It is a daily routine for millions of Italians – the morning cup of espresso brewed on the kitchen hob or downed swiftly in a cafe on the way to work. But for years their favorite way of kick-starting the day has had a bad press – most recently when it was reported that doctors had told British Prime Minister Tony Blair to drink less coffee.
Now it seems the tide is turning. Forget the scare stories, says dietician Chiara Trombetti, of the Humanitas Gavazzeni institute in the northern Italian town of Bergamo. There is sound scientific reason to enjoy your morning espresso without worrying about the health effects. Coffee can be good for you – she says – and the stronger, the better. That is why she recommends an espresso rather than a very un-Italian cup of instant.
Scientific Evidence Dr Trombetti says she hates the stuff herself – but points to a welter of scientific evidence to back her case. Coffee contains tannin and antioxidants, which are good for the heart and arteries, she says. It can relieve headaches. It is good for the liver – and can help prevent cirrhosis and gallstones. And the caffeine in coffee can reduce the risk of asthma attacks – and help improve circulation within the heart.
There is no denying that coffee is not for everyone. If you drink too much it can increase nervousness, and cause rapid heartbeat and trembling hands. Pregnant women, heart patients, and anyone with a stomach ulcer are usually advised to avoid it. And even Dr Trombetti says no one should drink more than three or four cups a day. But there is one group of Italians in particular who might benefit from her advice.
Many parents might be horrified at the thought. But Dr Trombetti is adamant that a cup of milky coffee could make the ideal start for the next generation of coffee lovers – Italy’s drowsy school kids – stimulating their brains ahead of a day that often lasts from 0830 until 1600.
By Mark Duff
BBC News, Milan