Whether coffee is healthy or unhealthy depends on how much you’re drinking each day and whether you are adding ingredients such as sugar, cream, or milk.
Studies suggest that moderate consumption of black coffee has several health benefits, as it is rich in antioxidants and other nutrients. However, coffee also contains caffeine, which can cause undesirable side effects. Here is a look at both the benefits and the side effects of coffee, and how much is safe to drink each day.
What are the health benefits of coffee?
- Heart health: Studies suggest that moderate coffee consumption improves heart health and reduces the risk of heart diseases and heart failure.
- Manage blood sugar levels: Coffee consumption may regulate blood sugar levels. People who regularly drink coffee may have a lower risk of type II diabetes mellitus.
- Brain health: Coffee protects the brain against several diseases, including stroke, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s disease.
- Liver health: Coffee (both regular and decaf) can lower the risk of liver diseases such as hepatic steatosis, cirrhosis, and liver cancer. Coffee helps keep liver enzymes in a healthy range, and caffeine may lower the risk of gallstone formation.
- Lower cancer risk: Coffee contains several antioxidants that protect the cells from DNA damage. This may lower the risk of several cancers, including colon cancer and hepatocellular carcinoma.
- Mental health: Coffee can improve mood and mental function. Studies suggest that coffee drinkers are less likely to develop depression.
- Improved focus: Coffee may help improve focus and reaction time.
- Improved stamina: Research suggests that caffeine may improve your physical strength, endurance, and exercise performance. Several health coaches swear by having a cup of black coffee before workouts or physical training.
- Helps manage weight: Studies suggest that coffee (particularly black coffee) may aid weight loss by boosting metabolism and reducing cravings.
- Longevity: Studies suggest that regular coffee consumption may reduce the risk of death from diseases such as heart diseases, diabetes, kidney diseases, and stroke.
What are the side effects of coffee?
Side effects of coffee may occur especially with excessive coffee consumption. However, some people may be genetically more sensitive to coffee and develop undesirable effects at even smaller amounts.
Excessive coffee consumption may cause side effects such as:
- Disturbed sleep or insomnia
- Stomach upset
- Dysphoria (a state of unease or dissatisfaction)
- Heartburn or dyspepsia
- Raised blood pressure
Rapid consumption of excessive amounts of caffeine (about 1200 mg) can cause serious toxicity, including seizures.
Some of the negative effects of coffee also depend on the way you prepare it:
- Adding sugar or cream can make your coffee high in calories, which may increase the risk of obesity and associated health conditions, such as heart diseases and high blood cholesterol levels.
- Coffee contains a compound called cafestol, which increases blood levels of low-density lipoprotein or bad cholesterol, which raises the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Paper filters help remove cafestol, thus making filtered coffee safer for consumption than unfiltered coffee.
How much caffeine is safe to drink?
For most healthy adults, the FDA suggests that consuming up to 400 mg of caffeine each day is considered safe. This is roughly equal to:
- 4-5 cups of coffee (about 8 ounces each)
- 10-12 cans of caffeinated soft drinks (about 12 ounces each)
- 8-12 cups of black or green tea (about 8 ounces each)
However, it isn’t just coffee intake you need to be careful about to keep your daily caffeine consumption in check. Caffeine is also present in decaf drinks, weight-loss supplements, chocolates, and certain over-the-counter medications. Energy drinks can contain up to 40-250 mg of caffeine per 8-ounce serving.
Who should be careful about coffee consumption?
Although consuming coffee in moderate amounts is safe, you should exercise caution if you have any health conditions or are taking any medications.
- Pregnancy or breastfeeding: Pregnant and breastfeeding women may need to cut down their coffee consumption for their and their baby’s health.
- Genetics: Genetic variations in the way your body metabolizes caffeine may determine the safe limits of consumption. If you experience side effects even with small amounts of coffee, it may mean that your body takes longer than most healthy people to remove coffee from the system. In such cases, you may need to further reduce your caffeine intake.
- Age: The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend caffeine for children and adolescents. If teens are consuming caffeine in any form, it should not exceed more than 100 mg a day.
If you are on any medications or have any underlying health conditions, talk to your doctor about how much caffeine you can safely consume.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
US Food and Drug Administration. Spilling the Beans: How Much Caffeine is Too Much? https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/spilling-beans-how-much-caffeine-too-much
American Heart Association. Is coffee good for you or not? https://www.heart.org/en/news/2018/09/28/is-coffee-good-for-you-or-not
Harvard T. H. Chan. Is coffee good or bad for your health? https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/hsph-in-the-news/is-coffee-good-or-bad-for-your-health/