Adults who drink moderate amounts of coffee, whether it is sweetened or unsweetened, may have a lower risk of death than non-coffee drinkers, according to a new study.

The study, published in Annals of Internal Medicine, is based on data from more than 171,000 people from the UK without known heart disease or cancer.

The participants were asked a series of dietary and health behaviour questions to determine coffee consumption habits.

Unsweetened coffee drinkers were 16 to 21 percent less likely to die than non-coffee drinkers

The authors found that during the 7-year follow up period, participants who drank any amount of unsweetened coffee were 16 to 21 percent less likely to die than participants who did not drink coffee.

They also found that participants who drank 1.5 to 3.5 daily cups of coffee sweetened with sugar were 29 to 31 percent less likely to die than participants who did not drink coffee.

The authors noted that adults who drank sugar-sweetened coffee added only about 1 teaspoon of sugar per cup of coffee on average. Results were inconclusive for participants who used artificial sweeteners in their coffee.

“Be cautious” about higher calorie specialty coffees

An accompanying editorial to the study notes that while coffee has qualities that could make health benefits possible, confounding variables may have impacted the findings.

For example, people who drink coffee may have a higher socioeconomic status and this may affect overall health outcomes. Furthermore, diet and other lifestyle factors are difficult to measure.

They also warn that coffee from popular coffee chain restaurants is often much higher in sugar, and many coffee consumers may drink it in place of other beverages that make comparisons to non-drinkers more difficult.

Nevertheless, the authors say that based on this data, clinicians can safely tell their patients that there is no need for most coffee drinkers to eliminate the beverage from their diet, but they should be cautious about higher calorie specialty coffees.