Thursday, March 29, 2007

Starbucks and Your Health

Why would a doctor write about coffee, and, about a corporation, to boot? No, I am not addicted to coffee. When I stop drinking my one cup a day, I don’t get a headache. Chances are you are a coffee drinker yourself, if you are bothering to read this braindropping. So relax, get a cup of coffee, and read this to feel good about hanging out at Starbucks.

First of all, coffee has been shown to be very high in antioxidants. In fact, it is the single highest source of antioxidants that Americans take in, by far. This is more of an indictment on our poor consumption of vegetables, though. If you want to read about the health benefits of coffee, read the British J. Nutrition 2005;93:773, “Is coffee a functional food?” I think of coffee as I do alcohol: one or two glasses (cups) is great, but beyond that, some people will get diminishing returns, especially in stomach issues, and cardiovascular problems, like heart rhythm abnormalities, and higher blood pressure. Still, even the elderly, who have more sensitive stomachs and weaker hearts benefit from coffee in moderation (American J. Clinical Nutrition 2007;85:392.)

Perhaps this will make you feel the best: coffee reduces insulin resistance, so, it helps you lose weight, and decrease your chances of developing diabetes (J. Metabolism Clinical and Experimental 2005;54:306.)

With these thoughts in mind, I sat outside my neighborhood’s Starbucks, where every body knows my name (“doc.”) It was my first peek at Spring, under the snowy mountains of Draper, a suburb in Salt Lake City. As I read the New York Times (which I have a legitimate right to do, since I used to live in the Big Apple,) I couldn’t help but eavesdrop on the orders being placed by people going through the drive window. With no exception, they were ordering their drinks with a lot of sugar. Not one of them got their coffee like a real man, that is, black, and very strong (I always get a grande with two shots of espresso to last me all day long.)

This is where you may get mad at me: I feel that, if there is an addiction at play, it is mostly to the sugar people are ruining their coffee with. Remember that milk, or cream, is 55% sugar. Also, eating a lot of sugar causes our taste buds to get used to an explosion of sweetness, so that nothing short of satisfying that sweet tooth will ever taste better. Think of your kids (and some of you) who will not eat their veggies. How could they? Veggies are “yucky,” they have “no taste,” compared to the artificial sweets our taste has grown accustomed to.

All this reminds me of coffee’s “cousin,” chocolate. Their antioxidant profile is similar, and so is their rather bitter taste, in their natural state. So, why are people addicted to chocolate? It’s not to the chocolate itself, or the cocoa, but to the milk and sugar that candy companies add to this wonderful fruit (some think cocoa is a nut.) We all know “chocoholics,” and you may be one of them. Ask them to eat straight chocolate, without the processing. I bet you they will not like it.

Of course, all this comes from the doc who wrote “Sweet Death,” a book that documents how most of our chronic health problems stem from poor diets, high in trans fats, and refined sugars, to which we, as a nation are addicted.

So, are you sitting there enjoying your coffee, or your sugar? You will no doubt say “both.” OK. This is a very good answer, unless you see yourself craving sugar all day long. Then, my friend, you may have a problem.

But, I don’t want to ruin your coffee experience, so, let’s move on, and read some more about Starbucks and your health. As you know, Starbucks’ meteoric success is in part due to the communal experience we have when we go there. Starbucks has filled a tremendous vacuum in our society, one that churches, bars, and other venues have failed to do, since the above, as good as they may be for some of us, tend to be divisive, so, we as a nation, have not had a place where everyone, no matter our beliefs, color, jobs, or education can meet just to enjoy the smell, the taste, and the sights of our fellowman, and fellow woman, enjoying themselves in the warmth of our communities.

Starbucks’ founding mission has a lot to do with your health, too: Mr. Schultz’s dream was to build a company where his employees could have very good health benefits, share in the ownership of stocks, and be treated with respect (“True North,” book by Bill George.) Have you noticed how happy your baristas seem to be? Their attitude permeates the store. In a country where the gap between the rich and the poor widens daily, and where 45 million of us lack health insurance, his vision is a glimpse of what businesses should copy, if they wish to succeed.

Yeah, the uninsured figure has been lowered by 2 million: of course, they died without health care!

Enjoy your coffee, and see if you can enjoy it black, next time.