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August 11, 2014

Enjoy these surprising perks of coffee consumption

Coffee is more than just a vehicle for caffeine, researchers say. It contains hundreds of different compounds, including antioxidant substances known to protect cells in the body from destruction.

When I emailed a family member that I was at the annual convention of the Hawaii Coffee Association, he replied, "A dietitian and nutritionist at a coffee convention? Just curious."

Me, too. But, hey, where else do you get coffee breaks that feature 100 percent Kona coffee? And speakers in Hawaiian shirts? I was ready and alert to learn.

For starters, I learned that Hawaii is the only coffee-producing state in the U.S. Coffee trees love the dense sunshine, plentiful rain and rich volcanic soil of these islands. More than 30 varieties are grown in Kona, for example.

It's good for you

Besides the fact that much of the world does not function in the morning without it, does coffee contain any redeeming nutritional value?

Why, yes, it does. A recent study at John Hopkins University found that 200 milligrams of caffeine (what we might get in 8 to 12 ounces of brewed coffee) enhanced the ability of study participants to remember details.

But coffee is more than just a vehicle for caffeine, say researchers at Harvard University. It contains hundreds of different compounds, including antioxidant substances known to protect cells in the body from destruction. Coffee also contains the minerals magnesium and chromium, which the body uses with the hormone insulin to regulate blood sugar levels. Recent studies have found an association between higher coffee intake and a lower risk for Type 2 diabetes.

But not for everyone

Not everyone should be downing a carafe of coffee every morning, however. Pregnant women are advised to limit coffee intake to 1 or 2 cups a day since caffeine crosses the placenta to the baby. And people with high blood pressure need to monitor the effect of caffeine on their condition.

"If you're drinking so much coffee that you get tremors, have sleeping problems or feel stressed and uncomfortable," say experts at Harvard, "then obviously you're drinking too much coffee."

Keep it fresh

Store your precious coffee in airtight containers away from direct light and heat, advises Peggy, our enthusiastic tour guide at Greenwell Farms, in the heart of Kona. "Never put coffee in the refrigerator!" (Moisture causes coffee to deteriorate.)

Only buy what you will use within a week or two. Coffee beans (and especially ground coffee) lose quality and flavor over time. And by the way, "If it's good coffee, you shouldn't need cream or sugar."

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