health benefits and price tag truly set it apart. (23)

Be well!

JP

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13 Comments to “Coffee Milk Controversy”

  1. anne h Says:

    Might just have to try the almond milk!
    With cinnamon, of course!

  2. JP Says:

    I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by it, Anne. I know we were. We were first introduced to the refrigerated variety of almond milk several months ago when some friends made us a cappuccino made with it. What a revelation! :)

    Be well!

    JP

  3. Igor Says:

    When I first read your opening sentence, I thought what was being asked was how to prevent coffee from interfering with the health benefits of milk!

    Contrary to the opinion of politically correct nutritionists, milk has numerous health benefits, if it’s of the unpasteurized, unhomogenized, full fat variety.

    What strikes me about a lot of the studies that are cited in support of the latest fad health foods (e.g. soy, green tea, and now coffee and chocolate apparently) is how limited they are. A study might suggest that taking a substance extracted from green tea might help prevent such and such a disease, therefore people erroneously jump to the conclusion that drinking green tea all day long must be good for them. Can you spot the fallacies in this reasoning?

    First of all, that a particular substance that was isolated from green tea shows some effects against a particular disease does not mean that consuming green tea by itself in its natural state will have those same effects. Secondly, how do you know that a substance that helps fight one disease doesn’t simultaneously cause or exacerbate another? You don’t, because none of these studies look at the overall effect of taking a substance over an extended period of time (say, decades).

    People put too much faith in science. What I’d like to know is where the money comes from to pay for all these studies, since scientific research isn’t cheap and it is rarely funded out of purely altruistic motives.

  4. JP Says:

    Igor,

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I understand the points you’re making. My view is this: science is simply a tool. The key is how it’s applied. Often times, it’s application leaves much to be desired. But when it’s conducted ethically/reasonably, it yields information beyond that which be can be discovered via anecdotes and pure observation.

    Be well!

    JP

  5. Alan E. Says:

    I will drink most coffee blends except for Arabic Styles.

    When in my teens I poured cream /Milk in my coffee and enjoyed my Cherry tart at the 50′s Diner.

    Then I grew up and swore off Cream as the diluent that masked the true flavor of the coffee brew.

    Those experts that have milk or cream in their coffees are just using the coffee as a carrier to taste their favorite creamer or milk.

    Go out and buy your caffeine pills and drink your cream, straight.

    I will enjoy the rich flavor of my common Black Brew along side.

    Alan e.

  6. Kent Says:

    I remember reading many years ago that milk added to coffee rendered both more difficult to digest. I’ve since preferred my coffee black and do love the taste of the coffee alone. I grind it just before brewing. Lately I’ve begun drinking raw milk with wonderful results in my health. As a change I’ve started mixing raw whole milk with my coffee once-in-awhile and must admit, it’s delicious. So far no ill effects with digestion.

  7. JP Says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience with us, Kent. Much appreciated!

    Be well!

    JP

  8. Kathryn Says:

    It’s nice to find someone who loves coffee like I do! I make mine almost identical only I use rice milk because I am allergic to almonds. And it’s nice to know it’s good for me and doesn’t just taste delicious.

  9. Roberto Says:

    I’ve found that adding milk to the coffee or rather coffee to a cup of milk actually renders the milk drinkable and digestible whereas drinking milk by itself is irritating to the digestive system. That’s so in my case. If I drink milk alone my stomach gets bloated and what else more, but if I drink it with coffee I got no adverse reaction whatsoever.

  10. JP Says:

    That’s a very interesting observation, Roberto. Thank you for sharing it with us!

    Coffee is documented as having some potentially negative and positive effects on digestion.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19621729

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10499460

    Be well!

    JP

  11. Michelle K. Says:

    To ALAN E above: Right on, buddy! You DO understand. I started drinking coffee in my early 20′s. Used milk, cream, sugar — was all good. But a few years later, work situation changed, and my new buddies were from South America — all drank their coffee black. I was curious, plus wanted to look “cool” around them. WOW — in a few months, I was totally hooked. They were coffee professionals, knew their flavours and countries of import — and I soon knew the difference. Coffee must be black, and well-chosen — and then you’re pretty much as close to heaven as you ever will be before you die. And that part in the article about coffee=no depression? RIGHT ON AGAIN. A total no-brainer.

  12. Adaku Berekwu Says:

    I just started taking coffee with milk,but my boos always take it without milk, so i thought that me adding milk t coffee will deprecate it’s nutrients and what it does to the system, so i took it alone but could not finish it because of the taste.So i want to no if i take coffee with milk, will i still get the nutrients it gives and will i loose weigh and will my stomach get flat?

  13. JP Says:

    Adaku,

    If anything, milk would add nutrients to your coffee. However, it’s unlikely to affect body weight or stomach fat.

    Be well!

    JP

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