A turn to wellness has many of us reevaluating how our habits contribute to our health and happiness. If you’re a regular coffee drinker, you might have started to wonder if and how your morning habit is really affecting you.
When you drink coffee every morning, you may be extending your life; improving your mood; increasing your alertness and focus; getting vitamins; warding off depression, type 2 diabetes, and dementia; helping your liver; and lowering your risks for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, and some cancers.
This article looks at your regular morning coffee habit’s health effects and the potential drawbacks of too much caffeine to help you maximize your enjoyment of your morning brew with a clean conscience.
You Wake Up and Focus
While your unique rituals make coffee special to you – whether it’s alone time in the morning, socializing with colleagues, or marking the seasons with special coffees, like peppermint mocha lattes in winter and iced brews in summer – Americans are serious coffee drinkers. 62% of us drink about 3 cups (24 ounces) of coffee a day, and 7 in 10 of us partake in coffee weekly.
If you feel like your morning coffee clears your head and helps you concentrate, you may be right. Caffeine, the primary active compound in coffee, is a powerful drug that stimulates neurotransmitters in your brain and blocks adenosine (which makes you tired), keeping you alert and focused. Like many stimulants, it’s also addictive; and blessedly, it’s also mostly healthy.
According to Michael Pollan, author of the audiobook Caffeine, habitual coffee drinkers develop a caffeine addiction. Once we are caffeine dependent, the lift we get from our first-morning cup comes partly from caffeine’s stimulant effect but primarily is relief from caffeine withdrawal after having gone about 10 hours without it.
Pollan goes on to say that there is little harm in being caffeine-dependent as long as it doesn’t negatively impact your life, which is good news considering all the other health benefits coffee has to offer.
You May Live Longer
Coffee is so commonly consumed that it is our primary dietary source of antioxidants for most of us. Antioxidants help prevent the development of chronic illnesses like cancer and diabetes by reducing oxidative stress in our bodies.
Several studies show that drinking up to 6 cups of coffee daily lowers our risk of death from all causes. Others have quantified the benefit of coffee in reducing our chances of developing specific conditions.
Both light and dark roast deliver antioxidants, but, cup for cup, light roast coffee from Arabica beans delivers the most. Decaf drinkers benefit from coffee’s antioxidants as much as their caffeinated counterparts, which makes enjoying your coffee each morning a healthy option even for those who need to reduce caffeine.
You Ward Off Health Conditions
Your morning coffee has a long list of health benefits for helping reduce your risk of diseases and health conditions. Drinking coffee helps lower your risk of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Three cups a day also helps reduce the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, particularly for men.
Four to six cups of coffee may help you regulate your blood sugar and reduce the risk of developing Type-2 diabetes. However, scientists are still unraveling potential effects of caffeine on insulin, so you may want to switch to decaf if you already have diabetes or discuss your coffee intake with your doctor.
One to two cups of coffee daily may be enough to prevent stroke and reduce your risk of developing kidney disease. Up to four cups of your morning fix can help reduce mortality from chronic liver disease and lower your liver and colorectal cancer risk.
Coffee also has mental health benefits. Researchers have found that two to four daily cups are linked to a lower risk of depression in men and women and lower suicide risk in women. Moderation and balance are key; coffee cannot cure depression, and more than four cups may increase depression risk.
You Get Vitamins
Given that about 99 percent of coffee is water, you may not think of it as helping you meet your nutritional needs. Still, each 8-ounce cup of coffee you drink delivers essential vitamins and minerals, including B1, B2, B3, and B5 vitamins, as well as Manganese, Potassium, Folate, and Phosphorous.
You Support Your Health Goals
Caffeine helps your body burn fat for fuel during exercise and improves your athletic performance. To get a performance boost, drink your coffee about an hour before exercise, keeping your caffeine intake between 3 to 13 mg per kilogram of body weight. Non-habitual drinkers will get the biggest boost from caffeine, but even regular coffee drinkers will see some effect.
While it may not help you lose weight, your morning cup may help you reach your health goals by boosting your metabolism, which can help you stave off weight gain.
You Can Improve Your Memory
Coffee doesn’t just improve your cognitive abilities; researchers have found that it can improve your long-term memory, particularly in middle age. Just 200mg of caffeine – roughly 2 cups of coffee a day – maximizes this benefit, and more caffeine does not provide additional benefits.
Is There a Downside?
Your morning coffee serves up a host of short and long-term benefits – but here’s the rub. The research is based on black coffee, and many of us do not drink our coffee black.
Drinking Black Coffee
Most of us add milk, cream, or sugar to our coffee, and sometimes a lot of it. However, we know that too much added sugar and high-fat foods and beverages could negatively affect health. There is also conflicting evidence about whether adding milk to any antioxidant-rich food or drink, like coffee, inhibits some of the antioxidant benefits.
Try these tips to learn to enjoy black coffee:
- Clean your coffee making apparatus
- Try a different brew method
- Try different coffee beans and different roast styles
- Grind your own coffee right before brewing it
- Slowly reduce the cream and sugar
While caffeine tolerance is individual, in excess, it can cause anxiety and gastric upset, heart rate interference, and make it hard to fall asleep.
Once you become caffeine dependent, giving it up will likely induce withdrawal symptoms. These can include a loss of focus, headaches, irritability, tiredness, and loss of confidence. Most of these symptoms worsen when you quit caffeine cold turkey and are easier to manage when you gradually decrease caffeine intake.
The recommended maximum daily caffeine intake for adults without a limiting medical condition (such as caffeine intolerance, ulcers, and pregnancy) is up to 400 mg per day from all sources, including other caffeine-containing food and drinks, such as tea, sodas, energy beverages and bars, and chocolate. There is about 95 mg of caffeine in 8 ounces of coffee and about 2 mg per cup of decaf.
If you need to limit your caffeine intake, you could switch some or all of your daily coffee to decaf, blend up “half-cafs,” using half regular and half decaffeinated beans, or slowly reduce the size of each coffee serving.
Your daily morning coffee is a healthy ritual that can boost your mood, improve your productivity, and confer an array of health benefits, particularly if you drink it black. You want to be careful that the amount of coffee you drink does not impact your sleep and stress levels, and if you prefer your brew with cream and sugar, moderation is key.
- Cleveland Clinic: Caffeine: How to Hack It and How to Quit It
- Healthline: Coffee and Longevity
- Healthline: Coffee – Good or Bad?
- Healthline: Does Milk Block Antioxidants in Foods and Beverages?
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: 9 Reasons Why (the Right Amount of) Coffee Is Good for You
- Home Grounds: How to Drink and Enjoy Black Coffee
- Hub: Caffeine has positive effect on memory, Johns Hopkins researchers say
- Journal of Medicinal Food: Cellular Antioxidant and Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Coffee Extracts with Different Roasting Levels
- Mayo Clinic: Antioxidants
- Mayo Clinic: Does Caffeine Help with Weight Loss
- Medical News Today: Caffeine content of different types of coffee
- Medical News Today: How does coffee affect diabetes?
- National Coffee Association: NCA releases Atlas of American Coffee
- National Coffee Association: Drinking Coffee Can Reduce Depression Risk by up to One Third
- National Library of Medicine: Age Modulates the Association of Caffeine Intake With Cognition and With Gray Matter in Elderly Diabetics
- NPR: Michael Pollan Explains Caffeine Cravings (And Why You Don’t Have To Quit)
- Quick and Dirty Tips: is Caffeine Bad for You?
- Science Direct: Systematic review of the potential adverse effects of caffeine consumption in healthy adults, pregnant women, adolescents, and children
- Scientific American: Can Avoiding Caffeine Boost Your Athletic Performance?
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Spilling the Beans: How Much Caffeine is Too Much?
- World Journal of Hepatology: Coffee: The Magical Bean for Liver Disease
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