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 and 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, both for drinking it or in use as a detoxifying enema. 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.”
- Some great uses for used coffee grounds such as homemade beauty products, natural stainer, and compost.
My Favorite Coffee Brands
Four Sigmatic – If you follow the podcast, you’ve probably heard me profess my love for Four Sigmatic coffee. It contains adaptogenic mushrooms (yes, mushrooms) for an extra boost of natural energy. I never feel jittery on this coffee and the taste is amazing. They sell both grounds for brewed coffee and small instant packets that I carry with me when I travel.
Purity Coffee – I’ve tried a lot of organic coffee brands at this point, and this one is my favorite of them all! Listen to this podcast to hear about the founder’s extremely quality high standards for their coffee. Purity Coffee screens all of their coffee for mold (they have a zero tolerance policy), toxins, and sustainable growing practices. All of that is secondary to how great this coffee tastes. It’s bold and smooth and hits all the right notes. (And I might need to go make another cup…)
Caveman Coffee – Caveman has a ready to drink nitro coffee that is low acid and really good (strong though… equal to three shots of espresso) and their regular coffee beans are great too.
A mix of the above – My husband insists the perfect cup of Joe comes from mixing Four Sigmatic and Purity in a 50/50 blend, and I tend to agree 😉
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:
- Superfood Dalgona Coffee Recipe
- Basic Nutrient Boost Coffee
- Superfood Vanilla Latte
- Salted Caramel Latte
- Peppermint Mocha
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.
Is coffee a guilty pleasure of yours? How do you drink it or do you avoid it completely? Share below!
Discussion (44 Comments)
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!
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.
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.
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!
Katie - Wellness Mama
Your wish is my command: https://wellnessmama.com/3223/pumpkin-spice-latte/ 🙂
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?
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
Great post! What brand of coffee do you buy?
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.
IS ORGANIC FAIR TRADE DECAF COFFEE AS BAD AS YOU SAY IN THIS ARTICLE OR IS IT CONVENTIONAL DECAF COFFEE THAT IS THE CULPRIT?
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.