Is Coffee Good for You or Is It Bad for You?

If you are just starting your day, do you find yourself thinking “but first coffee”? 

One day it’s good for you, the next day it’s bad. No need to worry coffee drinkers – we are settling this question for you.

By itself, coffee has zero calories. This also means it has no fat or carbs. It is also a source of many antioxidants. That alone may lead you to believe that coffee is good for you. However, once you start adding sugar, flavors, and cream to your coffee that can all change.

Studies have shown that there are health benefits of coffee drinking and that it may help with disease prevention. But there some people who should limit caffeine consumption. 

Here are 7 ways that coffee can provide you health benefits.

People drinking coffee

Improve Brain Function

Coffee contains caffeine, which is known to be a mild stimulant to the central nervous system. This may help improve alertness and sustain attention. It also may help fight fatigue. 

One study showed that the coffee improved alertness, attention, and reaction time (1).

This may be why coffee lovers most often consume it in the morning as a part of how they start their day.

Provide an Energy Boost

Caffeine can temporarily increase energy expenditure (2). 

In healthy, normal-weight men, 200-350 mg caffeine resulted in a 4-11% increase in resting metabolic rate (RMR) for 1.5-3 hours after consuming (2). 

In one small study, women experienced an 8-15% increase in RMR 90 minutes after having 240 mg caffeine (2). Younger subjects experienced the greatest increase.

Another study found that 100 mg of caffeine increased energy expenditure by 80-150 calories (3).

Prevent Type 2 Diabetes (Include Insulin)

Drinking coffee may lower the risk of type 2 diabetes. Coffee consumption has been associated with a lower risk of non-insulin-dependent diabetes (also known as type 2 diabetes). 

A meta-analysis found that coffee drinkers consuming up to 6 cups of coffee daily (compared to none), had a 33% reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. One interesting finding here was that both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee were associated with a lower risk (4).

Prevent Liver Disease and Liver Cancer

Coffee may be beneficial for liver health and lower risk of certain liver diseases.

A meta-analysis of cohort and case-control studies found that daily coffee drinking of at least 2 cups was associated with a nearly 50% reduction in the risk of developing cirrhosis (5).

Similar findings occurred in studies looking at hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), a type of liver cancer. An extra 2 cups of coffee per day resulted in a 1/3 reduction of HCC (6).

Reduce the Risk of Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease 

Lifelong coffee intake has been associated with reduced cognitive decline and a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease (7, 8). Midlife coffee drinkers were less likely to have dementia or Alzheimer’s disease later in life. The lowest risk was in people that drank 3-5 cups of coffee per day (9).

Other studies have not found the same risk reduction (10). Further research in this area is still needed.

Reduce the Risk of Parkinson’s Disease

Studies have suggested has that those who drink coffee are less likely to be diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (11). In one large study, the incidence of Parkinson’s disease declined in men with increasing amounts of coffee intake (12).

Yet, a clear mechanism by which coffee may lower risk is still unknown (13) and further research is still needed.

Heart Health

Health benefits of drinking coffee as it relates to heart health and prevention of heart disease are mixed. Research has shown that coffee drinking can increase your total-cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol, and triglycerides (14). 

While coffee intake may temporarily lead to a slight increase in blood pressure, it does not have long term effects. Drinking coffee does not appear to cause hypertension (when the force of blood pushing against your blood vessels is consistently high) or cardiovascular disease.

Research has shown that coffee drinkers who drink 3-5 cups per day reduced the risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke (15).

A recent study done in Norway suggests that the benefit of coffee comes only with filtered coffee (16).

Is Coffee Bad for You? 

Coffee, by itself, may actually be good for you in most cases. There is very little harm in enjoying a cup of Joe. 

Although coffee contains caffeine, moderate consumption is safe.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Dietary Guidelines report that up to 400 mg caffeine appears to be safe. This is the equivalent of about 3-5 8-ounce cups of coffee (17).

In some cases, it is recommended to avoid or limit drinking coffee. This is reviewed further below.

Side Effects of Coffee 

Insomnia 

Since the coffee contains a stimulant, it can affect your ability to sleep well. If you suffer from insomnia, it is suggested to avoid caffeine (from any source) for the 6-8 hours before your typical bedtime.

Anxiety 

As a stimulant, caffeine may also start your “fight or flight” response and possibly make anxiety worse. But those who suffer from anxiety know that what helps them may not help the next person. Everyone’s experience with anxiety is different and they need to find their own ways to cope that work for them. 

Dehydration

People often say that coffee can cause dehydration. This is a myth. Up to 6 mg caffeine/kilogram body weight has not been shown to negatively affect someone’s hydration status any more than a beverage without caffeine (18). Furthermore, one cup of coffee is a liquid contributing to your fluid intake.

Reduced Calcium Absorption

Caffeine intake can increase calcium losses and may possibly affect bone health. Adding skim milk to your coffee can offer enough added calcium to make up the difference.

Who should avoid drinking coffee?

Pregnant and Breastfeeding Women 

Pregnant women are discouraged from drinking coffee. Studies have shown that high intakes of coffee have been associated with a higher risk of low birth weight, pregnancy loss, and premature birth. However, low to moderate coffee consumption did not result in the same outcome (19).

Additionally, caffeine can be passed in breastmilk. 

While it is acceptable to drink coffee while pregnant or breastfeeding, the amount should be limited. Alternatively, some may choose to drink decaf coffee.

Those Suffering From Gastroesophageal Reflux (Gerd)

Caffeine intake is often discouraged for people that suffer from gastroesophageal reflux (GERD). It was thought to trigger a weakened lower esophageal sphincter. This can cause a backflow of stomach contents into the esophagus, causing reflux (also known as heartburn).

People who drink coffee and have reflux will mention it really depends on the type of coffee, how much caffeine it provides, how acidic it is, and how they react to it. 

People With Blood Pressure Concerns or Heart Arrhythmias

For people with blood pressure concerns or heart arrhythmias (for example, atrial fibrillation), it is advised to discuss with your primary care provider whether coffee is ok for you. 

Children and Teens

Caffeine intake is generally discouraged for children and teens as their brain is still developing.

Let’s go over tips to maximize coffee benefits.

Avoid Adding Sugar 

Black coffee alone has negligible calories, fat, and sugar. Coffee drinkers should beware of added calories if you add cream and sugar to your coffee. This is especially important if you are trying to lose weight. If you are a person that needs creamer added, look at lighter options that are unsweetened. Many of the flavored creamers may have added sugar. 

Check Nutrition Facts

Additionally, be sure to check the nutrition facts for your favorite coffee order at your local coffee shop. It can be shocking to read. For example, your worst beverage choice may be Starbucks Venti (24 ounce) Java Chip Frappuccino – it will provide a whopping 560 calories and 87 grams sugar – more than 3 times the amount of sugar you should have in a day. This makes it a poor choice for any weight loss program. It is recommended to limit your sugar intake to no more than 25 grams daily (17).

Also from Starbucks, a grande mocha Frappuccino (290 calories and 58 g sugar) or a grande non-fat latte (130 calories and 18 g sugar). They do offer lighter versions of their drinks but even their grande Frappuccino light is 140 calories and 29 g sugar. Granted some of the sugar comes from lactose, the sugar naturally present in milk.

It is best to enjoy your coffee without added flavors, syrups, and sugar as much as possible. If milk or cream is needed, chose unsweetened versions. Flavored cappuccinos or a latte may have a similar calorie and sugar content depending on added ingredients. Requesting skim milk can reduce the calorie content of a latte.

Use Healthy Brewing Methods 

Different brewing methods can affect the caffeine and antioxidant content of your coffee. 

Coffee beans that are lightly roasted tend to have more antioxidants. The lighter the roast of the coffee bean, the more flavonoids and chlorogenic acid (21).

Also, filtered coffee will have less diterpenes, in particular cafestol. Diterpenes are the fatty acids released from coffee grounds and they have been suggested to unfavorably alter cholesterol levels.

A recent Norwegian study found that filtered coffee was associated with lower mortality compared to unfiltered coffee (16).

A French Press coffee is unfiltered and will have higher amounts of diterpenes. Some espresso coffees are also unfiltered.

Coffee pods may be filtered or unfiltered, the caffeine content will depend on the type of roast, and diterpene content will depend on the type of pod. Metal pods will allow for more diterpenes to end up in your coffee.

A cold brew typically results in less caffeine but does allow for diterpenes to be retained as cold brew is not filtered.

The Last Word

If you are not a coffee drinker, there is no need to start now.

If you are a coffee drinker, you can revel in that your enjoyable cup of Joe is likely not damaging your health (with a few exceptions) and possibly providing some benefits. 

A filtered light roast coffee appears to offer the most benefit with health outcomes. Avoiding added sweeteners will help limit sugar and calorie content of your cup of joe.

References:

  1. McLellan TM, Caldwell JA, Lieberman HR. A review of caffeine’s effects on cognitive, physical, and occupational performance. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2016;71:294-312.
  2. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Evidence Analysis Library. Energy Expenditure: Caffeine. 2005. https://www.andeal.org/topic.cfm?cat=1153&conclusion_statement_id=143&highlight=coffee&home=1. Accessed Jun 15, 2020.
  3. Dulloo AG, Geissler CA, Horton T, Collins A, Miller DS. Normal caffeine consumption: influence on thermogenesis and daily energy expenditure in lean and postobese human volunteers. Am J Clin Nutr. 1989;49:44-50.
  4. Ding M, Bhupathiraju SN, Chen M, van Dam RM, Hu FB. Caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and a dose-response meta-analysis. Diabetes Care. 2014;359:569-86.
  5. Kennedy OJ, Roderick P, Buchanan R, Fallowfield JA, Hayes PC, Parkes J. Systematic review with meta-analysis: coffee consumption and the risk of cirrhosis. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2016;359:562-74. 
  6. Kennedy OJ, Roderick P, Buchanan R, Fallowfield JA, Hayes PC, Parkes J. Coffee, including caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee, and the risk of hepatocellular carcinoma: a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis. BMJOpen. 2017;359:e013739.
  7. Nehlig A. Effects of coffee/caffeine on brain health and disease: what should I tell my patients? Pract Neurol. 2016;16:89-95.
  8. Liu Q-P, Wu YF, Cheng HY, et al. Habitual coffee consumption and risk of cognitive decline/dementia: A systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Nutrition. 2016;359:628-36. 
  9. Eskelinen MH, Ngandu T, Tuomilehto J, Soininen H, Kivipelto M. Midlife coffee and tea drinking and the risk of late-life dementia: a population-based CAIDE study. J Alzheimers Dis. 2009;16:85-91.
  10. Larsson SC, Orsini N. Coffee consumption and risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease: a dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. Nutrients. 2018;10:
  11. Qi H, Li S. Dose-response meta-analysis on coffee, tea and caffeine consumption with risk of Parkinson’s disease. Geriatr Gerontol Int. 2014;359:430-9. 
  12. Ross GW, Abbott RD, Pertovitch H, et al. Association of coffee and caffeine intake with the risk of Parkinson disease. JAMA. 2000;283:2674-9.
  13. Wierzejska R. Can coffee consumption lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease? A Literature Review. Arch Med Sci. 2017;13:507-514.
  14. Cai L, Ma D, Zhang Y, Liu Z, Wang P. The effect of coffee consumption on serum lipids: a meta-analysis or randomized controlled trials. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2012;66:872-877.
  15. Ding M, Bhupathiraju SN, Satija A, van Dam RM, Hu FB. Long-term coffee consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease: a systematic review and a dose-response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Circulation.2014;359:643-59.
  16. Tverdal A, Selmer R, Cohen JM, Thelle DS. Coffee consumption and mortality from cardiovascular diseases and total mortality: does the brewing method matter? Eur J Prev Cardiol. 2020;Apr 22;2047487320914443.doi: 10.1177/2047487320914443
  17. US Department of Health and Human Services; USDA. 2015-2020 Dietary guidelines for Americans. 8thed. Accessed June 2, 2020. http://health.gove/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines.
  18. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Evidence Analysis Library. Hydration: effect of caffeinated beverages on fluids. 2007. https://www.andeal.org/topic.cfm?menu=2820&cat=3126. Accessed June 15, 2020.
  19. Poole R, Kennedy OJ, Roderick P, Fallowfield JA, Hayes PC, Parkes J. Coffee consumption and health: umbrella review of meta-analyses of multiple health outcomes. BMJ. 2017;359:J5024.
  20. Thompson E. The Best (and healthiest) cup of coffee: coult it all be in the brewing method. www.greatist.com. Accessed June 12,2020.
  21. Jung S, Kim MH, Park JH, Jeong Y, Ko KS. Cellular antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of coffee extracts with different roasting levels. Journal of Medicinal Food. 2017;20:626.
Jennifer Lefton

MS, RD, FAND - Contributor

Jennifer Lefton, MS, RD-AP is a nutrition consultant and freelance writer in northern Virginia

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