Is Coffee Good for You? The Truth About That Cup of Joe


If you have a sign in your office that reads “No Coffee, No Workee,” you’re not alone in your feelings. In fact, according to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, 54 percent of Americans over the age of 18 drink coffee every day. On average, Americans drink 3.1 cups per day. We also spend a whopping $40 billion annually on this sacred brew. With these stats in mind, you may be wondering, is coffee good for you?

From lowering your risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease to brightening your mood and helping you stay productive, the health perks of java continue to mount. Just recently, Business Insider reported drinking more coffee could possibly decrease liver damage associated with overindulgence in food and alcohol.

What are the real pros of coffee? And are there any cons? While research is far from finished on the health benefits (and drawbacks) of coffee, here’s what we do know:

woman holding coffee cup10 Reasons Why Coffee Is Good for You

1. Tackling the world. Moderate coffee consumption (no more than six cups a day) can help you stay focused and boost your mental alertness. The caffeine in coffee can also increase adrenaline levels in your blood. Adrenaline, or your body’s “fight or flight” hormone, can help you conquer physical exertion as well.

2. Protecting against diabetes. Coffee may help you stave off type 2 diabetes. Researchers noted that drinking coffee raises the plasma levels of a hormone-binding globulin that influences testosterone and estrogen (the body’s sex hormones). Testosterone and estrogen play a role in the development of type 2 diabetes.

3. Warding off Parkinson’s. Authors of a U.S. study revealed a link between coffee consumption and Parkinson’s disease risk. They concluded that “higher coffee and caffeine intake is associated with a significantly lower incidence of Parkinson’s disease.” According to another study published in Neurology, coffee may also help control movement in people who already have Parkinson’s disease.

4. Managing your waistline. Because coffee contains magnesium and potassium, which helps our bodies use insulin and regulate blood sugar levels, it can aid in reducing cravings for sugary treats and snacks.

5. Heartening news for hearts. Consuming a moderate amount of coffee could lower the risk of clogged arteries that can lead to a heart attack, according to recent research. The study of healthy young adults in Korea uncovered that compared with those who didn’t drink coffee, those who consumed three to five cups of java per day had a lower risk of having calcium deposits in their coronary arteries, an indicator of heart disease. A study conducted by researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard School of Public Health also found that drinking coffee in moderation (the equivalent of two 8-ounce American servings per day) offers protection against heart failure.

6. Lowering liver cirrhosis. As mentioned above, research has suggested that drinking coffee is tied to a lower death risk from cirrhosis of the liver. Published in the journal Hepatology, researchers noted drinking two or more cups of joe daily can decrease the risk of death from liver cirrhosis by 66 percent. (Drinking decaf may also lower liver enzyme levels, so these benefits aren’t linked to caffeine content either.)

7. Brightening your outlook. Caffeine stimulates our central nervous system, thereby boosting production of neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline (all of which can elevate your mood). One study, led by Harvard School of Public Health and published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, also showed that among women, drinking coffee may reduce the risk of depression. The risk of depression was lowered 20 percent among women who drank four or more cups of caffeinated coffee compared with those who drank little or none.

8. Combating certain cancers. Coffee may reduce the risk of developing prostate cancer in men and uterine cancer in women. Caffeine may also aid in preventing developing basal cell carcinoma, the most common form of skin cancer, as well as several other types of cancer.

9. Preventing premature death. The American Heart Association’s journal Circulation brought together data from a number of studies investigating coffee’s potential health effects over a solid length of time. The upshot? The research found that people who drank fewer than five cups of coffee per day experienced a lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease, neurological diseases, type 2 diabetes and suicide. As reported by the lead author, “Bioactive compounds in coffee reduce insulin and systematic inflammation. They might be responsible for the inverse association between coffee and mortality.”

10. Beating gallstone disease. Coffee intake has been associated with a lower risk of symptomatic gallstone disease and gallbladder disease, according to studies by Harvard School of Public Health, and Social and Scientific Systems Inc. (Note: Decaf coffee was not linked with a decreased risk.)

cup of coffee and coffee beansA Look at What’s in Your Coffee Cup

The average 8-ounce cup of brewed coffee contains:

  • Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin): 11 percent of your recommended daily allowance (RDA)
  • Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid): 6 percent of your RDA
  • Vitamin B1 (Thiamin): 2 percent of your RDA
  • Vitamin B3 (Niacin): 2 percent of your RDA
  • Folate: 1 percent of your RDA
  • Manganese: 3 percent of your RDA
  • Potassium: 3 percent of your RDA
  • Magnesium: 2 percent of your RDA
  • Phosphorus: 1 percent of your RDA

Where does coffee truly shine? The antioxidant department. Americans get more antioxidants from coffee than from any other food or beverage. With just two calories per 8-ounce cup (hold the cream and sugar) and zero fat, coffee can be a guilt-free way to boost your health when consumed in moderation.

cup of coffee white backgroundQuick Caffeine Comparison

  • One 18-ounce “Grande” coffee at Starbucks contains 330 milligrams of caffeine
  • One 8-ounce generic brewed cup of joe contains 108 milligrams of caffeine
  • One 8.5-ounce can of Red Bull contains 76 milligrams of caffeine
  • One 12-ounce can of Diet Coke contains 47 milligrams of caffeine
  • One 8-ounce cup of tea contains 47 milligrams of caffeine

(Source: Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.)

coffee splashing on tableSo Is Coffee Ever Bad For You?

Time and again, research has supported the pluses of “black gold.” There is, however, still some healthy debate to consider regarding one of America’s most beloved beverages.

For example, some scientists have found that two or more cups of coffee per day could increase the risk of heart disease in people with a specific (and common) genetic mutation that slows the breakdown of caffeine in the body. In short, your individual genetics may play a large role in determining whether your coffee fix is good or bad for you.

If you’re somebody who feels nervous (or has anxiety or an anxiety disorder), suffers from insomnia and/or is jittery after one cup, you should steer clear of caffeinated coffee.

Other potential drawbacks and precautions to bear in mind include:

Pregnancy. A 2010 University of Leeds study showed that greater caffeine intake may be associated with increases in late miscarriage and stillbirth. With this said, the National Health Service (NHS) has noted that enjoying coffee is about quantity and can be perfectly safe during pregnancy. If you’re expecting, the NHS recommends a limit of 200 milligrams per day (about two mugs of instant coffee).

High cholesterol. Coffee beans contain two ingredients that appear to raise low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol levels. Filtering coffee traps two key ingredients (cafestol and kahweol) that may have cholesterol-boosting properties. These ingredients, however, are found in espresso, turkish coffee, french press and scandinavian-style “cooked coffee.” If you have high cholesterol or are concerned about your cholesterol levels, you don’t have to dump your coffee altogether, but you may want to save the french press for special occasions or cut back on drinking that type of brew.

Sleep. Because caffeine is a stimulant, coffee consumption can disrupt your z’s. If you’re having trouble sleeping, skip your coffee habit (especially after 2 p.m.).

Added calories. Drinking your coffee black may not be your preference, but it’s much better for your waistline. You likely know that drinking soda and blended coffee drinks won’t help you shed pounds, but did you know that adding a touch of cream and sugar to your regular coffee could put you at 200-plus calories per serving (not to mention the added fat)?

Kids. Coffee may not stunt a child’s growth as previously believed, but there are a variety of other side effects of coffee that have been proven to negatively impact children and teenagers. These include insomnia, cavities, decreased appetite, bone loss and hyperactivity.

cup of cappuccinoThe Verdict on Coffee Consumption

If you’re pregnant, have high cholesterol, are caffeine sensitive or a child, you might want to forgo coffee drinking. For all the rest of you coffee lovers, drinking reasonable amounts (no more than five cups per day) may aid in disease prevention, boost your mind, body and mood, and even help you lose weight.