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It’s official: Americans should drink more coffee

Bottoms up. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

When the nation's top nutrition panel released its latest dietary recommendations on Thursday, the group did something it had never done before: weigh in on whether people should be drinking coffee. What it had to say is pretty surprising.

Not only can people stop worrying about whether drinking coffee is bad for them, according to the panel, they might even want to consider drinking a bit more.

The panel cited minimal health risks associated with drinking between three and five cups per day. It also said that consuming as many as five cups of coffee each day (400 mg) is tied to several health benefits, including a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

"We saw that coffee has a lot of health benefits," said Miriam Nelson, a professor at Tufts University and one of the committee’s members. "Specifically when you're drinking more than a couple cups per day."

That's great news if you're already drinking between three and five cups each day, which Nelson and the rest of the panel consider a "moderate" level of consumption. But you know what? You probably aren't, because people in this country actually tend to consume a lot less than that. On average, Americans only drink about one cup of coffee per day, according to data collected by the United States Department of Agriculture. Even when Americans drank the most coffee they ever have, back in 1946, they still only drank two cups a day on average.

Interestingly enough, it isn't just people in the United States who drink less-than-moderate amounts of joe each day. No country in the world downs more than 3 cups each day per capita, according to market research firm Euromonitor. The country that drinks the most—Netherlands—still falls more than half a cup short of the three cup threshold each day.

Now this doesn't mean that drinking between three and five cups of coffee per day correlates will necessarily make you healthier or stronger. It might. But even if it doesn't, it's unlikely to do anything other than make you more alert and awake.

"I don’t want to get into implying coffee cures cancer -- nobody thinks that," Tom Brenna, a member of the committee and a nutritionist at Cornell University, told Bloomberg on Thursday. "But there is no evidence for increased risk, if anything, the other way around."

The decision, which broke the committee's more than 40 years of silence on coffee, was driven by heightened interest in the caffeinated beverage as well as a growing anxiety about potential health risks associated with it, according to Nelson. It remains to be seen whether the Department of Health and Human Services or the Agriculture Department will take the committee's recommendations for coffee intake to heart and include them in the official dietary guidelines update, which is due out later this year. But it's rare for the government agencies to ignore the panel's advice, so it's fair to expect a federal endorsement for drinking coffee—as much as five cups a day no less—to be just around the bend.

Related stories: 

Almost half the world actually prefers instant coffee

Why many restaurants don't actually want you to order dessert

Where people around the world eat the most sugar and fat

The nation's top nutritional panel released its report recommending changes to the U.S. dietary guidelines. Here are the main takeaways of what you should and should not eat. (Video: Julio C. Negron and Jayne W. Orenstein/The Washington Post)