Like many things in health and nutrition, when it comes to coffee, the answer to “is coffee healthy or not?” is: it depends.
I could easily write an entire blog post about all of the problems with coffee and I could just as easily write a post about why it is one of the healthiest things you can drink. At the end of the day, it depends on many factors, including biochemistry, the source of the beans, when and how it is consumed, and much more.
The Science on Coffee
Coffee was once considered bad for us, and now I see a new article each week about its health-promoting benefits. Which research is correct?
Older research often looked at just the question of “is coffee healthy” by itself and didn’t necessarily adjust for factors like the increased likelihood of smoking, excessive sitting, or a high stress lifestyle in people who also drank a lot of coffee.
More modern research that makes these adjustments seems to find no correlation between coffee consumption (at least in moderate levels) and risk of heart disease, stroke or cancer. In fact, I’ve seen some studies showing a decreased risk of these diseases in moderate coffee drinkers.
The Mayo Clinic reported that:
Studies have shown that coffee may have health benefits, including protecting against Parkinson’s disease, type 2 diabetes and liver disease, including liver cancer. It also appears to improve cognitive function and decrease the risk of depression.
Potential Problems with Coffee Consumption
There are a few ways it can be potentially harmful:
- Caffeine: The habit of needing coffee can signal a problem with adrenal health or intolerance to caffeine. At the same time, consuming the same substance every single day can lead to dependence, especially when considering a substance like caffeine. My solution? Even when I’m drinking coffee, I don’t consume it every day and I make sure to add some extra health boosting ingredients to increase the nutritional value
- Pesticides: Coffee beans are a highly sprayed crop. I haven’t seen any research indicating that there is an increased cancer risk with non-organic coffee, but I stick to organic beans to avoid the pesticide exposure.
- Mold: Dave Asprey has give the problem of mycotoxins (mold toxins) mainstream exposure and coffee is a notoriously high mycotoxin beverage. As he explains: “Mycotoxins are damaging compounds created by molds which grow on coffee beans (among other things). These compounds cause all sorts of health problems like cardiomyopathy, cancer, hypertension, kidney disease, and even brain damage. They also make your coffee taste bitter, like it needs sugar.” He goes on to explain that not all coffee has this problems but that the source matters:”“Blends” of coffee are bad news because they mix cheap beans from multiple areas, almost guaranteeing that you’ll get some moldy ones. This is why its important to buy your coffee from a single estate, as outlined in the process for finding the highest performance coffee in your city. If you drink mass market coffee, the beans in your grinder may come from several countries. It’s the same logic that tells you not to eat a hamburger made from the meat of 10,000 animals.
Decaf coffee is even worse. Caffeine is a natural anti-insect and antifungal defense mechanism for the plant. It deters mold and other organisms from growing on the beans. Mold is everywhere, but caffeine helps prevent it from growing on the beans while they’re in storage. When you remove the caffeine, your beans are defenseless. Decaf coffee is higher in both aflatoxin and ochratoxin. This is one of the reasons decaf tastes like camel sweat”. (source)
Potential Benefits of Drinking Coffee
- Increased Performance: From Kris Gunnars “Caffeine’s primary mechanism in the brain is blocking the effects of an inhibitory neurotransmitter called Adenosine. By blocking the inhibitory effects of Adenosine, caffeine actually increases neuronal firing in the brain and the release of other neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine (source, source). Many controlled trials have examined the effects of caffeine on the brain, demonstrating that caffeine can improve mood, reaction time, memory, vigilance and general cognitive function (source).” There are studies showing that coffee can help improve athletic performance, mobilize fat from cells, and increase stamina.
- Antioxidants: Coffee is one of nature’s potent antioxidant sources and recent studies have shown that most Americans get more antioxidants from coffee than from any other source. While it is good that we are at least getting antioxidants, it is sad that we aren’t getting more from nutrient dense fruits and vegetables, vitamin C rich foods, or natural sources of Astaxanthin (a potent antioxidant). High quality coffee may be great in moderation but it is important to balance this by consuming other antioxidant-rich foods and drinks from other natural sources
- Lower risk of mental disorders and diabetes: From Dave: “Long term coffee consumption is associated with a lower risk of type-2 diabetes. The more coffee you drink, the lower the risk. Coffee consumption is associated with increased insulin sensitivity and improved beta cell function. People who drink six or more cups of coffee per day are 50 percent less likely to develop diabetes.”
The Bottom Line
Coffee can be great if your body tolerates it and if it comes from a good source. I personally eliminate it every few weeks just to test mental performance with and without it. I also don’t drink coffee when I’m on a strict autoimmune diet, but I seem to do ok when reintroducing it.
Also, if I drink coffee, I make it with added nutrients using recipes like these:
Coffee has its benefits, but antioxidants are plentiful in many natural foods and drinks, so if you aren’t a fan of worlds most popular morning beverage, don’t sweat it! Drink some quality herbal tea instead.
Effects of caffeine ingestion on metabolism and exercise performance.
Effects of caffeine ingestion on exercise testing: a meta-analysis
Effects of caffeine on energy metabolism, heart rate, and methylxanthine metabolism in lean and obese women
Authority Nutrition- Coffee: Good or Bad
Caffeine and coffee: their influence on metabolic rate and substrate utilization in normal weight and obese individuals.
Coffee is Number One Source of Antioxidants
Chris Kresser: Is coffee good for you?
Is coffee a guilty pleasure of yours? How do you drink it or do you avoid it completely? Share below!