Is Coffee Healthy?

Is coffee healthy or not

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.

Certainly, some absolutes remain true: that artificial sweeteners, sugar, and especially hydrogenated sugar-laden processed creamer blends are not health-promoting and can be avoided.

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.

Sources:
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!

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Reader Comments

  1. Look at it from the concept of pH balance: Drinking coffee (actually, the ash your body produces) is acidic. The body goes into pH balance mode. It needs two things to do this. It needs calcium, which it takes from the bone; and magnesium, which it gets from muscle. So as I’ve understood it, if one is trying to maintain bone density, cut out the coffee (and meat and dairy and grains and alcohol and processed foods). But that is quite an extreme diet. So, I simply do that “All things in moderation” thing and hope for the best. And exercise VIGOROUSLY! Try googling ‘jumping for bone health”. Pretty neat.

  2. IS ORGANIC FAIR TRADE DECAF COFFEE AS BAD AS YOU SAY IN THIS ARTICLE OR IS IT CONVENTIONAL DECAF COFFEE THAT IS THE CULPRIT?

  3. I wish you wrote a bit about the side effects drinking coffee. Yes there are a lot of benefits, but for most females they have a huge impact on hormones, migraine and stomach problems. I have stopped drinking it and feel a lot better. So many other ways of getting energy 🙂

    • “but for most females they have a huge impact on hormones,”

      I’d love to read credible sources regarding this statement. I did an in-depth research on coffee recently available and couldn’t find anything credible, apart from the precautions one should take during pregnancy.

      Oh! I read lots of claims and opinions but they were just that…claims and opinions.

  4. Great post! What brand of coffee do you buy?

  5. Osteoporosis Diet Danger 3: The Cost of Caffeine
    Caffeine leaches calcium from bones, sapping their strength.

    “You lose about 6 milligrams of calcium for every 100 milligrams of caffeine ingested,” Massey says.

    That’s not as much of a loss as salt, but it’s worrisome, nonetheless. Caffeine is a particular problem when a woman doesn’t get enough calcium each day to begin with.

    The good news is that limiting caffeine intake to 300 milligrams a day while getting adequate calcium probably offsets any losses caffeine causes, Massey says.

    Coffee is a major caffeine source. For example, a 16-ounce cup of coffee can provide 320 milligrams. High-caffeine sodas can contain up to 80 milligrams per can or more.

    Although tea also contains caffeine, studies suggest it does not harm, and probably helps, bone density in older women, regardless of whether they add milk to the beverage. Researchers think that tea contains plant compounds that protect bone.

    Salt – now THAT’S a tough one for me to get off of ;-( klj

    • ARTICLE IN THE AMA HAS THEIR FINALLY ADMITTING THAT SALT DOES NOT CAUSE HEART PROBLEMS OR HYPERTENSION. REGULAR TABLE SALT IS HIGHLY PROCESSED AND STRIPPED OF MINERALS EXCEPT FOR SODIUM CHLORIDE SO DON’T USE IT. HIMALAYAN SALT IS PROBABLY THE BEST

  6. Great research! Thank you Katie! What do you think about pregnant women drinking one or two cups of coffee a day? Is there a certain point in pregnancy that it’s ok to drink regular or does it have to be decaf?

  7. dear Wellness Mama,

    Please create a healthy pumpkin spice latte for us dreaming of all things fall!

    Also, you are a wonderful encouragement and blessing to me!

  8. This is a great article! I don’t drink coffee any more because I would feel EXHAUSTED minutes after drinking it, but my husband is addicted to his ice coffee from Mcdonalds (GROAN). I am with you about the pesticides! There is a really delicious brand if you are ever looking for some it’s called “Equal Exchange” and it’s delicious! Plus it’s organic, win-win.

    • YES, THAT’S THE BRAND I GET AT THE SUPER MARKET IN THE HEALTH FOOD SECTION. BECAUSE CAFFEINE IS A PROBLEM FOR ME I NOTICED THIS BRAND HAS A DECAFFEINATED VERSION WHICH I BOUGHT (12 OZ FOR $12. YIKES). IT WAS FLAVORFUL ENOUGH AND LETS ME HAVE A CUP WHEN I FELL LIKE IT AND NOT BASED ON TIME OF DAY WHICH IS STILL ONLY 1-2 CUPS A DAY. I USE ORGANIC RAW MILK AND A TINY BIT OF RAW HONEY. YUM.

  9. Nicely broken down! I love coffee, but only allow myself a treat of it once every few weeks or so. Plus it justifies spending more a a really quality cup since it’s so rare.

  10. I started doing an autoimmune diet reset…usually I drink anywhere from 2-4 cups of coffee per day (I LOVE it). In any case, yesterday I didn’t have any at all and I got a terrible, terrible migraine. I very rarely get migraines. I was quite sobered about how dependent I seem to be on caffeine! In order to avoid other bad headaches I’m simply going to wean myself off slowly (rather than cold turkey), but I’m excited to see how I feel after getting off of it completely! I will certainly drink it again in the future but I think it’ll be a healthy exercise to not drink it for a while. Thanks for an informative article!

  11. Our family LOVE coffee! My husband and I actually bought a small roasting company in Denton, TX about two years ago. It has grown into a fun little business for our family and we sell organic, fair trade coffee. We roast locally and enjoy coffee most mornings with raw butter, raw milk or coconut oil. We also use it in cooking chili, brownies, sometimes in ice cream etc. Our website is http://www.bookishcoffee.com if anyone would ever like to order a bag! We would love to share our coffee to other health fans!

    Much Love from Texas and happy drinking!
    Emily

  12. Great article. Would love a few resources or brands that are Organic single Estate and taste great? You’ve mentioned Bulletproof in the past. Any others?

    Thanks so much!
    Kristen

  13. No one has mentioned the sleep disruption factor. I am a post menopausal woman and sleeping doesn’t come as easily me (or to many of my post menopausal friends) as it used to. I have gotten completely away from coffee (I love it as much as the next person, but…..) . Every night I drink some type of herbal tea blend that promotes sleep and in the daytime I have learned to love Maté. Maté says it has caffeine but it is not the jangled kind. I feel great afterwards and I enjoy while I am drinking. Three times a year I drink a really good cup of coffee and just know that I will be awake until at least 4AM. The price I pay.

    Living with chronic sleep disruption has wide reaching effects on my life.

    • IT’S A BIT PREMATURE BUT I JUST BOUGHT A SMALL BOOK CALLED “THE INSOMNIA SOLUTION” BY MICHAEL KRUGMAN. I JUST STARTED TO READ IT SO I DO NOT KNOW IF THE TECHNIQUES WORK BUT IF YOU WANT TO CHECK IT OUT GOOGLE SOUNDERSLEEP.COM. I GOT THE BOOK FROM AMAZON FOR $ .01 + 3.99 SHIPPING. I’M READING THE FIRST PART OF THE BOOK WHICH THEN SEGUES INTO THE ACTUAL SIMPLE TECHNIQUES HE HAS USED THAT ARE SO EFFECTIVE.

    • Wellness Mama, A long time ago I had the same problem with caffee, my hubby read a book of Dr. Sherry Rogers and he told me to stop drinking caffee, or at list don’t drink it after 10 AM, and he said have Natural calm its a premian Balanced Magnesium- Calciom Drink in a powder form. I had this one Hour before Bed time… I sleep like a baby. ???????? i also took Liquid Magnesium soft gels: 400 MG. Every morninig … I also have on hand.. melatonin caps and Lobelia Herbal supplements to help me sleep on days that I’ve had caffee late in the afternoon. “It worked for me.” But if You Google Dr. Sherry Rogers she has some really good books. On exalent read!

  14. Katie, do you drink coffee while pregnant and/or nursing?

    • Not regularly, but I did a couple times a week and always made sure it was organic…

  15. I stick to moderation and drinking coffee when I feel like it, rather than based on a need. My favorite is having coffee in bed – I have 3 kids and it’s such a welcome self-treat when I get to do this! I also put maca root powder in it, for me, the caffeine effects doesn’t come strong and I think the maca “smoothes” out the buzz and carries me through the day with mental acuteness. I tried followed directions for maca with water to get a feel for my dosage and effects. I use very little and I like the taste of it in my coffee.

  16. Hi Katie,

    Maybe a strange question here but….I have been drinking coffee daily for the past year (just a cup a day) and have also had issues with chronic yeast infections for the past year. It just dawned on me that the two may be related. I also have Hashimotos. Do you happen to know if it’s possible that the infections may be related to the coffee? I am trying to stop drinking my cup of coffee in the am but I really enjoy it and I’m having a hard time kicking it. 🙁
    Thanks!

  17. What can you tell me about Gerson Therapy that treats cancer with coffee enemas and lots of juice? Is there anything to this approach? Can it really detoxify the body and help fight cancer? Also someone told me, that if you drink black caffee you git the antioxidant, but as soon as you add milk,cream, coconut milk and sweets you blocks the antioxidant ? Love your articals and your recipes. Thank you…????

  18. Hi Wellness Mama,

    Maybe a strange question, but…I love my morning coffee and have really only been drinking a cup daily for about a year. Well I have also had an issue with chronic yeast infections for the last year. I have always had issues with these infections but not as consistent as I do right now. I also have Hashimotos (diagnosed 9 years ago). Do you know if coffee consumption and chronic yeast infections can be related? I really enjoy having my one cup of coffee in the am and really don’t want to give it up indefinitely but…
    Thank you!

    • It would be worth trying at least. Even when I drink coffee, I occasionally give it up for a few weeks or a month just to retest and make sure I’m not dependent on it 🙂

  19. Great article! One additional consideration that might be worth mentioning though is how the coffee is prepared. Its not as big of a deal in america because most people drink drip coffee, but boiled coffee (e.g. french press, turkish coffee, cold press coffee) is associated with increased circulating levels of several inflammatory markers . So if you have any sort of inflammatory condition it might be worth it to avoid the french press, even if you like the taste better.

  20. Good post — wonderful blog!

    I’m an avid coffee drinker, and do it by choice. Looking at what people drink, I think there are two additional problem to discuss in conjunction with coffee consumption.
    1– sugar. Whether you add sugar or artificial sweeteners, this is where your problem is, not so much with the coffee itself. Most (if not all) of the “fun” “trendy” drinks out there are exceptionally loaded with sugar. For me, sugar is the enemy. There is rarely good or any stevia offered with your coffee, and those sugary syrups are everywhere.
    2– cost. How much money are you spending on your coffee, and are you really counting it? I think that being proactive about your budget is an essential ingredient in a healthy lifestyle. If you buy one cup (just one! most coffee drinkers have more) a day, it would run you between $3 and 5$. Lets say, $4 on average. $4 a day, 25 days a month (maybe you make your coffee at home on some days), that is $1200 a year!!!!! Can you perhaps think of something better you could do with $1200?

    Keep up the good work!
    Rachel

  21. Dear Katie,

    Great post, you got me reconsidering the source of my coffee!

    I agree on not consuming coffee on daily basis. Personally, I drink coffee once in a while.
    You listed coffee benefits. However, coffee has side effects such as anxiety and sleep disorders. In addition, it isn’t good for people with acid reflux or heartburn.
    Moreover, caffeine impairs insulin action (Collazo-Clavell, 2012). Although it doesn’t affect blood sugar levels in healthy adults, it does in diabetic patients. “if you have type 2 diabetes, the impact of caffeine on insulin action may be associated with a small, but detectable rise in blood sugar levels, particularly after meals”(Collazo-Clavell, 2012).
    People react to coffee differently. As you mentioned, choosing good coffee quality and moderate consumption is the best.

    I got curious. Does organic coffee taste better than conventionally coffee?

    Regards,
    Rana
    Collazo-Clavell, M. (2012). Diseases and conditions: Type 2 diabetes. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/type-2-diabetes/expert-answers/blood-sugar/faq-20057941

  22. DRINKING ORGANIC COFFEE TASTES BETTER MOSTLY BECAUSE YOU KNOW IT DOESN’T CONTAIN ALL THOSE PESTICIDES AND BECAUSE COFFEE GENERALLY ISN’T CONSIDERED A NECESSARY FOOD DRINKING A PURE FORM OF IT SEEMS MORE ENJOYABLE.

  23. For the first 48 years of my life I had no coffee or other caffeinated drinks. The last two I slowly increased coffee consumption up to 1-4 cups a day. I was slowly having more and more water weight and inflammation. It is not gluten as I have been free of that for years. Anyway I’m very sensitive to progesterone. I started researching coffee’s effect on estrogen and decided to cut to one cup a week. Amazing difference immediately. I miss the coffee but gaining weight is not worth it!

  24. Hi wellness mama!! Where do you get your coffee from? And so you get while beans? Wondering if it’s best to use a French press or just a coffee maker?…. Thanks for the help? Also… When pregnant or nursing so you do decaf or is regular coffee fine?

  25. I heard on your podcast that coffee first thing in the morning, on an empty stomach, is bad form for achieving balanced hormones.
    Do you have a time preference or food accompaniment that is best?
    I don’t have it everyday, but I prefer morning when I do! I just want to savor it with out the guilt!:)

  26. What are your thoughts on coffee during pregnancy?

    • I consume it in moderation… not every day and sometimes decaf.

  27. Coffee…sigh….my one true addiction. I have a love-hate relationship with it. I love coffee but it does not like me. It blasts my hormones, disrupts my sleep, and pummels my adrenals. And that’s with only 4-6 oz a day. If I conveniently “forget” how rough coffee is on my (like the true negotiating addict I am) and I start drinking a full cup a day, within a week I am exhausted, achy, overtired from shallow sleep, suffering indigestion and even some IBS symptoms, and overall unwell. When I can stay coffee-free, I feel SO much better.