Q: I keep seeing new headlines about how coffee is actually good for you, and then experts talking about how to kick your coffee habit. Is coffee healthy?!
A: I’m not sure why coffee is such a polarizing nutrition topic, but depending on what you read, your morning java is either quickly killing you or making you immortal. So, “Is coffee healthy?” is a really good question.
The short answer is “yes!” When you look at the body of research that’s been amassed over the last several decades, most scientific signs point to a basic fact: Drinking a couple of cups of coffee a day doesn’t come with major health risks and may even fight inflammation and protect against chronic disease.
Of course, all things come with caveats. Here’s the deeper truth, explained.
Is Coffee Healthy? The Research
For a long time, research showed drinking coffee was associated with a higher risk of conditions like heart disease. Later, scientists identified a problem with many of the studies: they didn’t control for other behaviors. Coffee drinkers, it turns out, are also more likely to smoke, drink, and be inactive, all behaviors that raise the risk of many chronic diseases.
More recent research has shown the opposite. Drinking coffee is now associated with a lower risk of diabetes, stroke, and cognitive issues like depression. One reason may be that coffee is rich in powerful antioxidants, and researchers now think it’s particularly good at reducing inflammation. One recent study showed older people who consumed more caffeine showed much lower levels of inflammation than those who didn’t. Another recent large study of over 200,000 people found coffee drinkers may live longer.
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Bonus benefit: Coffee can also increase exercise endurance when you drink it before a workout, thanks to the ergogenic effects of caffeine.
How to Drink Coffee as Part of Healthy Lifestyle
With all of that evidence, you may feel like you’ve finally got a reason to chug Frappucinos. Not so fast. There are a few things to consider before sipping cold brew like it’s going out of style.
1. Is your coffee habit masking other bad habits?
If you’re working 80 hours a week, getting three hours of sleep a night, and have no energy because you’re living on carb-heavy takeout, drinking coffee non-stop during the day is a problem. It’s not the coffee; it’s the fact that you’re using the coffee as a crutch. Craving a steaming hot cup or two is fine, being totally dependent on coffee to function isn’t.
2. Are you drinking too much?
It’s not water, so if you’re going overboard, it’s going to mess with your digestion and potentially your sleep, which could have major consequences. Research shows drinking up to four eight-ounce cups per day is okay—that likely equals two cups, depending on the size you’re ordering. And it can stay in your system for a very long time, so if you’re having issues getting to sleep, stick to drinking coffee in the AM.
3. Make sure you’re drinking the right kind
Coffee is one of the most chemically treated foods in the world (global demand is high, so methods of growing it often are chemical fertilizer-pesticide-herbicide intensive). This is bad for you (since pesticide residues can end up in your cup) and really bad for the planet. High demand and the fact that it’s generally grown in poorer countries also means labor practices are a major issue. Buy organic and fair-trade if and when you can.
4. And think about what you put in it
Take an antioxidant-rich cup of coffee and pour in artificial creamers and sugar, and it’s ruined. Drink coffee black or with minimal organic milk or healthy plant-based milk alternatives; try to eliminate or at least minimize sugar. Bonus: try one of these alternative coffee add-ins to shake up your habit.