For some it’s not even a question; they consider a morning cup of Joe a ritualistic essential that has health benefits to boot. Others say it’s acidic and contributes to an increased amount of stress and heart palpitations. Most people, however, are somewhere in between—leaving us wondering what the actual deal is with this caffeinated brew. The answer isn’t black or white; there are good and bad things to be said about the American staple—here’s a look at what the experts have to say.
Wondering how else your morning buzz affects your body? Don’t miss our exclusive podcast based on breaking new research, Coffee Talk: The Facts About America’s Favorite Pick-Me-Up. Download it on Apple Podcasts now!
Coffee Might Be from the Fountain of Youth
Stacy Goldberg, MPH, RN, BSN and founder of Savorfull, points out that a recent study in The New England Journal of Medicine showed that drinking two to three cups of coffee per day was associated with a 10 percent decreased risk of death for men at any age and a 13 percent decreased risk of death for women at any age.
Don’t Make Coffee A Dessert
“Don’t make your coffee a dessert meaning don’t put too much stuff in it,” says Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN, and founder of Real Nutrition NYC. “Coffee is meant to pick you up not fill you out so stop with the sugar, cream, syrups, whipped cream and chocolate shavings and appreciate coffee for what it is, a strong drink that will give you some pep.” Shapiro adds that she has found that most of her clients don’t even know what coffee tastes like with all the sweetness. She recommends starting by cutting your usual routine in half and slowly cleaning it up from there. “It will take a week or two to adjust but you’ll be happy you did.” This doesn’t mean that you need to drink your coffee black. If you want to add something to cut the flavor, coconut or almond milk are great options. And if it’s a dessert you crave, then try these 25 Nutritionist-Approved Ways To Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth!
Coffee Is High In Antioxidants
“Coffee is high in antioxidants and since so many Americans drink it, it’s one of our biggest sources of antioxidants (as much as 50-70 percent of the total antioxidant intake of the average American!),” says Shapiro. “That means coffee helps to fight disease.” That said she cautions that three, eight-ounce cups is the limit to what will do your body good. After that, the research points to it not being as beneficial.
Coffee Can Improve Your Athletic Performance
According to research Shapiro says that coffee, in moderate amounts, can improve athletic performance, particular for endurance sports so you should drink it before your workouts for a little extra energy. In fact, even Olympic athletes and other elite competitors use it to (legally!) boost their performance. Discover What Happens to Your Body When You Drink Coffee with our exclusive report!
Coffee Can Help Fight Disease
According to research, coffee has been shown to increase the metabolic rate and improve fat metabolism, reduce the risk of Type 2 Diabetes, reduce the risk and onset of Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s syndrome and reduce hepatic and liver diseases such as Cirrhosis. Coffee may also protect against heart disease and colon cancer and may also help prevent depression, as it stimulates certain areas of the brain.
Not all coffee is created equally. “I recommend only purchasing healthy and sustainable coffee that is organic and fair trade,” says naturopathic doctor and author of The Rockstar Remedy, Dr. Gabrielle Francis. Coffee crops that aren’t organic are one of the most chemically treated crops. Sorry this means skipping instant coffee which is full of chemicals and additives (think of it as the fast food of the coffee world). “It’s also important to note that light roasted coffee is higher in antioxidants and higher in caffeine than dark roasted beans.”
Pay Attention To The Brew Style
The more finely ground the coffee, the higher the antioxidant level in them, according to Dr. Francis. “Cold brewed coffee has fewer acids and less caffeine than hot brewed coffee.
Coffee Is High In Acidity
“Coffee is very acidic and eventually can disrupt the digestive pH especially when consumed on an empty stomach first thing in the morning,” says Miami clinical nutritionist Dr. Michael Forman. “My recommendation is to drink coffee during or after a meal. This plays down the harmful acidic properties and can actually aid digestion.”
Coffee Is High In Vitamins and Minerals
Coffee contains important minerals like magnesium, calcium, manganese, potassium, and chromium and B vitamins, such as folic acid, riboflavin, and pantothenic acid. If you don’t know much about magnesium and why everyone’s talking about it, then catch up with these 19 Magnesium Tips You Didn’t Know You Needed.
Eat Protein With Your Coffee
According to Dr. Francis, eating protein when drinking coffee will reduce the cortisol that is secreted. This is helpful because cortisol can reduce your body’s ability release fat from its fat stores. It can also impact stress and sleep. Good protein options include nuts or nut butters, seeds, Greek yogurt and chia pudding.
When speaking about how coffee affects people, it’s important to remember that coffee feels different for everyone. “Some people feel great, alert and happy others can feel anxious, jittery and unable to focus,” says Shapiro. “Know your limits, and limits may be genetic. Some people metabolize coffee quicker than others so it leaves their blood stream quicker.” Shapiro also adds that similar to alcohol a large man will likely hold their coffee better than a petite woman. So don’t always “have what he is having.” Get what’s right for you.
Do You Really Need It?
Just because you’re used to drinking coffee in the morning or to help you overcome the afternoon slump doesn’t mean you actually need it. Try taking a few days off from your coffee routine and see how you react. Like anything, coffee should be something you enjoy not something you’re dependent on. “Our bodies can become reliant on the stimulation for things like peristalsis (bowel movements) and energy,” says Dr. Forman. “If you ask someone what happened after the stopped coffee, don’t be surprise of some pretty significant withdrawal symptoms.” If you need energy mid-day, get your hands on these any of these 22 High-Protein, Low-Carb Snacks to Fight the 3 p.m. Slump.
Decaf Isn’t Necessarily Better
While going the decaf route is a solid option if you’re trying to cut down on caffeine, it’s important to be aware of the fact that decaf coffee has more toxins in it than regular coffee because caffeine stops the growth of certain toxin-producing molds. It’s also important to look for decaf beans that have been water-processed (versus chemically processed) in the caffeine removal process.
Drink Water With Your Coffee
“Too much caffeine can lead to dehydration, so making sure your drink lots of water throughout the day to stay on top of your hydration is imperative,” says Mountain Trek nutritionist, Jennifer Keirstead. For each cup of coffee, make sure to drink at least two extra glasses of water or even detox water.
Coffee May Affect Your Joints
“There is some controversy as to the relationship between caffeine and joint health,” says founder of Pop-Doc.com and NYC orthopedist, Dr. David Neuman. “The important thing to know is that caffeine increases blood flow to the small vessels, which can help temporarily increase circulation to the joints.”
Coffee Can Impact Your Sleep
“Coffee stresses the adrenal glands which can cause sleep pattern disruption,” says Dr. Forman. “This is because irregular cortisol levels tend to disrupt normal sleep patterns. When you’re sleeping, if your body produces cortisol, it can keep you from obtaining deep sleep so you wake up feeling tired, even after a full night’s sleep.”
Add Spices To Reduce The Acidity
Adding spices to coffee reduces the acidity. “The acidity can break down the gut lining and leach minerals out of the body such as calcium and magnesium and iron,” says Dr. Francis, who recommends adding spices like ginger, cinnamon, vanilla, cardamom, turmeric, nutmeg and chicory to make your coffee not only taste better, but healthier. Try these 12 D.I.Y. Flavors to Boost Your Coffee at Home, too.
Coffee Can Affect Your Pancreas
“Coffee is a direct stimulus of the pancreas—like sugar,” says Dr. Forman. “This is because coffee can stimulate pancreatic activity in excess of the body’s need and this can lead to pancreatic insufficiency over the long term.” Why is this a problem? According to Dr. Forman, it weakens the ability of the pancreas to repair when digestive stress comes upon it and causes a variety of symptoms to appear that we don’t associate with coffee drinking.
Coffee Can Affect Your Mood For The Worse
Coffee may cause nervousness and irritability. According to Dr. Forman, however, this usually comes from consuming coffee in excess, which is considered to be more than three cups per day.
Coffee Can Affect The Intestines
“Coffee is irritating to the intestines, especially when taken on an empty stomach. Milk, cream or alternative milks help to allay some of the irritating effects,” says Dr. Forman. Speaking of your tummy, discover the 15 Best Foods to Ease a Stomach Ache!
Coffee Can Affect Mineral Absorption
According to Dr. Forman coffee can prevent the absorption of essential minerals, so be careful not to drink too much too often. “Symptoms from malabsorption of minerals will show up in ways that you cannot relate to coffee drinking, but it can be from this.”
Coffee Can Affect Heart Health
“Coffee can create elevated homocysteine levels in the blood stream making it a risk for cardiovascular stress,” says Dr. Forman. “This is one of the most potentially harmful effects of coffee. In an article from the America Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the caffeine in coffee was cited as responsible for the raising of dangerous homocysteine levels in the body. So if you have concerns about heart disease, limit coffee intake.”
Coffee Isn’t for Kids
“Caffeine can interfere with sleep and sleep plays a critical role in learning,” says Goldberg, who goes on to explain that some laboratory research suggests that caffeine interferes with sleep and learning among adolescent rodents, which, in turn, hinders normal neurological development that is noticeable into adulthood. “It’s important to curb coffee intake among adolescents and to check the labels on products including waters, energy bars, tea beverages, ice cream and other places where caffeine is hiding before giving them to children.”
People vary genetically in how well they can process caffeine and coffee. “Slow” metabolizers of caffeine don’t process caffeine effectively. “These are people who are adversely affected by caffeine, get the jitters, and are wired for up to nine hours after consumption,” explains Goldberg. “This can greatly affect your sleep patterns. Slow metabolizers should stop consuming caffeine by 11 a.m. to ensure a good night sleep.” Others, she says, just get a boost in energy and alertness for a couple of hours; they are considered “fast” metabolizers of caffeine. Most people want a faster metabolism; find out the 55 Best-Ever Ways to Boost Your Metabolism!
Butter Coffee May Not Be As Great As You Think
Butter coffee, popularized by Dave Asprey, is one of the biggest trends in wellness. It’s being used as a breakfast meal replacement. “The problem with it is that it’s being marketed as adding healthy fats to coffee to provide healthy brain fuel. While this is true and it is a healthy alternative to sugar and cream, it’s not a replacement for a complete breakfast,” says Goldberg. It’s better than regular coffee as a meal replacement, but it’s still recommended to have a healthy breakfast that includes protein, healthy fats, fruits/vegetables and healthy carbohydrate sources such as oats, quinoa or other grains.”
Try Coffee-Flavored Products
Coffee is a popular flavor for many products. Goldberg tells her clients to try products like Health Warrior Chia Bars and Kay’s Mocha Espresso Bites if they’re trying to cut back on their coffee intake. They not only work to curb the coffee habit but provide nutrients, too.
Coffee Can Affect Blood Pressure
Coffee can have a negative effect on elevated blood pressure. “If you suffer from high blood pressure, consider milder forms of stimulants like tea; often times people get a similar effect and no impact on blood pressure,” says Dr. Forman. And for another way to get your buzz on—but turn off your fat genes while you’re at it—don’t miss these 23 Amazing Ways to Melt Fat with Tea!