I hear this all the time: clients come in and they are ready to get healthy, and one of the things they try to give up is often coffee. I promptly tell them that most people don’t need to endure the process of getting off their beloved coffee, because coffee can actually be healthy! Don’t go out and get a large iced sweet coffee beverage with tons of whip cream and call it a health food, though. How you drink your coffee is important, so read on to find out what the latest research says and how to drink coffee in a healthy way.
One of the most exciting research articles came out last month from The British Journal of Nutrition, which looked at 20 studies and showed that a moderate coffee intake was associated with a decreased risk of all cause mortality (i.e. deaths from all causes were lower in those who drank moderate amounts of coffee compared to those who did not). I will drink to that!
An article in the July 2013 issue of European Journal of Epidemiology also showed an inverse relationship to moderate coffee intake and death from all causes, along with cardiovascular disease related deaths. This is very exciting, since heart disease is one of the top causes of death. Stroke and coffee were also looked at recently, and there was a slight decrease in risk of stroke in moderate coffee drinkers (American Journal of Epidemiology, 2011).
Coffee also may help keep the brain healthy, since moderate coffee drinkers have a decreased risk of Alzheimers and Parkinsons Diseases (Geriatric Geront. Int. ,2013). The only cancer that research shows that coffee may help is aggressive prostate cancer since the risk of developing this type of cancer is decreased with coffee intake (Nutr J. 2012)
You do have to be careful, since coffee can cause an increase in anxiety, insomnia, and possibly calcium loss, so it is not for everyone. But if you don’t have problems with these areas and eat a healthy diet, coffee can be a great addition. Coffee, especially unfiltered coffee has been shown to increase cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, but this does not seem to translate to more heart disease (research shows the opposite).
How much should you drink? Most studies agree that the magic amount that is associated with these health benefits is 2-4 cups of coffee a day. More than that also shows a benefit, but the negative effects are more prevalent with higher intake. Pregnant women or women who may become pregnant need to keep it at less than 300 mg caffeine per day. There are some benefits to even 1-2 cups a day, but the research is more limited on that smaller amount.
So, why is coffee so healthy? It seems to be the phytonutrients, not the caffeine since decaf coffee also shows benefits. Coffee has chlorogenic acids, which can decrease inflammation, diabetes, and blood pressure and it can decrease platelets sticking together. Coffee may also improve metabolism of glucose (sugar) and the polyphenols in coffee can decrease blood sugar response and insulin release after a meal (British Journal of Nutrition , 2012). The jury is still out as to why exactly coffee drinkers have fewer deaths, but the ample amounts of healthy compounds, and the fact that people drink it every day has to be one of the factors that contributes to its health benefits.
Coffee is healthiest black or with a little low fat milk, plain soy milk or almond milk. Cinnamon or a little cocoa powder is also a good addition. Avoid flavors, creams, or syrups, which add extra sugar, calories, and fat and will not help, but hurt your risk of mortality, cancer and cardiovascular disease.
I recommend coffee for a healthy beverage that has apparent benefits and is tasty, but be sure you drink it a healthy way!
-Cassie Dimmick, MS, RD, CSSD