Does coffee really make you more alert?

Many working professionals can't even get dressed for work without their first cup of coffee. However, does everyone's favourite caffeinated drink actually make you more alert in the mornings?

In a study by Cornell University, researchers found that the act of drinking coffee may matter more than the caffeine in the coffee.

In a secondary part of the study published in the Journal of Food Science, participants were asked to disclose their level of alertness and estimated the amount of caffeine in their coffee.

Interestingly, they reported the same increase in alertness after drinking either the caffeinated or decaffeinated sample, and were unable to predict if they had consumed the decaffeinated or the caffeinated version.

Senior author Robin Dando, assistant professor of food science, said: "We think there might be a placebo or a conditioning effect to the simple action of drinking coffee," said Dando.

"Think Pavlov's dog. The act of drinking coffee - with the aroma and taste - is usually followed by alertness. So the panelists felt alert even if the caffeine was not there."

"What seems to be important is the action of drinking that coffee," Dando said. "Just the action of thinking that you've done the things that make you feel more awake, makes you feel more awake."

The main part of the study titled "Caffeine May Reduce Perceived Sweet Taste in Humans, Supporting Evidence That Adenosine Receptors Modulate Taste", demonstrated that caffeine, while keeping people awake, also decreases their ability to taste sweetness which, ironically, may make them desire it more.

In the blind study, one group sampled decaffeinated coffee with 200 milligrams of caffeine added in a laboratory setting, while the other group drank just decaffeinated coffee. Despite both groups having the same amount of sugar added, participants who drank the caffeinated brew rated it as less sweet.

Dando said: "When you drink caffeinated coffee, it will change how you perceive taste - for however long that effect lasts. So if you eat food directly after drinking a caffeinated coffee or other caffeinated drinks, you will likely perceive food differently."

So, if you're thinking of investing in a nice coffee machine for your staff, perhaps you should ensure that it also includes decaffeinated coffee to cater for those who are watching their sugar intake.

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