Updated: Oct 20, 2020
Coffee is one of the most commonly consumed beverages in the world, and it is certainly is a staple in my house! It's popularity in America is on the rise and more Americans now than ever are brewing their own coffee at home. When something is so widely and frequently consumed, even small health effects can be important on a population scale.
Fortunately, several recent review studies on the safety and health impact of coffee drinking show that this upward trend may be beneficial. Good news for you coffee lovers is analysis suggests that drinking several cups of coffee every day is, in most cases, likely to do more good to the body than harm.
What Exactly is in a Cup of Joe? Let's start with the Beans...
Coffee beans are the seeds from a fruit called a coffee cherry. The fruit is either dried or pulped to release the beans, which are then hulled, polished, graded, sorted by size and weight, and evaluated by professional coffee tasters (cuppers) before being roasted to 400° F. The roasting releases the oil caffeol, producing that familiar aroma and flavor. The roasted beans are ground and used to create an infusion, the chemical makeup of which depends on a wide range of factors, from the plant species (Coffea arabica or C canephora [robusta]), degree of roasting, and grind setting to whether it's filtered or unfiltered, decaffeinated or regular, boiled, steeped, or brewed under pressure. The addition of other ingredients (such as cream, sugar and now butter?) also impacts coffee's nutrient profile. What's more, two people drinking the same coffee may have different responses, as genotype and gut microbiome determine which coffee metabolites are available and how they're utilized.
Although mostly known for its caffeine content, coffee is a complex mix of carbohydrates, lipids, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and a wide range of phytochemicals. Coffee is known to be a complex mixture of more than 1,000 bioactive compounds that may have beneficial antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antifibrotic, and anticancer properties.
Researchers have studied many of the active compounds in coffee and the ones we know most about are caffeine, chlorogenic acids, and diterpenes. Caffeine is an alkaloid that generally stimulates the central nervous system, but it also has significant antioxidant properties. The decaffeination process, therefore, decreases the antioxidant potential of coffee. But caffeine alone doesn't account for coffee's health benefits. There may be a synergy between caffeine and the other ingredients, which is why noncoffee caffeine doesn't appear to have the same beneficial effects as coffee.
The antioxidant and anticancer effects of these and other compounds, along with anti-inflammatory and antibiotic potential, have led researchers to examine coffee's impact on all-cause mortality, cancer, cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, as well as diseases of the neurological, musculoskeletal, and gastrointestinal systems, and the liver. Let's take a closer look...
While some people may assume that the stimulant effect of caffeine is bad for the heart, the data suggest the opposite may be true. Research suggest that coffee drinking was associated not only with a lower risk of death from any cause, but also death from CVD, or getting CVD in the first place. People who reported drinking three cups of coffee a day (of any size) had a 19% lower risk of dying from CVD, a 16% lower risk of death from coronary heart disease, and a 30% lower risk of death from stroke than nondrinkers. Benefits were less pronounced for people who reported drinking more than three cups per day, but no harm was seen.
I do caution that people with uncontrolled high blood pressure or other heart diseases should avoid consuming large doses of caffeine.
Drinking coffee, especially caffeinated coffee, was found to be associated with lower cancer risk. This association typically is attributed to the antioxidant effects of the compounds in coffee, although the exact mechanisms underlying these effects are unknown. Drinking caffeinated coffee was associated with lower incidence of prostate cancer, endometrial cancer, melanoma, oral cancer, leukemia, nonmelanoma skin cancer, and liver cancer.
Coffee drinkers, whether they choose decaf or regular, appear to have a decreased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. As cups per day increased from one cup to three cups, risk of diabetes declined. Higher intake was associated with a 9% lower risk of metabolic syndrome compared with lower intake.
Liver and Gastrointestinal System
Any amount of coffee drinking appears to be good for the liver. The BMJ review found a 29% lower risk of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, a 27% lower risk of liver fibrosis, and a 39% lower risk of liver cirrhosis.
Consumption of coffee was consistently associated with a lower risk of Parkinson's disease, although the effect was significant only with caffeinated coffee. Coffee drinkers also may have lower risk of depression and Alzheimer's disease.
Recommendations for Coffee Intake
Although coffee appears to have numerous health benefits, that doesn't mean I encourage everyone to drink it. Regular coffee can increase energy and alertness, but some people may have anxiety that's ramped up by caffeine. Likewise, coffee may not be the best choice for people with GERD or sleep issues.
The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans support moderate coffee consumption, defined as up to three to five 8-oz cups per day (providing up to 400 mg per day of caffeine), which is in line with recent research findings.
However, keep in mind that the health effects of coffee can be impacted by other factors such as fancy, elaborate coffee drinks which typically have added fat and a lot of added sugar in the form of flavored syrups. For a change from a plain cup of coffee, a low-fat cappuccino or latte is a great way to go. They provide that coffee flavor, a caffeine boost, and some protein and calcium in the milk. Dusting with cinnamon or cocoa powder gives flavor too.
How do you take your coffee?