Is Coffee Bad for You? Health Benefits and Risks of Coffee

Is Coffee Bad for You? Health Benefits and Risks of Coffee

If you’re like most people, it can be challenging to imagine life without coffee! You might find comfort in having a warm cup in your hands while you read the morning news, or maybe you love dashing to your favorite café each day for a cup on the run. Coffee is the third most popular beverage in the US alone, trailing only behind soft-drinks and water. But is coffee unhealthy? What does science say? It turns out coffee is well-studied, and your daily dose may have more benefits than drawbacks.

Micro and Macronutrients in Black Coffee

If you drink coffee because you think it’s nutritious, think again. According to the USDA, one eight-ounce cup of black coffee has one calorie, zero grams of fat, zero grams of carbohydrate, and 0.3 grams of protein – not much nutrition there. As far as micronutrients go, the same cup will give you 116 milligrams of potassium (or 3% of your daily needs), trace amounts of magnesium and sodium, and 95 milligrams of caffeine. So, from a nutritional perspective, is black coffee detrimental to your health? The answer is no; drinking black coffee won’t significantly impact your daily nutritional intake. Changes in the nutritional content of coffee come from the things you add to it, like milk or sugar.

Nutritional Value of Coffee Additives

You’re not alone if you can’t stand coffee solo. To cut the bitter taste, you might add milk, creamers, or sweeteners to your cup of joe, which is perfectly fine; who wants to drink something they don’t enjoy? But it is essential to understand the nutritional impact these additives can have on your java.

How many calories are in a cup of coffee?

Let’s say you prefer your coffee to be half milk and half coffee. Four ounces of coffee mixed with four ounces of 2% milk will give you a total of 55 calories, two grams of fat, five grams of carbohydrate, and 3.5 grams of protein. If you add two teaspoons of sugar, it will bring the total up to 90 calories. While 90 calories aren’t much to crow about, what happens when you’re drinking multiple cups a day? Those calories can quickly add up.

And consider the coffee products you tend to buy when you’re at the café or coffee shop. Are you getting an eight-ounce coffee with a little milk and sweetener, or are you getting an extra-large beverage with creams, syrups, and extra flavorings? If you frequently opt for the latter option, you’re consuming significantly more calories than our little eight-ounce half-milk example.

Health Benefits of Coffee

Java’s a low-calorie beverage, but there are many other scientifically proven health benefits of black coffee. 

  • Coffee and Cholesterol. At one point, researchers thought coffee was bad for your cholesterol. But further research shows why: When you drink unfiltered coffee, your LDL (bad) cholesterol levels rise. When you use paper filters, coffee doesn’t raise your cholesterol to unhealthy levels. 
  • Coffee and DNA Health. Having healthy DNA means your cells are functioning correctly, and you have a lower risk of cancer. An April 2019 study showed coffee might protect your DNA from breakage!
  • Coffee and Liver Disease. If you have hepatitis B or C, alcoholic liver disease, or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, drinking at least two cups of coffee a day may improve your disease outcome. Drinking coffee can improve your liver function and lower the occurrence of fibrosis and cirrhosis.
  • Coffee and Parkinson’s Disease. With caffeine’s primary one, multiple coffee components can lower your risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.
  •  Coffee’s Antioxidant Effects. Besides micronutrients and caffeine, coffee contains several antioxidants that are beneficial to your health. Coffee’s antioxidants include chlorogenic acid and polyphenols that have anti-diabetic, anti-carcinogenic, and anti-inflammatory properties and decrease your risk of developing certain diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

As you can see, there are many health benefits to drinking black coffee. But, there are also risks. 

Health Risks of Coffee

Addiction is a potential and well-known risk for coffee drinkers. Medical professionals consider caffeine a drug because of its addictive nature. Coffee addiction isn’t as concerning as other addictions, but your body can become dependent on caffeine. You may experience withdrawal symptoms, including headaches, fatigue, drowsiness, and irritability if you go for extended periods without your coffee. 

Caffeine can boost your energy levels, but the flip side is you could get insomnia; to prevent this, avoid drinking caffeine within six hours of your bedtime. Sleep plays an essential role in your hormone balance and can negatively impact your metabolism, appetite regulation, and, ultimately, your weight loss efforts.

Caffeine has the potential to interact with your medications. If you’re starting a new medicine or are wondering if your coffee habits inhibit the current medications you’re on, talk with your doctor.

Additionally, caffeine can increase blood pressure. If you already struggle with hypertension, it may be better to drink decaffeinated coffee. Decaf may be a better option for you if you’re pregnant, trying to conceive, or breastfeeding; research indicates caffeine may lead to adverse fetal outcomes.

How Much Coffee You Can Consume a Day

If you’re an adult, try not to drink more than four eight-ounce cups of regular coffee per day. Any more than four cups of coffee, and you’ll approach the danger zone of caffeine’s adverse health effects: around 400 milligrams. However, every person responds differently to different doses. If you experience headaches, sleeplessness, irritability, increased urination, increased heart rate, or palpitations, consider decreasing the amount of coffee you’re drinking or switching to decaf.

Which Coffee Add-ins Are Healthy

Suppose you’re among people who drink their coffee black, good for you. You’ll save yourself from consuming extra calories and other additives that may harm your health. If, however, you prefer to tame coffee’s robust flavor by adding some sweetness or milk, there are some steps you can take to help keep your cup of joe healthier.

Consider using an artificial sweetener instead of sugar in your coffee. Sweeteners such as Sweet’N Low, NutraSweet, Splenda, and Truvia will add little to no calories to your beverage while giving you that extra sweetness you’re craving. Nutrition professionals recommend using artificial sweeteners in small amounts as research is unclear about the impact of large quantities on your health. It is known that using artificial sweeteners can increase your sweetness tolerance and decrease your tolerance for other flavors, such as those found in vegetables. In effect, artificial sweeteners can sharpen your sweet tooth, making you more likely to choose sweeter, high-calorie foods and stay away from ‘gross’-tasting nutrient-dense foods.

As for milk and creamers, if you want to keep calories low, opt for low-fat variants; these include 2% or low-fat dairy and non-dairy milk and creamers. Many of the most popular creamers on the market are full of sugar and artificial ingredients. The best non-dairy coffee creamers tend to be low-calorie and don’t depend on sugars or oils for flavor; consider oat or almond milk-based creamers. And be sure to read labels!

Best time to drink coffee

Powdered creamer is another option for creamier coffee, but these can be calorie-dense because of flavor- and texture-imbibing additives. Healthy coffee creamer powders do exist; look for creamers that don’t have a lot of added sugar.

A better option is homemade coffee creamer. Bulletproof coffee is an excellent recipe for healthy coffee creamer. In this variation, you combine black coffee with grass-fed butter and MCT oil to create a beverage that looks and tastes like a latte. Despite the higher calorie content, bulletproof coffee may be an option while you’re fasting as it doesn’t affect your insulin level. However, it depends on your health goals, since it will break your fast.

Decaf Coffee: Pros and Cons and How it Differs from Regular Coffee

The primary difference between regular and decaf coffee is the caffeine content. Decaffeinated coffee is regular coffee that’s processed to have a significantly lower caffeine level. The process of decaffeination doesn’t typically impact the nutritional content or antioxidant properties of the coffee to a significant degree. Multiple studies show that decaf coffee has the same health benefits as regular coffee, such as a reduced risk for diabetes and improved liver health. There are, however, not many studies on the dangers of decaf coffee on health.

Your Takeaway: How to Drink Coffee to Maximize its Health Benefits

The following tips will help you get the maximum health benefits from your cup of joe:

  • Avoid drinking regular coffee within six hours of bedtime. If you’re particularly sensitive to caffeine, you may want to avoid decaf coffee at bedtime as well since decaf coffee does contain small amounts of caffeine. Beauty sleep is essential to maintaining your good health.
  • Avoid high-calorie additives. Artificial sweeteners can help decrease the number of calories you’d otherwise drink, and there are non-dairy coffee creamers available.
  • Drink filtered coffee to avoid the cholesterol-elevating effects unfiltered coffee can have on your blood.
  • The best way to avoid excess calories or improperly brewed coffee is to make it yourself!

A daily cup of joe has its benefits. It can bring you enjoyment and comfort or impart physical health benefits. Be mindful of what you add to your coffee and how much you consume each day. And pay attention to how you feel when you drink your coffee and speak with your doctor about any concerns you may have.

Author's bio

Grace Engels, RD

Grace Engels, RD

Grace Engels is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist based in the Greater NYC Area. She completed her undergraduate coursework and requirements to sit for the RDN exam (including 1400 hours of supervised practice) at Cornell University. Grace keeps busy with three main jobs: Clinical ...