Often criticised for its potentially harmful effects, coffee may also offer many health benefits if the numerous studies on the subject are to be believed. A recent study conducted at Washington University in the US city of St. Louis has highlighted a link between coffee and a reduced build-up of body fat in women. And that is not all, the popular hot beverage consumed by millions around the globe may also prevent the emergence of certain diseases.

A meta-analysis conducted by a research team led by Chao Cao of the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, took into account social factors as well as health data, has shown that women aged between 20 and 44 years of age who drink two cups of coffee per day, as well as those aged from 45 to 69 who drink four cups per day. The study found that the subjects have significantly lower body fat than women who do not consume the beverage.

According to the researchers, their results suggest that there may be bio-active compounds in coffee that boost the production of hormones, which promote the absorption of fatty acids. In the long term, they believe that compounds derived from coffee could play a role in the fight against obesity and the metabolic diseases it engenders.

Another study by Professor Carlo La Vecchia of the University of Milan in Italy has also shown that the coffee has a positive impact on gastrointestinal bacteria. In particular it favors the development of a strain called Bifidobacterium spp, which facilitates the motor activity of the colon.

The beverage could also help deter heart disease. The leading cause of death in Western countries, heart disease is strongly linked to lifestyle factors such as stress and smoking. But it may be a mistake to assume that coffee consumption is also one of these. The presence of caffeine in the blood has been positively associated with increased circulation of the protein P27, which plays a role in preventing heart attacks and the regeneration of damaged cells in patients suffering from heart disease. So it could actually be of benefit to people at risk.

Studies on mice have also shown that coffee may play a protective role against neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. However, little information has been found to explain this phenomenon, as the causes of both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are still poorly understood.

It should be noted that these studies have identified possible benefits for coffee consumption that ranges from two to four cups per day. Many more studies that have highlighted risks associated with a level of consumption in excess of five cups per day. So it goes without saying that moderation is key to enjoying the benefits of coffee while avoiding the risks.

The skinny on ice cream

New research from Mintel’s Global New Product Database says that plant-based ice cream products make up 7% of all launches in the last 12 months, more than double the 3% five years ago. With more people trying to shift to plant-focused diets — which are seen as healthier and better for the climate — the demand for vegan ice cream is not only coming from health conscious hipsters. A Mintel survey of 2,000 British internet users in April and May revealed that 12% of UK adults say the Covid-19 outbreak has made a vegan diet more appealing, a figure that nearly doubled among under-25s (23%).

In the last five years, big brands like Ben & Jerry’s, Magnum, Häagen-Dazs and low-calorie specialists Halo Top have expanded their offerings to include plant-based versions of their frozen treats. Newer entrants like Cado (which relies on creamy avocado to mimic the texture of dairy), Oatly (which uses oat milk) and Eclipse Foods (which makes its ices from potato, corn and cassava) are also eager to take a bite out of this expanding market.

Among vegan ice creams, chocolate accounted for 26% of new products over the last 12 months, with vanilla and coconut products at 11% and 9% respectively. Vegan ices offering chunky textural contrast — via nuts, cookie bits, pieces of toffee and cookie dough — rose from 2% to 13% of new launches between 2016 to 2017 and 2019 to 2020. These are likely to hit the spot for the 73% of UK ice cream eaters who said they like their ice creams with different textures (crunchy or hard, for example).

Mintel Global Food & Drink Analyst Kate Vlietstra said that plant-based ice creams would soon see even more evolution, such as the use of different plant milks, quinoa and seeds. One in 10 ice cream product launches currently take place in Japan, which has lapped the US to become the ice cream innovation champion of the world. In Europe, Germany leads the pack with a 6% share of new ice cream innovations.

Protein was tipped as a growing area of focus for health-conscious ice cream consumers as well. Products claiming to provide high or added protein rose from under 1% of ice creams to over 2 % in the last four years. The Mintel survey noted that one in six UK (16%) consumers said they would eat more ice cream if it had added protein.

“With sustainability ever the topic of discussion, the ice cream category will need to demonstrate its ethical credentials to continue to win flavour with consumers, and plant proteins can appeal due to their lower carbon footprint than dairy proteins,” said Vlietstra.