Coffee important for teen diet, growers say

December 3, 2010

In a marketing strategy unveiled Friday, Costa Rican coffee growers want to make coffee an important part of teenagers’ diets.

They say that coffee contains antioxidants “which are needed for periods of rapid growth and development,” and that it provides an important boost in energy for kids. That can help with concentration, memory and reasoning ability, they say.

“Teenagers have a lifestyle that demands a lot of energy, and they need a healthy and varied diet that will allow optimum physical and emotional development,” Dr. Maria Isabel Stone, who advises the Costa Rican Chamber of Coffee Roasters, said in an e-mail. Coffee makes teens “alert for increased concentration” and is “ideal to take in the morning before going to school.”

United States-based Nemours, one of the largest nonprofit organizations devoted to children’s health, says that coffee is not harmful if consumed in moderate amounts.

But drinking more than 100 mg of caffeine a day can aggravate heart problems, cause the body to lose calcium and result in dependence, Nemours reports.

“Higher doses of caffeine can cause anxiety, dizziness, headaches, and the jitters,” the non-profit’s website says. “Caffeine can also interfere with normal sleep.”

A cup of coffee generally contains between 30 and 90 mg. of caffeine. By comparison, a Monster energy drink contains 160 mg, a glass of Coca Cola has 54 mg and an iced tea has 70 mg.

Xinia Fernández, associate professor at the University of Costa Rica’a School of Nutrition, said that drinking joe as an occasional drink is fine, but that the Chamber of Coffee Roasters might have gone too far in suggesting it is nutritional.

“In our culture, coffee is part of our diet because we are a coffee growing country, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that we should recommend it,” she said. “The benefits of drinking coffee are relatively low.”

Fernández said the antioxidants mentioned are better consumed from raw fruits and vegetables. She said the company was at risk of persuading teenagers into drinking coffees in the mornings, lattes for lunch and cappuccinos in the afternoon and thinking that they are following a nutritious diet.

But in reality, Fernández said, teens would be consuming coffee products at the expense of more nutritious drinks such as orange juice or green tea.

“Producers have every right to market their product,” she said. “But I don’t think their reasoning for recommending it is valid.”    

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