If there is one question I hear often, it’s “Should I drink coffee?” According to a 2017 Gallup Poll, two thirds of Americans drink at least one cup of coffee every day. This figure has remained steady for 20 years. And, just to set the record straight, let me tell you that I enjoy drinking coffee!
But, for years doctors warned their patients not to drink coffee. In fact, coffee was believed to cause a number of health concerns, including heart disease and cancer. However, it turns out that earlier studies were wrong. (They did not control multiple other factors that lead to heart disease and serious health concerns.)
Now, studies show that coffee has a ton of health benefits, including protection against Parkinson’s disease, type 2 diabetes, and liver disease, including liver cancer. Coffee also appears to improve cognitive function (possibly due to caffeine’s effect of blocking adenosine and thus increasing brain activity) and may decrease your risk for depression.
5 Top Health Reasons to Drink Coffee
- Protects your brain. According to a literature review of studies, coffee can protect your brain against certain neurodegenerative diseases including dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease. Coffee consumption is also shown to slow down the progression of dementia in the elderly.
- Reduces your risk of developing diabetes. One systematic review of studies shows that habitual coffee consumption is associated with a substantially lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Another review showed that each additional cup of coffee is associated with a 7% decrease in risk.
- Lowers your risk of developing certain cancers. Studies show that drinking coffee is associated with a decreased risk of certain cancers, including liver cancer (and cirrhosis of the liver), oral/pharyngeal cancer, and advanced prostate cancer. Other studies show that coffee intake is inversely related to the risk of developing colorectal cancer. Coffee is also associated with decreased estrogen—high levels of which are linked to some cancers.
- Safeguards your heart. Regular coffee drinking has been linked to a lower risk of coronary heart disease in women. Furthermore, people who drink more than two cups a day have a 20% lower risk of stroke compared with those who drink less. And, one study showed that coffee drinkers have 40% less calcium in their arteries compared with non-coffee drinkers.
- May increase fat burning. Coffee contains caffeine. The caffeine in coffee can help to boost your metabolic rate and mobilize fat from your tissues so you burn fat for fuel. Caffeine also improves exercise performance, which can help you burn fat.
6 More Reasons You May Want to Drink Coffee
In addition to the top five health-protective benefits, regular coffee drinking may also:
- Lower the risk of certain types of arthritis in men. One prospective study by the American College of Rheumatology showed that coffee can reduce the risk of developing gout, the most common inflammatory arthritis in men.
- Promote a longer lifespan. Due to the lowered risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other diseases linked to premature death, studies show that coffee drinkers live longer.
- Protect your eyes. A study showed that chlorogenic acid (CLA) found in coffee may prevent retinal damage caused by oxidative stress.
- Make you more coordinated. A study shows that coffee may improve psychomotor coordination. In fact, there is even a term called “pre-coffee coordination” that refers to clumsy behavior before having your cup of coffee.
- Improve your gut health. A study shows that coffee consumption can increase the number of healthy bacteria (Bifidobacterium spp) in your gut.
- Provide necessary antioxidants. Roasted coffee contains a mixture of over 1000 bioactive compounds, with therapeutic antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antifibrotic, antifungal, and anticancer effects.
When to Avoid Coffee
While there are definitely many good reasons to drink coffee, there are also some people who would be better off avoiding it. For example, if you metabolize caffeine slowly, you could end up suffering from side effects that range from annoying to potentially serious, including caffeine-induced wakefulness that can disrupt your sleep quality to an increased risk of myocardial infarction.
While everyone metabolizes caffeine at their own rate, the normal half-life of caffeine is 4-6 hours. Women tend to metabolize caffeine more slowly than men, so even one cup of coffee in the morning could affect your sleep quality later if you are sensitive. Also, people who have the CYP1A2 gene, which makes you metabolize caffeine very slowly, will become very jittery after just one cup. And remember that decaffeinated coffee contains some caffeine. So, if you are sensitive or a slow metabolizer, it’s best to stay away from coffee altogether.
You should also avoid coffee if you have arrhythmia (an irregular heart beat), suffer from anxiety, have trouble sleeping, are pregnant, or are trying to get pregnant or experience urinary frequency since coffee increases the speed at which your kidneys produce urine. In addition, if you suffer from frequent headaches or migraines, you may want to skip the coffee. Also, if you have digestive issues you’ll want to be sure coffee doesn’t cause more problems. Finally, children should really not drink coffee or other caffeinated beverages.
What Type of Coffee Should You Drink?
As with anything else you put in your body, it’s best to drink the highest quality coffee you can afford. Higher quality coffees tend to have lower levels of mycotoxins, pesticide residue, and chemicals such as acrylamide, a toxin that can form naturally from chemical reactions in certain types of foods, including coffee. Darker roast coffees typically have less acrylamide.
Mycotoxins in coffee are formed by mold that is commonly found in coffee beans. And certain processing methods, including the natural process of the leaving the coffee seed intact while drying, can increase mycotoxins. One mycotoxin in coffee is called Aflatoxin B1, and it is a known carcinogen.
In general, coffee that comes from higher elevations, such as Ethiopia, Columbia, Kenya, Guatemala, and Papua New Guinea, have less mold and fewer mycotoxins. And, to put the whole mycotoxin thing in perspective, it’s important to understand that many foods contain mycotoxins. Coffee is definitely on the better end of the spectrum. Other foods, including wheat, peanuts, corn, and even dairy, eggs, meat, and chicken can be more problematic on this front. If you are concerned about mycotoxin exposure or struggling with chronic health issues, you may want to consider drinking coffee that is certified mycotoxin-free such as Purity Coffee or Bulletproof.
Often, drinking organically grown coffee solves many of the concerns people have about consuming coffee. Organic coffee is produced with organic fertilizers, such as coffee pulp, manure, or compost. In addition, organic coffee may have higher levels of antioxidants. And, there are certainly environmental and agricultural benefits to supporting companies that use sustainable methods.
I was introduced to Dean’s Beans a couple years ago. Their coffee is organically grown, fair trade, kosher, and completely sustainable. Even the bags are compostable. I feel great about drinking it because Dean, the founder, has been working to make the world a better place for over 20 years with programs such as the women’s health and loan program in Guatemala and the international development program, Coffee Kids, Inc., the first non-profit development group in the coffee industry. And, the people involved with the growing and packaging make a good living. Of course, it’s delicious.
6 Ways to Make Your Coffee Even Healthier
It goes without saying that even the healthiest foods or ingredients can turn unhealthy depending on how you prepare them. So here are a few ways to keep your cup of java healthy.
- Skip the sugar. Avoid loading your coffee with sugar. If you like a sweeter taste, try adding stevia instead. You can also add healthy fats to your coffee such as MCT oil, coconut oil, and grass-fed butter, which can help to keep your blood sugar stable and stave off sugar cravings.
- Avoid low-fat dairy and non-dairy creamers. If you like a creamier cup of coffee, add full fat dairy from grass-fed cows.
- Make your coffee with filtered water. Coffee is 99 percent water. Whether you like drip coffee, French press, or cold brew, using filtered water will not only make your coffee taste better, but it will reduce the number of bacteria and impurities.
- Use paper filters. According to the American Heart Association, paper filters remove cafestol, a compound that increases LDL cholesterol. So, it’s possible that unfiltered coffee could pose a higher health risk by increasing cholesterol. Paper filters reduce the amounts of cafestol while still allowing you to get the caffeine and beneficial antioxidants.
- Add collagen. Glycine-rich collagen can help reduce inflammation, help repair tissue, and reduce joint pain.
- Try herbal coffee. If you are not a coffee enthusiast, try an herbal coffee such as chicory root, dandelion root, yerba mate, or blends that contain mushrooms, adaptogens such as ashwagandha, and other Ayurvedic herbs.
Do you drink coffee? I’d love to hear how you take yours. Please leave me your comments below.