Everything you need to know.

Health experts have gone ’round and ’round on the coffee issue — is it bad for you or good for you? Our answer: In moderation, coffee, especially decaf, may have beneficial effects on your blood sugar. A study from Finland, which boasts the highest coffee consumption in the world, found that the risk of developing type 2 diabetes went down as coffee consumption went up; the biggest benefits were to people who drank a whopping six cups a day (although we don’t recommend that you follow suit). And a recent study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that among more than 88,000 women, drinking just one cup of coffee a day (caffeinated or decaffeinated) was associated with a 13 percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared with non–coffee drinkers; drinking two to three cups a day was associated with a 32 percent lower risk.

Coffee contains a long list of natural plant compounds, including polyphenol antioxidants called chlorogenic acids, that may contribute to its beneficial effect on blood sugar.

That said, caffeine does tend to cause blood sugar to spike, not to mention giving you the jitters. One clinical study found that among nine people who drank a single large cup of caffeinated coffee after an overnight fast, blood sugar was significantly higher for half an hour afterward than it was after drinking a sugar solution; not so after drinking decaffeinated coffee. The answer: Switch to decaf.

Health Bonus
Several studies show that the antioxidants in coffee offer protection against disease of the liver and colon and Parkinson’s disease. And a recent Canadian study found that as coffee drinking increased, the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease decreased.

Glycemic Load: Very low
A cup of coffee with your breakfast or after dinner, especially if it’s decaf, is a good alternative to soda and may even reduce your craving for a sugary doughnut or dessert if you add a little flavor twist. Here are but a few.

  • Make your own version of Irish coffee by adding a tablespoon each of orange juice and lemon juice. (Remember, lemon juice, which is acidic, lowers the effect of a food or drink on your blood sugar.) Top with a spoonful of whipped cream.
  • Create a delicious grog by adding cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, grated lemon, and orange peel to coffee. Stir in fat-free half-and-half and lightly sweeten.
  • Make Mexican mocha with coffee, chocolate syrup, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
  • Mix strong coffee and sugar-free hot chocolate. Add a dash of cinnamon and grated orange peel.

Perfect Portion: 1 to 2 cups
Choose decaf for better blood sugar. Coffee’s not only our morning wakeup call, it’s also the number one source of antioxidants in our diets, outpacing even cranberries and red grapes, according to a recent study. Mind you, cranberries, grapes, and other fruits and vegetables are much higher in antioxidants than coffee is, but we don’t consume them the way we do coffee — too bad for us.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest