Is coffee good or bad for you? Few topics in nutrition create as much confusion as the health benefits of coffee, or its risks.
Yet, when you look at the research, the evidence is clear: coffee is good for you.
Of course, I’m referring to a plain cup of Joe. I’m not referring to a cappuccino, macchiato, latte, or any other Java-flavored beverage.
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The Health Benefits of Coffee
Coffee provides a number of health benefits, with few, if any, significant risks. That said, numerous myths still surround it. I’ll cover the majority of health benefits here, and touch on a few of the potential drawbacks.
Read more: How to Make the Best Drip Dark Roast Coffee.
Enhances weight loss
In overweight or obese people, drinking two to four cups per day reduces food intake later in the day.
Higher coffee consumption was associated with significantly lower total body fat percentage and trunk body fat percentage in a dose-response manner (all P values < 0.05) among women.Chao Cao, et al.
The caffeine also raises metabolic rate, which could contribute to weight loss as well. The caffeine activates brown adipose tissue, a more metabolically active type of fat tissue.
The effect is relatively small, though. Four cups of Joe, which contains about 320 milligrams of caffeine, would burn an extra 32 calories per day.
Enhances physical / athletic performance
Most of the performance-enhancing effects of coffee come from caffeine.
- improves reaction time
- enhances fat metabolism
- increases stamina
- improves strength
- improves power
- reduces mental fatigue
Though coffee does contain caffeine, you probably won’t be able to get enough caffeine from a standard cup of coffee to enhance exercise performance significantly. You might need to drink a nitro cold brew, a caffeinated energy drink, or take a caffeine pill.
However, I’d recommend only using high-dose caffeine on occasion, such as during competition or for a game. If you use high doses all the time, your tolerance to caffeine reduces its stimulatory effect.
Enhances cognitive and nervous system function
Animal research shows caffeine may protect the nervous system from inflammation and protect the brain from developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Those who drink three to five cups of Joe per day during mid-life have a 65% lower risk of developing late-life dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease when compared against non-drinkers.
Heavy consumers also have a reduced risk of developing multiple sclerosis.
In women, it may reduce the rates of depression while improving mental acuity, energy, and wellbeing in both men and women. Coffee’s effect on acetylcholine and serotonin contributes to its cognitive benefits.
Improves blood sugar control and reduces the risk of diabetes
When compared with people who don’t drink coffee, those who drink 6 cups per day reduce their risk of type 2 diabetes by 33%.
Interestingly, caffeine reduces insulin sensitivity, so the blood sugar benefits must come from other compounds in coffee, such as chlorogenic acid, lignin’s, quinines, and trigonelline.
Reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease
Three to five cups of coffee per day lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease. Drinking more than that does not raise or reduce the risk according to a meta-analysis that included more than 1 million people.
Though this sounds promising, I should mention that two diterpenes in coffee – cafestol and kahweol – can raise cholesterol and triglyceride levels in some people. However, they are removed when you drink filtered Java. Unfiltered coffee, such as French press or espresso, would contain these diterpenes.
The other benefits still significantly outweigh the potential risk associated with coffee, so go ahead and drink unfiltered coffee if you like it.
A doctor might warn a patient with high blood pressure to avoid coffee.
Caffeine raises heart rate and blood pressure. However, chlorogenic acid, which I mentioned earlier, lowers blood pressure.
The research on coffee shows its cardioprotective, even if isolated caffeine is not.
Reduces the risk of some cancers
Heavy coffee consumption reduces the risk of certain cancers, including colorectal, endometrial, breast, liver, prostate and bladder cancer. Caffeinated coffee may also protect against malignant melanoma.
Unfortunately, many people believe it raises the risk of cancer. Roasting the beans creates a carcinogenic compound called acrylamide. But, a serving contains only about 0.45 µg, which is almost nothing. Coffee is also loaded with antioxidants, which help ward off free radicals, the instigators of cancer.
If it were carcinogenic, you’d expect cancer risk to increase in heavy coffee drinkers. That’s not the case. The bottom line is that it may protect against some cancers, but is probably neutral overall.
Supports liver health
If you’ve ever done a detox before, you were probably told to stop drinking coffee. While it’s a good idea to check your caffeine tolerance on occasion, your cup of Joe is good for your liver, which is your primary organ of detoxification.
It protects the liver from cancer, cirrhosis, fatty liver disease, and fibrosis.
Remember cafestol and kahweol, which I touched on in the section about cardiovascular health? They enhance detoxification.
Other effects on your health
Java may provide a small amount of benefit for your digestive system. It seems to support the growth of good bacteria in the gut. It may also reduce the risk of developing gallstones.
Because it is acidic, it may create mild discomfort in some people with sensitive stomachs, though.
In addition, some people claim it can lead to bone loss. You need minerals to buffer acidic foods as you metabolize them. If you don’t consume sufficient minerals through diet and supplementation, it could be problematic.
If it were an issue, you’d expect to see an increase in bone fractures for heavy coffee drinkers. The research does not support that.
All in all, coffee provides a plethora of health benefits. Beyond stained teeth and coffee breath, research shows there aren’t significant risks associated with coffee consumption unless you include spilling hot coffee on your lap.
Though I encourage people to buy organic whenever possible, very little of the research on coffee is based on organic coffee beans. If you have access and can afford it, go for it. But based on the evidence, there’s no need to pass on non-organic Java.
And one last thing. Every time I talk about coffee, somebody suggests that it’s a diuretic, and you need to drink extra water when you drink coffee. That is not true. Pure caffeine is a diuretic, but coffee contains plenty of water already. If you’re thirsty, drink some water, but you don’t need to force yourself to when you drink a cup of Joe.
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