If I had a dollar for every client who said to me, “I’ll do anything, but don’t take away my coffee!” … well, you know the end of that! People are downright hooked on their coffee, and I understand why! For me, 80% of it is the ritual … from the smell, to the special mug I use daily, to the tie-in to drinking it during my morning routine. 15% of it is the way I feel after drinking it, and 5% is the taste, which I honestly could take or leave. But just like you, I’d be sad if I learned that coffee was terrible for me … so don’t worry, I won’t do that to you today!
So, let’s get into it … is coffee healthy? How much is too much? What are the downsides of coffee? And is it the caffeine that is healthy or unhealthy, or is it the coffee itself?
Just give me the punch line … is coffee healthy?
The short answer is yes, coffee is healthy. Of course, this will come with some caveats, but for now, yes. The Annals of Internal Medicine published two studies in 2017 looking at over 700,000 participants from a variety of racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds, and found that the more coffee a person drank, the lower the risk of early death. Check out this quote from an LA Times write-up of the study:
Compared with the 16% of people who didn’t drink coffee at all, those who downed two or more cups each day were about 18% less likely to have died during the study period. In addition, those who drank just one to six cups of coffee per week were 12% less likely to die. Both of these figures were calculated after taking into account known risk factors for early death, such as smoking (which is often paired with coffee drinking), diet and body mass index.
There have been studies linking coffee consumption (up to 5 cups per day) with decreased risk of everything from cancer to heart disease, Parkinson’s to depression, type 2 diabetes to Alzheimer’s. So it seems fairly clear that, all else equal, coffee can be part of an otherwise healthy diet. YAY!
Is it the coffee itself, or the caffeine?
Surprisingly, the benefits of most studies hold even when the coffee is decaf!! It seems that the majority of the health benefits of coffee come from the high antioxidant content. Coffee contains many polyphenols, including chlorogenic acid and caffeic acid, which can help combat cellular damage and oxidative stress.
Several other naturally caffeinated food items, such as black, green, and herbal teas, and cacao (you know I love my chocolate!) also have significant health benefits that have been independently studied. However, isolated caffeine (such as that found in caffeine pills) shows no chronic disease prevention benefits. The magic is in the actual food with all of its components intact, so enjoy your coffee, tea, and chocolate in moderation, but you’re probably better off skipping the caffeine pills. (And, how about pre-workout or energy drinks? All about those here!
How much coffee is too much?
The studies above studied people drinking up to 5 cups daily, or about 500mg caffeine per day. For the average person, this seems to be a tolerable upper limit. However, two major conditions can be exacerbated by caffeine, so I highly encourage moderation if either apply to you:
- Anxiety and stress. Caffeine can stimulate the “fight or flight” response (or engagement of the sympathetic nervous system), which “trains” our body to jump right into attack mode or panic mode more easily. When a stressful event arises, our body thinks, “great! I know what to do! Raise that heart rate, speed up breathing, pump out adrenaline!” This exacerbates our stress response and makes feelings of anxiety and stress more prevalent. For more on how stress is impacting your life, see this post.
- Insomnia / low quality sleep. If you don’t sleep like a baby, caffeine can be a culprit. Both the time you’re drinking it (I recommend a caffeine cut-off!) and the amount you drink (even if it’s early) can inhibit sleep. See this post for more on how to improve sleep naturally.
The healthiest type of coffee
It is important to get coffee free of mold (studies show that between 25 and 91% of commercially available coffees have trace amounts of aflatoxins, a harmful type of mold!). I prefer to buy organic, to avoid the pesticides and herbicides that are very common in coffee growing. And from a sustainability / humanitarian perspective, the vast majority of coffee that is grown uses poor farming practices that harm the earth, and is farmed by people who are treated poorly and do not earn a living wage. So I do what I can to ensure sustainably and ethically sourced coffee.
That seems like a tall order, but I have two brands of delicious-tasting, mold-free, organic, sustainable, and ethically sourced coffee to offer you!
- Four Sigmatic Defend: 70% of days, I start the morning with the “Defend” ground coffee with probiotics made in my coffeepot (use code LYONS here for 10% off!)
- Bulletproof Breakfast Blend: the other 30% of days, I use Bulletproof Breakfast blend. No real strategy, just depends on what I feel like. This one has a slightly lighter taste, but I like the probiotics of the Defend.
- Four Sigmatic Think Instant Coffee: 100% of days that I want an afternoon cup, I use Four Sigmatic Think instant coffee (use code LYONS for 10% off!). I love the added adaptogens (more on their health benefits here!) and the simplicity of using my electric tea kettle (I use this one) to have it ready in 2 minutes flat!
What to add to your coffee
Most of the research was done on those who drink black coffee, and I suspect that much of the health benefit would decrease if participants added unlimited sugar and cream to their cup o’ joe. If you “need” a sweet flavor, I recommend adding liquid stevia like this. Fun fact: I used to add 6 packets of Splenda to my coffee before I realized its health detriments! That is a CRAZY sweet cup of coffee! I transitioned by using liquid stevia, starting with 20 drops and working my way down to zero! Now I truly enjoy my unsweetened coffee!
If you tolerate dairy (see more here), I don’t have a problem with a small splash of organic cream in your coffee. For most, though, reducing dairy can help us reduce inflammation, and I love Nutpods as a substitute!
The bottom line
Enjoy your coffee, in moderation (and in extreme moderation if you suffer from anxiety or insomnia) but stick to high quality coffee and minimize the add-ins! Here’s to your energized and caffeinated health!
Now it’s your turn … Do you drink coffee, or other caffeine? Are you surprised to hear that it’s healthy (in moderation)?