New research suggests adding milk to your coffee could have anti-inflammatory effects.
What’s your morning drink of choice? I’m partial to a latte (oat, thanks for asking), but it’s long been made aware to me – by way of the news, social media and certain barista menus that scream the caloric content of every single item – that it’s perhaps a less ‘healthy’ choice than opting for a simple black coffee.
Despite the noise around black americanos being the go-to choice for intermittent fasters, however, there’s nothing wrong with having your daily dose of gut-loving coffee with a big old glug of milk. In fact, new research suggests there may even be additional health benefits to drinking your coffee white.
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A study by the University of Copenhagen has revealed that coffee, when served with milk, may have an anti-inflammatory effect.
Inflammation is what happens when we are exposed to bacteria, viruses and other foreign bodies. To protect us, our bodies release white blood cells – this reaction is known as inflammation. It also occurs when we experience injury, too. Inflammation, obviously, does a very important job. Prolonged inflammation, however, can pose health risks.
Now, the benefits of coffee are well-known. It’s said to reduce our risk of high blood pressure, improve gut health and boost mood – and most of that is down to the fact that coffee isrich in antioxidants called polyphenols. These plant chemicals help to protect tissues by preventing inflammatory responses. However, there are still a lot of unknowns about polyphenols and what happens when they react with other molecules.
To investigate this, university researchers explored what happens when polyphenols (also found in fruits and vegetables, tea, red wine and beer) are combined with amino acids, the building blocks of protein. They did this by applying artificial inflammation to immune cells. Some cells received a combination of polyphenols and amino acids (mimicking coffee with milk), while others only received polyphenols (mimicking black coffee).
The polyphenol and amino acid combo (or, faux milky coffee) was twice as effective at fighting inflammation compared to cells that only had polyphenols added.
“In the study, we show that as a polyphenol reacts with an amino acid, its inhibitory effect on inflammation in immune cells is enhanced,” says professor Marianne Nissen Lund from the department of food science, who led the study. “Our result demonstrates that the reaction between polyphenols and proteins also happens in some of the coffee drinks with milk that we studied. In fact, the reaction happens so quickly that it has been difficult to avoid in any of the foods that we’ve studied so far.”
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In other words, it’s likely that coffee with milk has more of an anti-inflammatory effect than black coffee.
And the anti-inflammatory effects may not be limited to coffee, either. “I can imagine that something similar happens in, for example, a meat dish with vegetables or a smoothie, if you make sure to add some protein like milk or yoghurt,” says Lund.
That said, much more research is needed in the area before any firm conclusions are drawn. “We will now investigate further, initially in animals. After that, we hope to receive research funding which will allow us to study the effect in humans,” says Lund.
Until then, I’m relabelling my morning latte as a ‘health drink’.
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