You are here

Is Coffee *Really* Bad for You?

Shutterstock

In any major city worldwide, you can't take two steps without passing several cafés. But health-conscious java lovers want to know: Is a regular caffeine habit good for your health, or should you cut back?

Overall, the morning beverage gets superfood status in my book. It's overflowing with antioxidants and potential health benefits. The catch? It's all about drinking the right amount.

Regularly drinking coffee may help you live longer. It may prevent Parkinson's disease, depression, and type 2 diabetes, plus promote a healthy heart and liver. It even comes with performance-enhancing benefits. Coffee has been shown to help push you further during exercise, whether it's cardio or weight training. How does it work? The caffeine makes the amount of effort you're putting in seem lower than usual, so you go harder without even noticing. It also boosts focus and extends the amount of time before you feel fatigued.

Coffee can help lower the risk of stroke and potentially coronary heart disease at 2 to 3 cups a day, but it can also raise unhealthy LDL cholesterol depending on how it's brewed. Choose "American" style that's brewed and filtered instead of using a French press. Filters remove a compound called cafestol that can raise cholesterol levels.

Party animals everywhere rejoiced with the news that coffee may help prevent liver damage. A recent review suggests that drinking 2 extra cups a day reduced the risk of liver cirrhosis (a disease where healthy liver tissue is replaced with scar tissue) by almost half.

Unfortunately, this news doesn't mean you can go on an all-night bender and undo the damage with a cup or two of joe. Those roasted beans aren't magical. Being overweight, not getting enough exercise, and overdoing it on alcohol can't be reversed with extra coffee.

So How Much Caffeine Is Healthy?

The amount of caffeinated coffee you need to drink for health benefits might depend on your genes. You could be a "fast caffeine metabolizer," meaning your body breaks it down quickly. Fast metabolizers may have heart health benefits from drinking between 2 and 4 cups a day. Slow caffeine metabolizers tend to do better with less. How do you know which type you are? See a registered dietitian who offers a nutrigenomics test to find out.

The Mayo Clinic recommends you limit your caffeine to 400mg a day, or a max of 4 cups of coffee. And by a cup, I'm not talking about your oversize mug that's basically a biceps workout to lift or a venti at your favorite cafe. A cup is 8 fluid ounces. If you're pregnant or breastfeeding, limit your caffeine to 200mg or less a day.

Some people are especially caffeine-sensitive and might need to cut down even more. If you feel anxious or have trouble sleeping, it may be worth replacing some of your caffeinated brew with decaf and slowly weaning yourself down.

Another dietitian insider tip: Take a look at what you're putting in your coffee. Do you regularly treat yourself to fancy drinks loaded with sugar and calories? It's time to drink it black or with a splash of almond milk or skim milk to keep it lower in calories. Try swapping out sugar and artificial sweeteners for a dash of cinnamon for even more antioxidant power. Check out my vegan cafe mocha recipe to get the anti-inflammatory benefits of both java and cocoa!

 

Christy Brissette, RD

Christy Brissette is one of North America’s top dietitians and a leading nutrition and food communications expert. She is the President of 80 Twenty Nutrition, a nutrition and food media company and private practice. Her mission? To end food confusion and dieting once and for all.  More →

More from Christy
  • The Healthy Pumpkin Spice Flavored Snacks You've Gotta Try
  • The Surprising Health Benefits of Almonds
  • The Post-Workout Drinks You Should Be Downing