Coffee Pros and Cons

To all coffee drinkers out there, can your coffee habit be helping or hurting your overall health?

Coffee-related health benefits is an ongoing debate. As registered dietitians, we look at each adult’s individual health goals and for many balancing caffeine intakes with your health goals need finetuning.

Love it or hate it, the truth is evident: We drink a lot of coffee. Europe has the highest coffee consumption in the world, with the average European drinking roughly 13 pounds per year. In the United States, 54 percent of adults drink coffee daily. Coffee has been a staple that dates to the 11th century. First cultivated in Africa and is now available worldwide. In fact, the increasing consumption of coffee in any of its forms (hot, cold or as part of a multi-ingredient beverage) makes a discussion about health benefits even more timely.

There was a time when doctors warned against too much coffee consumption to prevent caffeine addictive, stomach ulcers and cancer. More extensive medical research shows that coffee alone is not the cause but contributed to health risks when coffee is the primary drink of choice in a poor diet or if smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol if a factor.

The coffee bean is the seed of the fruit from the coffee tree. The pit of this fruit resembles a bean. The nutritional benefits of this plant are phytochemicals (beneficial compounds), such as flavonoids which may prevent inflammation, tumor growth, and aid the body’s immune function. New research reports coffee may improve memory and cognitive function, as well as reduce the risk of diabetes and slow the progression of liver disease. The disease-fighting antioxidants in coffee may also improve mood and headaches. Smaller studies are evaluating if the risk of certain cancers reduces by drinking coffee or if Parkinson’s disease symptoms improve with coffee.

In many cases, it’s unclear how much coffee at what concentration needs to be ingested to benefit our health.

Too Much Coffee

While coffee consumption does present some health benefits, there are also precautions from drinking a beverage with too much caffeine. Most healthy adults can safely consume up to 400mg of caffeine a day – roughly four cups of coffee. Overconsumption of caffeine can result in migraine headaches, insomnia, increased heart rate, muscle tremors, restlessness, frequent urination, irritability, or nervousness. If used to combat sleep deprivation, caffeine can significantly alter your natural sleep cycle.

Drinking coffee and other caffeinated drinks while pregnant is now advised. Coffee is both a stimulant and diuretic. The caffeine in coffee increases both blood pressure and heart rate which is not beneficial to the mother or baby during pregnancy.  What you eat and drink during pregnancy and while breastfeeding impacts your growing baby. Caffeine can also increase urination which can lead to dehydration. Expectant mothers need to be well hydrated. Developing babies also lack a matured metabolism and may not be able to adequately metabolize the caffeine that comes with your consumption of coffee.

Coffee in Other Forms

Coffee may have inherent benefits, but how you prepare your beverage is crucial. Coffee drinks with large amounts of sugar, syrups or cream contain more calories, added sugar, and fat. This combination could be unhealthy and reverse potential health benefits. For example, one 8-ounce black coffee has only one calorie and no fat or sugar. An 8-ounce mocha (coffee and chocolate) has approximately 200 calories, 18 grams of sugar and 9 grams of fat. A coffee Frappuccino (depending on the size) has at least 300 calories, 50 grams of sugar and 14 grams of fat. These higher-calorie coffees are more like desserts.

There is no one size fits all solution for coffee drinkers. Some adults find having a final cup of coffee after lunch disrupts nighttime sleep. Individual tolerance for caffeine differs. Talk to your doctor and a nutritionist to understand how coffee may help or hinder your health goals.

To learn more about how your coffee or caffeine intake may impact your health, talk to our St Vincent’s clinical nutritionists. For a consultation, call 904-602-1264.