The coffee beverage has been a part of human culture for hundreds of years on most continents. Due to its popularity with everyday people coffee has become one of the most-researched beverages in the world.
These years of research and countless coffee focussed studies have often come to different conclusions so it’s no wonder that the folk wisdom around this beverage is sometimes contradictory. Here, we’ll look at some of the ways coffee can benefit your health.
Coffee and Your Health: a Brief History
Is coffee good for you? This is a question that has been asked countless times over the years. The answers haven’t always been the same, but newer research has helped lay to rest some of the myths surrounding this beverage. For instance, until recently, the World Health Organization had listed coffee as a potential carcinogen, but in light of new evidence and new research into coffee beans and beverages it’s looking like this dietary staple actually has numerous surprising health benefits.
Before we discuss the benefits of this beverage in more detail, it’s important to note that the scientific opinion on the question “is coffee good or bad for you?” has changed quite a few times over the years.
When the findings of decades of research are considered, it looks as though many of coffee’s benefits (as well as its detriments) are marginal. Coffee may have its benefits, but it isn’t a magic pill. Likewise, while it’s also possible that it has negative effects, these are not major either.
What Are Some of Coffee’s Health Benefits?
Perhaps one of the most surprising of the possible health benefits of coffee is that it has been correlated with a reduced risk of death. Specifically, a 2015 study published in Circulation found that those who were moderate coffee drinkers had an 8% to 15% reduced risk of death. For the purposes of the study, “moderate consumption” was defined as three to four cups of coffee per day. The findings reported that there was a greater reduction in risk of death for those who drank more coffee.
While these findings may be good news for those who love to drink coffee (and drink a lot of it), it is important to note that the study did not establish causation. So while this study may at first seem like an easy answer to the question “are coffee beans good for you?”, the fact is that researchers did not determine whether coffee was directly responsible for the reduced risk of death.
However, we can look to the significant body of research on coffee’s health benefits to help offer possible explanations. While “risk of death” is an exceedingly broad category, other studies have found that coffee consumption may reduce your risk of developing several medical conditions, including the following:
• Type 2 diabetes
• Heart attack or stroke
• Parkinson’s disease
• Liver and uterine cancers
Thus, the fact that coffee may reduce your risk of these medical conditions may help explain the “reduced risk of death” found in the Circulation study. Both type 2 diabetes and heart disease are significant issues, so any reduction in the incidence of these diseases may help explain how coffee reduces your risk of death.
Does the Type of Coffee I Drink Matter?
If you are reading about the positive effects of coffee, you may be wondering “is instant coffee good for you?” Similarly, those who prefer decaf or iced coffee may be unsure if their beverage of choice has the same health benefits as regular brewed coffee. This is where we see one of the downsides of the large body of research surrounding coffee: while there are numerous studies into this beverage, they are not all consistent.
For instance, in many studies, researchers do not contrast the health effects of decaf and regular coffee–they instead consider all types to be the same when it comes to health benefits. By contrast, some studies have found that the caffeine in coffee matters when it comes to results, especially with regards to enhanced athletic activity. If you’re wondering “is decaf coffee good for you?”, it may well be, but some research has suggested that coffee must be caffeinated to reduce your risk of developing gallstones.
As for those wondering “is iced coffee good for you?”, iced coffee more than likely has all the health benefits of traditional brewed coffee. Since iced coffee is typically made the same way (it is simply served chilled on ice), it often has similar levels of caffeine and other elements. I guess the only drawback is that the ice may chill sensitive teeth.
How Much Coffee Should I Drink for Maximum Health Benefits?
In the Circulation study, those who drank more coffee were at an even further reduced risk of death than moderate coffee drinkers. If you’re the type of person to drink large amounts of coffee on any given day, you may have taken this as a sign to drink as much as you want (or as much as you possibly can). However, while that particular finding may seem like a green light for unlimited coffee consumption, other research suggests that you can, in fact, have too much of a good thing, and recommends to keep below four cups a day.
Are There Any Downsides to Drinking Coffee?
Of course, as with many dietary elements, certain groups are more at risk when it comes to potential dangers of coffee. Pregnant women are at an especially high risk when it comes to overconsumption. While small amounts of this beverage are likely harmless, drinking large amounts of coffee during pregnancy has been linked to miscarriages, stillbirth, and other complications.
As with any caffeinated beverages, over-consuming coffee may result in increased heart rate and anxiety. These are usually temporary, but they are often unpleasant.
Another possible health consideration, while not caused directly by coffee, is still worth keeping in mind. While coffee by itself has no calories, those who regularly consume it often end up consuming extra calories in the form of cream, sugar, and other additions. Shots of espresso may be calorie-free alone, but when added into a sugary latte complete with syrup and whipped cream, what was initially a healthy beverage quickly turns into a high-calorie drink with all of the negative implications that that implies.
Lastly, one possible detriment of drinking coffee is the development of esophageal cancer. While this sounds alarming, it is important to note that this risk comes from coffee temperature (and not any property of the coffee itself). Specifically, some studies have suggested that consuming coffee (or any beverage) over 149 degrees Fahrenheit may increase the esophageal cancer risk. It is worth clarifying that the relationship described above is very weak and the authors suggest that it may not exist at all.
Do the Benefits Outweigh the Risks?
Currently, it looks as though the answer here is clear: the health benefits of coffee almost certainly outweigh its risks for most members of the population. However, the benefits are not so great that someone who dislikes coffee should feel pressured to develop a coffee habit.
While more research is needed to determine whether particular health benefits come from the caffeine in coffee beans, from some other element, or from a combination of them, it is clear that this centuries-old beverage can do more positive things for your health than simply waking you up in the morning. Provided you consume coffee in moderation (and without too much cream and sugar), each cup may well bring you toward better health.