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Wake up and smell the coffee-your morning mug is healthier than you think.

Byline: By MADELEINE BRINDLEY Western Mail

Energy drinks containing high levels of caffeine could be contributing to the obesity epidemic. New research suggests that our love of caffeinated soft drinks is a factor in expanding waistlines despite the common belief that they give us more energy to be active.

The findings come as it emerged that most people are unaware of the health benefits of drinking coffee - perhaps the most popular drink containing caffeine known to man.

The New Zealand research, led by Auckland University of Technology Professor Elaine Rush, has found an energy drink containing sugar, added caffeine and guarana - which also contains caffeine - causes the body to convert sugar into fat more rapidly than lemonade.

She said, 'These results could have huge implications when you think about how much sugar and caffeine people consume these days, and the high rates of inactivity.

'The sugar was absorbed into their systems within a minute, giving them an immediate sugar rush.'

Prof Rush said she was surprised at how fast the sugar was absorbed.

She added, 'Sugar is a simple carbohydrate and evidence from this study shows that, coupled with a large amount of caffeine, the body rapidly turns it into stored fat.'

The energy drink tested contained 28g of sucrose and 81mg of caffeine per 250ml can, similar to the amount of sugar in soft drinks and caffeine in a brewed cup of coffee.

In a separate study, it has emerged that coffee drinkers are unaware of how beneficial their morning mug could be benefiting their health.

Research by the British Coffee Association found that two-thirds of people are unaware of the beneficial effects of coffee on alertness and concentration and a further 60% are unaware of its high antioxidant content.

Coffee is gradually overtaking tea as the nation's favourite drink - Britain drinks about 70 million cups of coffee every day and each Briton consumes 500g of coffee per year.

The phenomenon has seen coffee shops and chains spring up on most of Wales' high streets.

Ex-lawyer Sahar Hashemi, who founded the pounds 30m annual turnover Coffee Republic chain, believes there should be more Welsh-run coffee chains as our love affair with coffee continues.

She said, 'The Welsh are hard working and intelligent and there should be more of them driving modern trends like the up-market coffee shop.'

Dr Sarah Schenker, a state registered dietitian, said, 'Coffee drinking is often seen as a vice and people automatically feel guilty for enjoying it. In fact drinking a moderate amount of coffee, around four to five cups a day, is certainly not bad for you and could, as part of a healthy balanced diet, have health benefits.

'This is because coffee, like other plant-based foods, contains antioxidants which prevent damage caused by free radicals and so may help to reduce the risk of some diseases.'

Only 35% of survey respondents knew that coffee can aid concentration, due to its caffeine content.

The research also reveals that myths about coffee are still prevalent with nearly 90% of respondents wrongly thinking that coffee can dehydrate you.

Zoe Wheeldon, from the British Coffee Association, said, 'This research demonstrates that the majority of people are not aware of the beneficial effects that regular, moderate consumption of coffee can have and therefore many people may be unnecessarily reducing their coffee consumption.'

The findings are part of a campaign to raise awareness of the health benefits of coffee.: Some surprising benefits of coffee and caffeine:Coffee is one of the most heavily-researched commodities in the world. Coffee is good source of antioxidants. Studies have implied that coffee contains high levels of antioxidants compared to other commonly consumed beverages, such as tea and fruit juice.

Caffeine, at levels commonly consumed in coffee, is no more a diuretic than water.

Some research has suggested that drinking coffee on a regular basis may help protect against diseases including liver cancer, Type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. But more research is needed before firm conclusions can be drawn.

Taking a cup of coffee with an ibuprofen tablet has been shown to increase the tablet's painkilling effect.

The milk in coffee can be an important source of calcium, especially for women.

A cup of coffee has been shown to help relieve the symptoms of a cold.

Coffee increases the brain's capacity to process information.

The Department of Transport advises drivers to stop and drink two cups of coffee or a high-caffeinated drink and a short nap to alleviate driver tiredness. Coffee is not addictive. Caffeine does not act on the same parts of the brain associated with addiction. The World Health Organisation supports the view that coffee is not addictive.
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Aug 25, 2005
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