Many years ago, I ditched milk from my tea and coffee believing it was better for my health. But new research from the University Copenhagen has found that milk in coffee benefits your health.
That apparent revelation almost had me spitting out my second daily long black. Could the past two decades of my life have been based on a lie?
Recovering my composure and reverting back to refined sips of my coffee, I decided to delve a little further into this potential positive of milk in coffee.
The study was published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry but, apart from the abstract and a limited amount of supporting material, the details are tucked away behind an academic paywall.
If the study’s title – Phenolic Acid–Amino Acid Adducts Exert Distinct Immunomodulatory Effects in Macrophages Compared to Parent Phenolic Acids – is anything to go by, the full article might be a little too hard to digest (which is what I had originally thought coffee would be my adding milk to it) for the non-academic among us.
Fortunately, one of the study’s authors, Professor Marianne Nissen Lund, has been good enough to explain the findings in relatively plain English.
The long (black?) and short of it is that polyphenols – a group of molecules found in plants and plant-derived foods, including coffee beans – have an anti-inflammatory property that is enhanced even further when it binds to the amino acids in milk.
Said Prof. Lund: “We [previously] found that polyphenols react with proteins in different types of foods, including meat products, added plant extract (e.g. spices), milk, added green tea extract, and beer.”
Prof. Lund and her colleagues decided to do further research in this area, in part because polyphenols from coffee “have a more simple structure than, for instance, those found in green tea, so they are a bit easier to work with …”
The University of Copenhagen team found that when cysteine – one of the amino acids in milk – was bound to the polyphenols in coffee, the inflammatory response was reduced.
But before you change your café order or reach for the fridge when making your next coffee at home or work, there are couple of things to consider.
First, the published research was done in vitro (i.e. in test tubes) using a cell line derived from mice. The research would need to be done in vivo (basically, in humans) to demonstrate a conclusive benefit for us coffee drinkers.
Second, the same anti-inflammatory benefits might well be gained through binding to proteins found in other, non-dairy, foods. A meat dish with vegetables or a fruit smoothie with added yoghurt is likely to have a similar effect. The key is the binding of polyphenols and proteins, both of which are found in many foods other than coffee and milk.
So if you prefer to start your day with a long black rather than a cappuccino, stick with it. Just make sure you maintain a healthy overall diet.
How do you drink your coffee? Would you be willing to change if it was proven there were healthier options? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?
Also read: Eight tips for brewing a healthy coffee