Like many Americans, you may start every morning with a steaming cup of joe. In the back of your mind, though, you might be wondering how healthy this habit is.
It turns out that coffee is a complicated brew. In addition to caffeine, this drink’s most well-known compound, there are a number of other chemicals at play in each cup. Some may give your body a healthy boost, but others are less innocent.
Delicious though it might be, you’ll need to weigh the good and the not-so-good to decide whether to stick with your daily coffee routine.
Here’s how coffee (might) improve your health.
First up, the good news: studies demonstrate that coffee drinkers may enjoy longer lives than those who never touch the stuff. Here’s why:
Lower cancer risk
Coffee contains antioxidants and other good-for-you compounds that may lower your risk for certain types of cancer. These can include:
- Colorectal cancer
- Estrogen-negative breast cancer
- Liver cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Oral cancer
- Renal cancer
Researchers are still investigating the relationship between coffee and cancer because this favored morning pick-me-up has also been linked to heightened risk factors in some cases. While moderate consumption may be beneficial, it’s not a fail-safe line of defense against all cancers.
Regularly drinking coffee may help keep your heart muscle strong. It takes just a couple of cups of coffee per day to reduce the risk of heart failure.
The cardiovascular benefits of coffee may be more pronounced for females, too. Studies have linked moderate coffee consumption to a lower risk of heart attack and stroke in women.
Although the caffeine in coffee temporarily raises blood sugar levels, that change doesn’t seem to stick around long term. Instead, research indicates that coffee is effective at helping your body process sugar. Coffee consumption is also associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.
Long-term brain health
A morning cup of coffee provides a shot of energy-boosting caffeine. It wakes your brain up and stimulates clear thinking.
But coffee’s effects on brain power may extend long past the present moment. The caffeine it contains has been shown to guard against neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Men seem to enjoy more Parkinson’s protection than women.
Some research suggests that women with a daily coffee habit are less likely than their peers to experience depression. Along those same lines, drinking coffee has been shown to lower suicide risk by 45%.
But before you grab a cup of joe . . .
Ready to make a coffee shop run? Not so fast. These health benefits aren’t a license to pound back one cup after another.
There are smart reasons to be thoughtful about how much coffee you drink.
Caffeine has a questionable reputation.
If you drink coffee primarily for the caffeine, you’re not alone. Unfortunately, large quantities of caffeine aren’t the best thing for your body.
For starters, caffeine is addictive. Plus, as a stimulant, it may lead to sleep problems like insomnia, especially if you consume it during the second half of the day.
Other problems with caffeine may include:
- Acid reflux
- Increased blood pressure
- Restlessness and shakiness
- Abnormal heart rhythms
As with many chemicals, though, this one isn’t entirely good or entirely bad. Caffeine is the component of coffee that’s thought to be responsible for mood improvement and neurological protection.
The acids in coffee might be rough on your stomach.
Caffeine isn’t the only culprit in coffee that can leave you with an unhappy digestive tract. This is a rather acidic drink, and those acids can do a number on a sensitive stomach. You may experience nasty heartburn as a result.
Coffee may affect your cholesterol, too.
Your daily cups of coffee may come with hearty doses of cafestol and kahweol. These oily compounds have been linked to higher LDL (bad) cholesterol and overall cholesterol as well.
Fortunately, there’s a way around this problem. Brewing your coffee with a paper filter has been shown to reduce the amount of cafestol and kahweol in the final product. If you’re watching your cholesterol, stay away from French presses and other filter-free brewing methods.
What about decaf?
Many of the concerns associated with coffee stem from caffeine’s effect on the body. If you love the taste of coffee and the comfort of a warm mug, you might fare better by swapping out your regular java for decaf.
Decaffeinated coffee does offer many of the same perks as the regular variety, and it contains some of the same nutrients as its regular counterpart. It may also lower your risks of developing liver disease, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer.
Decaf isn’t a slam dunk, though. It still contains acid, and it may be even more of a heartburn-inducer than regular coffee. Plus, decaf offers less protection against neurological disorders and oral cancer.
As with most things, moderation is the name of the game.
If there’s one thing that you’ve learned by now, it may be that coffee, like other foods, is a mixed bag.
Don’t feel pressured to drink coffee just for the health benefits. There are other good-for-you ways to protect against cancer, heart disease and mood disorders.
On the other hand, it’s probably okay to keep up with your daily intake in reasonable amounts. It takes only a moderate level of consumption — around two to four cups per day — to reap most of the health benefits from coffee.
Four cups contain about 400 milligrams of caffeine, which is the FDA’s recommended daily limit for most adults. Keep in mind that kids and teens are cautioned against any caffeine consumption. Also, pregnant women may need to limit their intake to around 200 milligrams per day. But always ask your doctor for specific advice.
As a compromise, consider starting your mornings with caffeinated coffee and switching to decaf by midday.
Whichever variety you choose, just be sure to take it easy on the add-ins. While that beautiful black liquid may be a boon to your health, too much cream and sugar certainly won’t do you any favors.