Coffee drinkers live longer than abstainers even if they add sugar to their drink, a study has found.
Several pieces of research have linked the brew to good health and long life, but the addition of sugar has not been assessed.
Sugar is widely vilified due to proven links with various diseases such as obesity, diabetes and tooth decay, and is now taxed in Britain.
Academics from China used data from more than 170,000 Britons who reported how many drinks they had a day, and also how they liked their coffee, to see if a thimble to sweeten an espresso or latte was detrimental to health.
Over a seven-year follow-up period, the scientists tracked how many of the people died, developed cancer or got heart disease.
They found that those who drank a moderate amount of coffee, between 1.5 and 3.5 cups a day, were less likely to die in this time window. On average, the Britons in the study who liked sugar in their tea only had one teaspoon.
People who have three cups of unsweetened, bitter coffee a day, for example, were 29 per cent less likely to die than non-drinkers.
The trend was largely the same for people who do like sugar in their drink, with three cups of sugared coffee a day reducing risk compared to non-drinkers by 28 per cent.
“The association of coffee drinking with mortality from cancer and cardiovascular disease was largely consistent with that with all-cause mortality,” the researchers from Southern Medical University write in their paper, published in Annals of Internal Medicine.
They conclude that “moderate consumption of unsweetened and sugar-sweetened coffee was associated with lower risk for death”.
But some experts are unconvinced.
‘Results are far from clear’
Prof Gunter Kuhnle, professor of nutrition and food science at the University of Reading, saw problems with some of the study’s assumptions and methods.
“This study tried to find out whether [sugar and sweeteners] matter – but the results are far from clear,” he said.
“People who use sweeteners tend to be more likely to be overweight or obese and/or to have diabetes, but it is very likely that this is the very reason they use sweeteners; a reverse causality.”
He added: “The amount of sugar added to coffee is difficult to estimate, even when using teaspoons.
“In summary, the study is informative and interesting, but does not justify any recommendation to change behaviour.”
Dr Christina Wee, deputy editor of the Annals of Internal Medicine, said of the research: “Given the current available evidence on coffee’s potential health effects, what should we tell our patients who drink coffee and add sugar to it?
“Although we cannot definitively conclude that drinking coffee reduces mortality risk, the totality of the evidence does not suggest a need for most coffee drinkers - particularly those who drink it with no or modest amounts of sugar - to eliminate coffee.
“So drink up - but it would be prudent to avoid too many caramel macchiatos while more evidence brews.”