To say that people tend to get attached to their coffee would be putting it mildly. People who love their coffee, love their coffee.
Some say that’s because the caffeine in coffee is addictive, but I think it’s more than just the potential caffeine addiction.
Drinking coffee is a ritualistic experience. We love the process of picking it out, the smell of the beans, the warm feeling on our hands, and the delightful taste it leaves on our lips.
Even more than that, coffee is the center of many people’s morning routines. A Gallup poll found that 64% of Americans (90% of American adults) drink one or more cups of coffee every day.
Giving it up—or just thinking about giving it up—usually throws more than just a beverage out of whack.
So, what’s the truth? Is it bad for you… or not?
Coffee is not inherently unhealthy, but the way you consume it can be.
Is coffee bad for you? Regular coffee is not bad for you and may offer substantial health benefits. 1-4 cups per day are considered safe and beneficial for healthy adults, according to the FDA. But drinking too much coffee, low-quality coffee, or a massive quantity of sugar disguised as coffee can be bad for your health.
Coffee and caffeine consumption are linked to some incredible benefits, from a hefty dopamine boost to reduced cancer risk.
One reason for this is that coffee is rich in antioxidants that positively impact our health.
But—and this is a BIG BUT that does not lie—vanilla lattes, Coffeemate, and frappuccinos are NOT full of antioxidants. They’re full of sugar, empty calories, and unhealthy fats.
So, to answer the burning question, “Is coffee bad for you?” No, coffee is not bad for you on its own. However, the way you drink coffee can make it the unhealthiest part of your day.
The Good Stuff: Health Benefits of Coffee
There was a time when coffee was lumped together with other established offenders like junk food and cigarettes. The science was unclear about whether it was detrimental. Many people either avoided it altogether or consumed it with feelings of guilt because they perceived it as a vice or indulgence.
However, the latest research shows that coffee is not bad for you. In fact, it may even have some health benefits when properly consumed.
Some of the health benefits of coffee include:
- Excellent nutrient and antioxidant profile
- Brain stimulation and improved focus
- Healthy weight support
- Increased physical performance
- Reduced disease risk
- Longevity (longer lifespan)
What does coffee do to your body? Coffee stimulates your central nervous system (CNS), increases your stomach’s acid production, temporarily increases your blood pressure, and boosts the production of certain hormones. These broad effects are why coffee produces such significant health benefits and carries substantial risks for heavy coffee drinkers.
Nutrients & Antioxidants
For a 5-calorie drink, a single cup of coffee packs in the nutrition.
An 8-ounce cup of black coffee contains about:
- 5 calories
- 133 mg of caffeine
- 92 mg potassium (2% DV)
- 8 mg magnesium (2% DV)
- 0.05 mg manganese (2% DV)
- 0.01 mg riboflavin (1% DV)
- 0.7 mg niacin (4% DV)
But it’s not just about macro- and micronutrients here.
Coffee is the most significant source of antioxidants in the American diet, even compared to wine and vegetables!
Antioxidants help prevent disease, slow down the aging process, repair cellular damage, and maintain overall health.
Brain Stimulation, Focus, and Mood
Caffeine, frequently consumed in coffee, “is the most widely used psychoactive substance in the world.”
There are many ways that caffeinated coffee can affect the way your brain functions. It increases your brain’s energy metabolism while reducing blood flow, activates certain neurotransmitters, and affects dopamine release.
Caffeinated beverages can boost your performance doing mental tasks and keep you more alert.
Your mood benefits from caffeine, too. A massive 10-year study on over 50,000 women in the US found that women who drank at least a cup of caffeinated coffee every day (but not decaf) were diagnosed with depression less often.
Another study even discovered that drinking coffee was associated with a lower risk of suicide in men and women.
Drinking 0.3-4 cups of coffee per day is considered the “sweet spot” for positive brain benefits without adverse side effects.
Healthy Weight Support
Plus, it’s possible that long-term coffee drinking might offset the insulin resistance that many people who are overweight deal with.
Together, these studies suggest that caffeinated coffee may be a welcome addition to a diet and lifestyle to support a healthy weight.
Looking for a delicious way to enjoy healthy coffee? Try my homemade chai tea latte—it tastes like Starbucks but with ingredients that won’t slow your metabolism.
Increased Physical Performance
Drinking coffee might help you go that extra mile at the gym, too. Several studies show us that consuming moderate caffeine content before a workout leads to better results, allowing you to work out for more extended periods and with more endurance.
This could be because caffeine reduces your “perceived exertion,” or the amount of effort you think you’ve put into your workout.
Just be careful—if you constantly consume a large amount of caffeine, you can lose these benefits (and be a grouch!) by developing a tolerance.
Reduced Disease Risk
Coffee the right way can protect against Parkinson’s disease, type 2 diabetes, and a long list of other chronic diseases.
Coffee drinking is associated with a decreased risk of:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Liver disease (both non-alcoholic and alcohol-related diseases)
- Endometrial, oral/pharyngeal, and liver cancer
What is the effect of caffeine on blood sugar levels? In the very short-term, caffeine intake can increase blood sugar levels and insulin resistance. But long-term, daily consumption of caffeine actually lowers your risk of diabetes and improves insulin sensitivity.
Of course, the differences in these disease risks are most significant as part of a wellness-centered lifestyle. Loving your morning cup of joe won’t make up for an unhealthy diet or a sedentary lifestyle.
A meta-analysis including nearly 4 million subjects showed the same results when published in 2019: Coffee drinkers live longer and die less frequently from common diseases.
Even more remarkable, these differences in mortality can’t be explained by anything else—diet, lifestyle, age, weight, or other factors.
The Bad Stuff: Potential Cons of Drinking Coffee
It’s not all unicorns and rainbows, though. Drinking coffee can have significant downsides, particularly if you don’t follow my “rules” to the healthiest way to consume it.
Some of the potential downsides of drinking coffee are:
- Sleep disruption
- Coffee addiction
- Heart health concerns
- Dental issues
One important thing to remember on the disadvantages of coffee: Pregnant women should generally steer clear of coffee.
There have been many studies on the topic, and some find no association between coffee intake and adverse pregnancy outcomes. However, drinking a substantial amount of coffee when you’re first trying to conceive does somewhat reduce your risk of getting pregnant and increases the chances of miscarriage.
While other coffee drinking may or may not have negative effects, I think it’s simpler and safer to advise my pregnant mamas to avoid caffeinated coffee.
Let’s take a look at what other issues coffee could cause for the rest of us.
It’s a well-known fact that caffeine can increase anxiety levels in some people. And it’s not surprising, as coffee contains a hefty dose of caffeine, which is a stimulant.
Compared to the 133 mg of caffeine in a standard cup of coffee, an 8-ounce mug of brewed tea contains about 53 milligrams.
Teenagers, young adults, and people who already have anxiety are the most likely to have noticeable anxious reactions to coffee.
Yes, coffee is bad for kids—especially because it may increase their tendency for anxiety. Just say no!
I probably don’t have to tell you how important sleep is to overall health. It’s your body’s chance to restore and renew, and cutting into that time can have detrimental effects.
I cringe having to write it down, but my espresso lovers out there need to understand that coffee is an addictive substance. Like with anything else addictive, moderation is your friend.
Typically, this addiction happens when you become totally tolerant to caffeine. You’ll know it’s happening because you no longer experience the benefits of coffee but start to have withdrawal symptoms when you miss a “dose.”
Drinking a ton of coffee at once can make withdrawal even worse. I stick to one cup every day, but try to give yourself a break in between servings if you drink a second.
Caffeine withdrawal symptoms include:
- Fatigue/decreased energy
- Problems staying alert and concentrating
- Irritability and depressed mood
- Brain fog
- Flu-like symptoms (including nausea, vomiting, and muscle pain)
Feel like you’re getting too much of those delicious coffee beans? Try scaling back by dropping one cup of coffee from your habit every few days to avoid symptoms of withdrawal.
Conventional coffee presents 2 significant toxicity concerns: acrylamide and pesticides.
There’s a compound called acrylamide produced when coffee beans are roasted that may cause health concerns. The chemical is also found in high-heat starchy foods (potato chips, cookies, etc.).
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, acrylamide is “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” based on animal research.
Don’t toss your coffee mug out just yet, though. Remember, coffee is actually associated with a lower risk of certain types of cancers—and hasn’t been definitively linked to increased risk of any other cancer types.
The panic over acrylamide in coffee has led to quite an uproar in the coffee world, but the reality is that there’s no reason to fear your coffee is killing you. Animals metabolize the substance differently than humans, and we don’t actually have a lot of information about how it impacts human health.
Because of the way acrylamide is produced, there is more of it in fresh coffee than instant coffee. Also, dark roast coffee beans contain less acrylamide than lighter roasts.
True fact: Coffee is the most heavily pesticide sprayed crop in the world.
There’s a lot of debate on the topic, but non-organic coffee and the pesticides and synthetic fertilizers used to grow it pose a threat to coffee drinkers and growers.
Fortunately, organic coffee is grown without all the yuckiness that these pesticides provide.
Heart Health Concerns
Although it speeds heart rate and metabolism somewhat, coffee doesn’t cause a tremendous impact on your risk of cardiovascular disease.
However, there are a few things you should know about coffee, especially if you’re at risk for heart disease:
- Cafestol, a compound in unfiltered coffee, may raise cholesterol levels. High LDL cholesterol is considered a risk factor for heart disease.
- Drinking caffeinated beverages regularly causes small increases in blood pressure. Moderate coffee drinking is unlikely to make a significant difference to blood pressure, but if you already have high blood pressure, talk to your doctor about whether or not you should kick the coffee habit.
- A specific piece of genetic code defines how each person metabolizes caffeine. People with a CYP1A2*1F allele metabolize coffee slower than those with other variations of the gene. “Slow” metabolizers have an increased risk of non-fatal heart attacks and high blood pressure (hypertension) when they drink coffee.
Is coffee bad for the teeth? Drinking a lot of coffee might be bad for the teeth, as its acidity can break down tooth enamel.
Most noticeably, excessive coffee intake can cause yellow teeth, a cosmetic issue that can cost a lot to repair.
This brings us to the all-important question… How much coffee is too much?
How much coffee should you drink every day?
According to the FDA, up to 400 mg of caffeine (~3 eight-ounce cups of coffee) per day is safe for healthy adults. Most scientific research supports the health benefits of coffee for somewhere between 1-4 cups of coffee per day.
Personally, I drink only one 12-ounce mug every day (or less). While there may be some marginal health benefits to drinking a second cup, I’ve found it’s what is best for my body in terms of sleep and energy levels.
Is it safe to drink coffee every day? It’s generally considered safe to drink coffee on the daily, but it’s essential to limit your intake to no more than 3-4 cups per day. I personally recommend no more than a 12-ounce serving, once per day.
6 Rules to Healthily Enjoy Coffee
There are ways you consume coffee in a healthier way. If you drink coffee, here are 5 simple rules to follow to get the best of what it has to offer:
- Drink only one cup of coffee every day
- Drink high-quality, organic coffee
- Don’t add sugar
- Use filtered water
- Don’t drink unfiltered coffee
- Take occasional breaks from your coffee habit
1. Drink only one cup of coffee every day
One 12-ounce cup per day (or less) is enough. Anything more than that could negatively affect your energy and sleep. Don’t overdo it.
Relying on coffee to stay awake can task your adrenal glands and negatively affect your hormones. If you ever feel like you’re trending towards dependency or need more than one cup to feel alive in the morning, then it’s time to switch to green tea and take a break from coffee.
2. Always go organic
The toxins in pesticides, fungicides, and synthetic fertilizers are gross—and certainly not something I want in my body.
You don’t have to eat everything organic, but coffee is definitely something to consider purchasing organic if your budget allows.
3. Skip (or dramatically reduce) added sugar
This is especially critical if you drink coffee in the morning on an empty stomach. The added sugar will spike your blood sugar, causing you to feel more hungry for the rest of your day and more readily store fat.
Over time, this process leads to insulin resistance and an inability to break down glucose correctly.
If you need sweeter coffee, consider a natural sweetener alternative to plain sugar.
4. Use filtered water
When you use filtered water, your coffee will not only taste better but will also be free of potential contaminants that are usually present in tap water.
5. Use a coffee filter
Yes, I know we all love our French press. Unfortunately, the cafestol in unfiltered coffee is what makes it a bit of a risk for raising cholesterol levels.
To offset this risk, use a coffee filter as often as you can and avoid drinking French press or Turkish coffee regularly.
6. Take occasional breaks
Take a few days off of your coffee ritual every now and again to check in with yourself that you’re not feeling dependent.
Green tea is a wonderful alternative to coffee with even more health benefits. If you think that you don’t like green tea, you probably just haven’t found the right one. Tea is like coffee in that there are so many options to choose from—one of my other favorites is peppermint tea.
I love everything from Traditional Medicinals and Yogi brand teas. Check out Thrive Market for some delicious options!
While I’m certainly not advocating that you replace real food with a pick-me-up from Starbucks, for most people drinking a small amount of high-quality coffee isn’t going to hurt you. It may even help.
I’ll drink to that!