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Will drinking coffee really stunt your growth?

The Dark Side of Coffee

Coffee has come a long way from the time when Turks retreating from Austria left behind beans so bitter that the Viennese felt compelled to add copious amounts of milk and sugar -- making what's regarded as the world's first cappuccino. (The drink is so named, it's believed, because a friar who helped rebuff the Turks belonged to the Capuchin order of monks.)

These days, coffee creations can seem more like dessert than a simple pick-me-up in a cup. The Starbucks menu includes such treats as a mint mocha chip frappuccino blended with chocolate whipped cream, while Dunkin Donuts offers up vanilla bean coolattas that list corn syrup not once but twice on their ingredients list -- along with sugar and sweetened condensed skim milk.

So, although it's been proven that there are relatively minor health issues associated with caffeine -- jitteriness, anxiety, heartburn, insomnia -- it's actually the other ingredients added to coffee, especially sugar, that have nutritionists worried.

It's no secret that America has a burgeoning problem with childhood obesity and diabetes, and 860-calorie-packed drinks like the large coolatta aren't helping. This is particularly troubling when, according to the National Coffee Association, 18- to 24-year-olds represent the fastest growing segment of people who turn to coffee each year.

In addition to expanding young waistlines, coffee can cause the mouth to dry out, which contributes to tooth decay. The problem is compounded by the fact that the tannic acid in coffee can stain teeth enamel, giving some grins an unwanted café au lait tinge.

And coffee doesn't just affect the health of 20-somethings -- pregnant women are also warned to consume no more than two cups a day. Researchers in England found that pregnant women who drank more than 200 mg of caffeine a day (the amount in two average-sized cups of coffee) were more likely to give birth to underweight babies [source: Elliott]. Lower birth weights can also lead to spontaneous miscarriages -- another health concern with which caffeine has previously been associated.

But if you're not pregnant, drink enough water, get enough calcium and don't add shovelfuls of sugar to your java, the health benefits of coffee far outweigh its negatives, as we'll see next.