For most of us, coffee has become an integral part of our daily routines. From lattes to cold brew, people are consuming more and more coffee—and caffeine—than ever before.
Fortunately, drinking some coffee each day can offer a number of health benefits. However, consuming too much can have adverse effects.
Keep reading to find out if you’re consuming an appropriate amount of coffee each day.
What is coffee?
First, let’s start with a little background on this beloved beverage.
Most people think of coffee in the form of beans, but it actually comes from a plant. Coffee trees are covered in green, waxy leaves that are often accompanied by flowers and green, ripe fruit.
Coffee beans are the seeds of berries from these trees. Brazil is one of the largest growers of coffee beans, with up to one-third of the world’s total as of 2016.
Typically, coffee tastes slightly acidic and is dark in color. To appeal to a broader range of consumers, many manufacturers add flavoring to their coffee beans and vary the intensity.
Coffee is served hot or cold and presented in a variety of ways, such as an espresso, French press, latte, etc.
While many people appreciate coffee for its stimulating effect, recent research shows it has health benefits as well.
Benefits of coffee
The benefits of coffee include weight loss, alertness, improved sports performance, heightened brain function, a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease and type 2 diabetes, and improved liver and colon health.
Caffeine has benefits as well. A known stimulant, caffeine blocks the function of a brain hormone called adenosine which, in turn, releases other neurotransmitters like norepinephrine and dopamine.
These neurotransmitters reduce tiredness and fatigue and keep you alert. Caffeine also has these benefits:
- Caffeine can boost metabolism by as much as 11% and increase exercise performance by up to 12%.
- Research has shown that coffee consumers are up to 65% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and up to 60% less likely to develop Parkinson’s disease.
- Coffee drinkers have a 23% to 67% reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes—a disease that now affects more than 300 million people.
While soft drinks, tea and chocolate all contain caffeine, coffee contains the most by a long shot.
For reference, a single cup of coffee can contain anywhere from 30 to 300 mg of caffeine, with the average cup containing closer to 90 to 100 mg.
Coffee offers a host of nutrients that are found naturally in its beans. An 8-ounce cup contains:
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin): 11% of the daily value (DV)
- Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid): 6% of the DV
- Vitamin B1 (thiamine): 2% of the DV
- Vitamin B3 (niacin): 2% of the DV
- Folate: 1% of the DV
- Manganese: 3% of the DV
- Potassium: 3% of the DV
- Magnesium: 2% of the DV
- Phosphorus: 1% of the DV
To understand your daily value of these nutrients, multiply the percentage of one (for example, 11% of the DV for vitamin B2) by the average number of 8-ounce cups of coffee that you drink each day, and you’ll see how it can really add up.
Coffee contains a lot of antioxidants too. In fact, for someone eating the average Western diet, more antioxidants will be consumed from coffee than from fruits and vegetables combined!
Coffee can be good for the heart
Research shows that consuming four cups of coffee each day could improve heart health—protecting cardiovascular cells from damage. The study suggests that drinking caffeinated beverages is especially beneficial for elderly adults who are at a heightened risk of heart problems.
To fully reap the cardiovascular benefits of coffee, it is important that you limit the sugar and dairy that you add. Instead of sugar-packed creamer, consider an unsweetened nondairy creamer.
Coffee can be good for liver
Alcohol and fructose intake can cause damage to the liver, with the end stage of this damage creating scar tissue. This is called cirrhosis.
For coffee drinkers, especially those drinking four or more cups each day, the risk of developing cirrhosis drops by 84%.
Drinking coffee also helps reduce the risk of liver cancer—the second leading cause of cancer death worldwide—by up to 40%.
Negative effects of coffee
While coffee has health benefits, it also carries some negative effects. These can include depression, increased blood glucose levels, loss of pregnancy, decreased fertility, gout, high blood pressure and anxiety.
When drunk in excess, the caffeine in coffee can lead to heart palpitations, jitteriness, loss of sleep and, in some cases, panic attacks.
Caffeine can also lead to addiction. The more caffeine you consume, the more tolerant you become to it. This can lead to withdrawal symptoms when you try to cut back or abstain.
If you are experiencing any of the negative effects of coffee, talk to your provider to ensure that you’re consuming an appropriate amount of caffeine.
Decaf coffee benefits
Decaf coffee has many of the same health benefits as caffeinated coffee. Studies have shown that drinking decaf coffee has been linked with:
- A decreased risk of type 2 diabetes
- Reduced liver enzyme levels, which suggests a protective effect on the liver
- A small but significant reduction in the risk of premature death, as well as death from stroke or heart disease
However, it can be difficult to know exactly what the health benefits of decaf coffee are since most research does not distinguish between regular and decaf—with many excluding decaf coffee completely.
Can you have coffee when pregnant?
While many pregnant women try to abstain from coffee completely, it is fine to consume some caffeine as long as you stay under 200mg per day, according to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Anything more than 200mg per day can put pregnant women at risk of miscarriage and low birth weight. It is important to note that decaffeinated coffee isn’t 100% caffeine-free.
In fact, a 16-ounce cup of brewed decaf coffee can contain up to 25mg of caffeine.
Many brands of decaf coffee include chemicals that are used during the caffeine-removal process, so look for decaf coffee processed with the Swiss water method.
Does coffee have cholesterol?
Over the past decade, there have been several studies that link coffee to higher cholesterol levels
Coffee oils, such as cafestol and kahweol, can have an effect on the body’s ability to metabolize and regulate cholesterol.
These oils can also decrease bile acids and neutralize sterols that can, in turn, lead to increased cholesterol.
How many cups of coffee should you have a day?
In order to reap the health benefits of coffee, it’s smart to stay under 400mg of caffeine a day. (This is for a healthy adult who isn’t pregnant.)
This comes out to approximately four cups of brewed coffee; however, some coffees, such as espresso, may contain more caffeine.
Heavy caffeine use, even in healthy adults, may cause a myriad of unpleasant side effects. If you are pregnant, trying to become pregnant or breastfeeding, talk to your provider about limiting your caffeine intake.
And if you’ve experienced any of the negative side effects of coffee, you may want to speak with a provider to make sure your caffeine intake is healthy.
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Disclaimer: Patients’ health can vary. Always consult with a medical professional before taking medication, making health-related decisions or deciding if medical advice is right for you.