The 2020 Dietary Guidelines miss an opportunity with coffee
Happy New Year! It may be a new year, but thus far, 2021 does not feel much different than 2020. Yet we were able to end 2020 on a bit of a high note as at the close of the year (29 December 2020), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) released its 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, reaffirming that coffee can be part of healthy diets, which is good news for all coffee drinkers, not just Americans. However, the National Coffee Association (NCA) of the US asserts the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) committed a disservice to coffee by focusing on how it is prepared and not on coffee alone.
Commenting on the news, William “Bill” Murray, president and CEO of the NCA, said, “Decades of independent scientific evidence show that drinking coffee is associated with significantly reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and multiple cancers. It is only right that the Dietary Guidelines reaffirm coffee can be part of healthy diets, because indeed coffee drinkers live longer, healthier lives.”
However, Murray explained that although the Dietary Guidelines include coffee in healthy eating patterns, they miss opportunities to note coffee’s association with specific health benefits. “The Guidelines also refer to sweetened coffees as a source of added sugars to limit, despite the fact that scientific studies do not observe differences in health outcomes depending on how coffee is prepared. More than half of American coffee drinkers do not use any sweetener in their coffee,” he said, noting that of those consumers who add any sweetener, many choose low or no-calorie sweeteners as an alternative to sugar.
The NCA has continually urged the DGAC and corresponding agencies that coffee should be considered separately from other beverages given the overwhelming evidence showing its health benefits — evidence which has further strengthened since the 2015 Dietary Guidelines.
In a letter to the Secretaries of Agriculture (USDA) and Health & Human Services (HHS) in August 2020, illustrating the extraordinary amount of evidence highlighting coffee’s health benefits, Murray stated that eight ounces of brewed coffee contain just two calories, and calories from drinking coffee, regardless of how it is prepared, “represent a tiny fraction of Americans’ overall energy intake. Furthermore, the Committee’s analysis of sugar-sweetened beverages fails to maintain consistent definitions and categorization of coffee with and without sweeteners.”
On 11 August 2020, Dr Mark Corey, on behalf of the NCA, offered testimony to the DGAC, saying, “I am commenting today to raise serious concerns about the 2020 DGAC’s decision to ignore findings of previous DGACs and the preponderance of evidence that shows drinking coffee is associated with significant health benefits and reduced risk of chronic disease.”
Illustrating the multitude of scientific evidence showing that coffee is associated with many unique health benefits, including reduced all-cause mortality and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, Dr Corey pointed out that the 2015 DGAC conducted a comprehensive review of the evidence and affirmed that drinking coffee can be part of healthy diets, a guideline that has been widely referenced, including by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) of the US. “As the NCA has noted repeatedly during the 2020 DGAC process, the evidence of coffee’s many health benefits has only strengthened since the 2015 DGAC’s review,” he said.
Dr Corey continued, “With this in mind, we are dismayed that the 2020 DGAC continues to ignore this preponderance of evidence, choosing instead to review coffee only as part of a group of ‘sugar-sweetened beverages.’ …the preponderance of evidence showing coffee’s many unique health benefits does not depend on how coffee is prepared.”
Coffee has been consumed safely for centuries and studied extensively for decades, Dr Corey remarked, adding, “given the massive amount of evidence related to coffee’s health benefits and its widespread impact on Americans’ diets, the USDA and HHS should ensure that the 2020 DGA reaffirms the 2015 DGA’s conclusion that drinking coffee can be part of healthy diets.”
So, although the DGAC may have missed an opportunity to further substantiate coffee’s association with many health benefits, we can all start 2021 feeling good about drinking our daily cup (or cups in many cases!) of joe!
I wish everyone a happy and healthy new year — and perhaps a return to fun in 2021! Stay safe and be well!
- Vanessa L Facenda, editor, Tea & Coffee Trade Journal.
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