Is Coffee Good for You? Yes, indeed! However, it is dependent on the type of coffee and the quantity.
With our oat milk lattes, cold brews, and Frappuccinos, we’ve come a long way from the Folgers cans that filled our grandparents’ cupboards. Some of us are still very utilitarian when it comes to alcohol, while others engage in elaborate rituals. Coffee is deeply ingrained in our culture as the fourth most popular beverage in the country. Just the right amount can lift our spirits; too much can make us anxious and jittery.
Is coffee healthy for me?
Coffee appears to be healthy for most people when consumed in moderation — 3 to 5 cups per day, or up to 400 milligramms of caffeine.
“The evidence is fairly consistent that coffee is associated with a lower risk of mortality,” said Erikka Loftfield, a National Cancer Institute research fellow who has studied the beverage.
Coffee was thought to be a possible carcinogen for many years, but the 2015 Dietary Guidelines helped to change that perception. Moderate coffee consumption was included as part of a healthy diet for the first time. When researchers controlled for lifestyle factors such as how many heavy coffee drinkers also smoked, the data shifted in favour of coffee.
A large review published in the British Medical Journal in 2017 on coffee consumption and human health discovered that, most of the time, coffee was associated with a benefit rather than a harm. The authors discovered that moderate coffee drinkers had less cardiovascular disease and premature death from all causes, including heart attacks and stroke, than those who avoided the beverage after reviewing more than 200 reviews of previous studies.
Furthermore, some of the strongest protective effects may be associated with Type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and liver conditions such as cirrhosis, liver cancer, and chronic liver disease, according to experts. According to a meta-analysis of 30 studies, drinking about five cups of coffee per day rather than none is associated with a 30% lower risk of Type 2 diabetes.
According to Dr. Giuseppe Grosso, an assistant professor in human nutrition at the University of Catania in Italy and the lead author of an umbrella review published in the Annual Review of Nutrition, the potential benefit from coffee may be due to polyphenols, which are plant compounds with antioxidant properties.
Coffee, on the other hand, is not for everyone. Overconsumption is a source of concern. This is especially true for pregnant women, as the safety of caffeine during pregnancy is unknown. While research into the effects of coffee on health is ongoing, the majority of the work in this field is observational.
“We don’t know for sure if coffee is the cause of the health benefits,” said Jonathan Fallowfield, a professor at the University of Edinburgh and co-author of the review published in the British Medical Journal. “These findings could be attributed to other factors or behaviours observed in coffee drinkers.”
Is it important how coffee is made?
True. Do you prefer dark or light roast coffee? Is it better to grind coarsely or finely? Which is better, Arabica or robusta?
“All of these different factors affect not only the taste of the coffee, but also the compounds within the coffee,” said Neal Freedman, a senior investigator with the National Cancer Institute. “However, it is unclear how these various levels of compounds may be related to health.”
Roasting, for example, reduces the amount of chlorogenic acids while forming other antioxidant compounds. Because espresso contains less water than drip coffee, it has the highest concentration of many compounds.
A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine looked at the coffee habits of nearly 500,000 people in the United Kingdom and discovered that it didn’t matter if they drank one cup or eight — regular or decaf — or whether they were fast or slow metabolizers of coffee. Except for instant coffee, where the evidence was weaker, they were linked to a lower risk of death from any cause.
Your cholesterol levels may be influenced by how you prepare your cup of coffee. “The one coffee we know not to drink is boiled coffee,” Marilyn C. Cornelis, an assistant professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and co-author of the JAMA Internal Medicine study, explained.
The plunge-happy French press, Scandinavian coffee, or Greek and Turkish coffee — the type commonly consumed in the Middle East — are all examples of this. (When poured, the unfiltered grounds settle to the bottom of the tiny cup like sludge.) Elders in the region have a tradition of reading the sediment of an overturned cup, similar to a crystal ball, to predict the future.)
However, the oil in boiled coffee contains diterpenes such as cafestol and kahweol. They have been shown to raise LDL, or bad cholesterol, and slightly lower HDL, or good cholesterol.
“If you filter the coffee, it’s not an issue at all,” said Rob van Dam, a professor at National University of Singapore’s Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health. “It is better for people with high cholesterol to switch to other types of coffee.” He’s been researching coffee for over two decades. (And, yes, he has drank a lot of coffee during that time.)
Other researchers, however, advise against discarding the boiled coffee just yet. Given that such small increases in cholesterol are not associated with an increase in cardiovascular deaths, the clinical significance of such small increases in cholesterol may be questioned.
Many customers have also switched from loose grounds to coffee pods. While single-use pods raise environmental concerns, researchers believe they provide the same benefits as, say, drip coffee. The latter also applies to cold brew, but more research is required.
Is the caffeine content of all coffees the same?
No, it does not. Espresso has the highest caffeine concentration, with approximately 70 milligrammes in a one-ounce shot, but is consumed in smaller quantities. In comparison, a typical 12-ounce serving of drip coffee contains 200 milligrammes of caffeine, which is higher than the 140 milligrammes in instant coffee. Yes, brewed decaf contains caffeine as well — 8 milligrammes — which can add up.
You never know what you’re going to get when you buy coffee. Over a six-day period, the same 16-ounce breakfast blend at one Florida coffee shop fluctuated from 259 milligrammes to 564 — exceeding federal recommendations.
However, knowing how much caffeine is in our coffee can be especially important for some of us. You’ve most likely noticed it before. How come a friend can pound quadruple espresso shots at 10 p.m. and then sleep, but you can’t have any after noon or you’ll be watching “Seinfeld” reruns until dawn? Some of us have a polymorphism, which is a genetic variant that slows our caffeine metabolism. Dr. Grosso advises these patients to limit their refills. “They have one coffee, then two more, and they still have the caffeine from the first,” he explained.
A variety of direct-to-consumer testing services, including 23andMe, can even tell you whether you are a fast or slow metabolizer.
Is coffee addictive?
There is evidence that there can be a reliance on the drink, and tolerance develops over time. A headache, fatigue, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and a depressed mood are all withdrawal symptoms.
Caffeine is a psychoactive drug, and coffee is the most common dietary source of it. The caffeine kicks in about a half-hour after drinking a cup of coffee and is quickly absorbed. Blood vessels narrow. The blood pressure rises. Caffeine, in moderation, can wake you up, improve your mood, energy, alertness, concentration, and even athletic performance. Half of the caffeine is metabolised in four to six hours on average.
According to the Dietary Guidelines, there is insufficient evidence to assess the safety of those who consume more than 400 milligrammes of caffeine per day. Caffeine intoxication, characterised by shakiness, nervousness, and irregular heartbeat, can result from higher doses. Caffeine has also been linked to increasing the time it takes to fall asleep, the length of time you stay asleep, and the reported quality of your sleep.
“I think caffeine is so common and ingrained in our culture and daily habits that we don’t think about it as a potential source of problems,” said Mary M. Sweeney, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Cutting back on coffee may also help with gastroesophageal reflux. A new study discovered that women who drank caffeinated beverages — coffee, tea, or soda — had a small but increased risk of symptoms like heartburn. The study’s authors predicted fewer symptoms if two servings of the drinks were replaced with water.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, current research has not determined what amount of caffeine can be consumed safely during pregnancy. Caffeine does cross the placenta, so some doctors may advise pregnant women to limit their coffee consumption to less than 200 milligrammes per day.
Caffeine in extremely high doses can be fatal. However, researchers believe that this is more likely to happen by accident with caffeine powder or pills. “You don’t see a lot of people going to the emergency room because they drank too much coffee by accident,” said Dr. van Dam.
What exactly is a coffee bean?
Two coffee beans are contained within the red fruit of the coffea. The duo spoon together is green in colour, with the rich brown hue appearing only after roasting. In fact, they aren’t even beans. “It’s like picking a cherry off the tree,” said Patrick Brown, a plant sciences professor at the University of California, Davis. In contrast to the cherry, the seed is prized, while the flesh is discarded.
Coffee, in addition to caffeine, is a dark brew of a thousand chemical compounds that may have therapeutic effects on the body. Chlorogenic acid, a polyphenol found in many fruits and vegetables, is a key component. Coffee is also a good source of vitamin B3, magnesium, and potassium in the diet.
“People often see coffee as a vehicle for caffeine, but it is, of course, a very complex plant beverage,” Dr. van Dam explained.
With an estimated 124 coffea species, most flavours remain untapped; and may remain so indefinitely, with an estimated 60% under threat of extinction, largely due to climate change, disease, pests, and deforestation. The coffee we drink in cafes, the office, and on road trips comes from two species: arabica and canephora, also known as robusta. Arabica is used in specialty cafes and is more expensive than robusta, which is used in instant coffee and some espressos.
Despite all of the fanfare surrounding arabica, the fact remains that it is a very homogeneous little seed. Almost all arabica coffee progeny can be traced back to a few plants in Ethiopia, coffee’s birthplace, or Yemen.
Is it true that adding milk or sugar negates the benefits?
Doctors have no idea. According to one 2015 study, those who added sugar, cream, or milk had the same associated benefit as those who preferred it black. However, the coffee industry has exploded since the 1990s, when the study’s older adults filled out their dietary histories. “It was only about a tablespoon of cream or milk and a teaspoon of sugar,” said Dr. Loftfield of the National Cancer Institute, who led the study. “This could be very different from some of the coffee beverages on the market today.”
According to a U.S.D.A. survey conducted in October, sweet coffee and tea are the fourth largest source of sugar in adult diets. Dessert-like beverages, such as Dunkin’ Donuts’ 860-calorie creamy frozen coconut caramel coffee drink with 17 grammes of saturated fat and 129 grammes of total sugars, are included. Some of these drinks, according to experts, bear little resemblance to the 2-calorie cup of black coffee of yesteryear, which concerns health officials.
“When you talk about a drink with that much sugar and that much unhealthy fat, it can’t possibly be a healthy beverage on balance,” says Dr. Jim Krieger, clinical professor of medicine and health services at the University of Washington. “That amount of sugar alone is astronomical when compared to the current U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommendation of 50 grammes of sugar per day.”
Experts are concerned, especially because an estimated 43 percent of teens now drink coffee, a nearly doubling since 2003, according to the research firm Kantar, driven in part by sweet drinks.
“People should be concerned about what they put in their coffee and what the food and beverage industry puts in it,” said Laura Schmidt, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. “And sweetened coffee is one of the things that the beverage industry is pushing on the public now that consumers have abandoned soda for health reasons.”
Should I start drinking more coffee?
It all depends on your life goals.
Doctors advise that if you are drinking in moderation, you should keep drinking and savouring those sips. Dr. Sophie Balzora, a gastroenterologist, carefully weighs the benefits and risks for patients who are sensitive to the beverage. The clinical associate professor of medicine at New York University School of Medicine recognises its cultural significance and knows when to tread lightly. “It seems cruel to rob people of their coffee,” she said.
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