Is Coffee Drinking Beneficial?
You Bet Your Bottom Bean It Is!
Coffee is still one of the most consumed drinks in the world today, second only to water in popularity, coffee is the grandfather of all drinks, and how most of us start the day.
Some Coffee Stats:
A World Of Coffee Confusion.
Even with coffee’s popularity, there is so much confusion around coffee consumption today, that we decided to do a deeper dive, and provide more insight into the drink that so many of us depend on (and love) daily.
There have literally been thousands of studies on coffee drinking, and its effects on the body. As a result, there have been few topics that create as much confusion and debate.
Then this past month, California made it mandatory to label coffee products with cancer warnings! This act creates even more confusion around this millennia-old drink.
First, the decision in California is not being reported correctly. This decision isn’t about coffee itself, but a chemical called acrylamide that’s made in very small amounts when the beans are roasted.
Government agencies call it a probable or likely carcinogen, based on animal research, and a group sued to require coffee sellers to warn of that under a California law passed by voters in 1986.
This though is considered by researchers as pseudo-science gone wrong, as the benefits of drinking coffee tend to far outweigh the risk of microdoses of acrylamide.
Meta Studies & Data Show A Different Story.
The best way to look at the benefits or risks of coffee by using what’s called a ‘meta-study analysis’, which is simply a very scientific peer review of all of the major coffee studies done over a period of time.
A recent large-scale meta-analysis of 127 ‘high-quality’ coffee studies revealed that drinking two to four 8-ounce cups of coffee each day results in significant health benefits. The consensus of these studies is that coffee consumption:
- Reduces your risk of cancer up to 20 percent.
- Reduces your risk of Type 2 diabetes by 30 percent.
- Reduces your risk of Parkinson’s disease by 30 percent.
- Reduces your risk of heart disease by 5 percent.
That alone is enough to qualify coffee as a superfood, but there’s more to it than that.
Almost all of the 127 studies tracked coffee-drinkers versus non-coffee-drinkers without regard for HOW the coffee-drinkers take their coffee.
In other words, some percentage – probably a pretty large percentage – of the coffee-drinkers in those studies drink coffee with sugar, creamer, and artificial flavorings. Even those people showed benefit from coffee!
As a result, the potential reduction in heart disease could be much, much larger than 5 percent.
How to reap the true benefits of coffee.
1. How much to drink.
Based on the meta-study drinking coffee 2 – 4 times per day showed the most benefit. That can be caffeinated OR decaffeinated.
The amount of caffeine in a cup of coffee can range from 50 to over 400 mg. Many sources recommend 400 mg of caffeine per day as the safe upper limit for healthy adults.
A groundbreaking study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in the year 2012, looking at 402,260 individuals between 50 and 71 years of age.
This graph shows the relationship between coffee consumption and the risk of dying during the 12–13 year study period:
The Reduction In Death Rates Based On Coffee Consumption.
Based on this study and the meta-analysis the sweet spot is between 3 and 4 cups a day of either caffeinated or decaffeinated coffee
2. When To Drink Your Coffee?
There is also a sweet spot with the timing of when to drink coffee, this is more so with caffeinated versus decaffeinated coffee.
Neuroscience Ph.D. student Steven Miller explains that in the mornings (between the hours of 8am and 9am) our cortisol levels are at their highest. Cortisol isn’t just the “stress hormone”—it’s also correlated with our alertness levels.
So if we drink caffeinated coffee at the same time our alertness is already at its peak, we’re wasting the potential alertness boost we get from the caffeine:
Consuming caffeinated coffee when cortisol levels are high creates two problems. 1. is that caffeine interferes with the body’s production of cortisol, a hormone that’s released in response to stress and low blood glucose. The body ends up producing less cortisol, and relying more on caffeine to compensate.
2. The other effect of drinking caffeinated coffee in the morning is well-known to habitual morning drinkers: It increases the person’s tolerance to caffeine because it replaces the natural cortisol-induced boost instead of adding to it.
Bear in mind that cortisol levels are high at three times of the day, not just early in the morning, according to a 2009 study.
So the best times to drink caffeinated coffee — or caffeine in general — is between 10 a.m. and noon, and between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. If you drink decaf, you do not have to as closely follow these guidelines.
Early morning caffeinated coffee drinkers should consider adjusting their schedule to better optimize their caffeine intake. As pleasant as a cup o’ joe may be first thing in the morning, turns out it’s quite ineffective.
3. How To Drink Your Java For Best Heath Results
3 – 4 cups of coffee a day with added sugar and artificial creamers can have a lot of negative impacts, so here is a few notes for how you can optimize your coffee intake and still enjoy the taste while not destroying the benefits and negatively impacting your body.
Take sugar, for instance. According to the American Heart Association, the average woman should consume no more than 6 teaspoons of sugar a day, while the average man, being larger, should limit himself to 9 teaspoons a day.
To get the most benefit from coffee, you should be drinking from two to four 8-ounce cups a day. Adding two teaspoons of sugar to each cup (a not uncommon amount) thus approaches the maximum amount of sugar that most people should consume.
As well, since many packaged foods contain sugar, those teaspoons are likely to push just about anybody into the “bad for your heart” range and increase one’s likelihood of contracting diabetes.
Non-dairy creamer is even worse. Not only do many brands contain lots of sugar, but some contain partially-hydrogenated oils and trans fats, both of which are deadly dangerous. Artificial flavoring–common in prepackaged ground coffees (e.g. French Vanilla) – is also problematic.
To make matters worse, some barista-prepared coffee drinks are spectacularly sugared. For example, a Starbucks Venti White Chocolate Mocha With Whipped Cream contains about 18 teaspoons of sugar–the same as 2.5 cans of sugared Coke!
Here is a list of the worst coffee drinks on the market. Even with the health benefits of coffee, there is simply to much to overcome here to be considered even remotely healthy.
The good news is there are some great alternatives for both sugar and creamers that can make your coffee taste as great and not impact the benefits coffee can provide.
Best All Natural Sugar Substitutes:
Naturally, we put raw honey first, raw honey has so many wonderful health benefits. It’s a natural antibacterial, boosts the immune system, promotes digestive health, and is high in antioxidants. Of course, be sure to use it in moderation — it is still very high in sugar but the body typically processes it in different ways than standard table sugar.
Stevia is probably one of the most well-known and popular natural sweeteners. The sweet leaves have been used by humans for hundreds of years and by diabetic patients in Asia for decades.
While it is not a significant source of nutrition, the great thing about stevia is that it will not affect blood sugar levels at all, making it a great all-natural sugar alternative for diabetics. It is also calorie-free.
Brands: Truvia, PureVia, SweetLeaf, OnlySweet, Stevia in the Raw
Where You’ll Find It: Tabletop sweeteners (also sold in blends with sugar, such as PureVia or Born Sweet Zing, at 8 to 10 calories per teaspoon).
Pure Maple Syrup
Nope, not the kind with the bottle shaped like a jolly old woman. That’s not real maple syrup — check the ingredient list an you’ll see it’s mostly high fructose corn syrup with some artificial colorings, flavors, and sweeteners.
Pure maple syrup, on the other hand, contains only evaporated maple tree sap. It is high in manganese and zinc: 100 grams of syrup provides 22% and 3.7% of their RDVs respectively. Manganese is necessary for several enzymes that are needed for energy production and antioxidant defenses. Zinc is essential for optimal immune system function. Deficiencies of either may lower white blood cell counts and reduce immune system responses.
Monk fruit extract
(Monk Fruit in the Raw and others). Also known as luo han guo and derived from an Asian fruit, this sugar substitute comes from ingredients that originate in nature, but it is still processed to some degree and contains no actual fruit. Rather, its intense sweetness (about 150 to 200 times sweeter than sugar) is due to mogroside compounds extracted from the fruit.
Monk fruit extract is heat-stable, so it can be used in cooking and baking. At least one manufacturer recommends substituting half the sugar in a recipe with the sweetening equivalence of the monk fruit sweetener. It’s considered GRAS (generally recognized as safe) by the FDA.
Brands: Monk Fruit in the Raw, Purefruit
Where You’ll Find It: Monk Fruit in the Raw is available as a packaged sweetener; monk fruit extract can be found in a few foods and beverages, like no-sugar-added fruit cups, sparkling fruit beverages, and some cereals.
Sugar alcohols are calorie-free carbohydrates that are chemically /similar to those found naturally in some fruits and are made from plants or trees.
Erythritol measures similarly to sugar and has a real-sugar texture. And it’s the least likely of all the sugar alcohols to cause stomach upset. Xylitol can have—ahem—laxative effects at higher doses, like most sugar alcohols.
Artificial Sweeteners (Use With More Caution):
Some 200 times sweeter than sugar, a little aspartame goes a long way. It’s one of the most widely studied sweeteners, but CSPI advises steering clear—citing data that hint at a slightly increased cancer risk in men, and rat studies linking it to leukemia and lymphoma. (The FDA disagrees.)
Names: NutraSweet, Equal, SugarTwin
Where You’ll Find It: America’s most common artificial sweetener, found in drinks, tabletop sweeteners, yogurt, candy, desserts, gum and medicines.
Saccharin has a pronounced bitter aftertaste some hate and others crave. It was threatened with a ban in the 1970s when a few studies linked it to bladder cancer in rats. The National Institutes of Health later deemed the studies irrelevant because rats’ cancer-development mechanism is different from humans.’ Still, CSPI urges avoidance, claiming cancer risk can’t be fully ruled out.
Names: Sweet’N Low, Sugar Twin, Necta Sweet, Equal Saccharin
Where You’ll Find It: Tabletop sweeteners, “diet” or “light” foods like jams or candies, and medicines. Also used in fountain versions of diet sodas (to improve the stability of sweetness).
Derived from sugar, sucralose has a “cleaner” sugar taste, according to fans. And it’s calorie-free because our bodies don’t break it down.
While 100-plus studies confirm sucralose’s safety, there are some studies that show it impacts stomach bacteria poorly and can also increase insulin and blood sugar levels in the body.
Names: Splenda, Equal Sucralose
Where You’ll Find It: Tabletop sweeteners and many foods and beverages— including salad dressings, microwave kettle corn, pickles, and English muffins.
Coffee Creamer Substitutes:
Coconuts are rich in iron and calcium and lactose-free and their milk provides the same creaminess that commercial coffee creams do without all the added artificial ingredients.
Coconut milk is super simple to make yourself (two ingredients, people!) or can be bought at the store. Whether you go for the canned kind (thicker and higher in calories) or a carton from the refrigerated section (imagine the thickness of 1% milk), go for the product with the least amount of added ingredients. Ideally, you want just water and coconut.
Almond milk is a delicious, nutty alternative to commercial coffee creamers. One cup of almond milk contains 100 percent of your B-12 requirements and 20 percent of your vitamin A and D recommendations.
You might be amazed at how easy and cost efficient it is to make homemade almond milk (again, two ingredients!), but you can buy it in the dairy aisle as well. Try vanilla or dark chocolate flavored for extra taste, but watch out for added sugars in the flavored milks.
Real Milk and Honey:
Combining skim, 1% or 2% milk with honey will give your morning mug a sweet kick while still allowing you to know exactly what you’re drinking.
Natural sweeteners like honey or agave also maintain your blood sugar levels because they are both very low on the glycemic index. Need a little more something? Add cinnamon to your coffee for a nice flavor boost that also helps lower blood sugar.
The Bottom Line
With all of the studies and meta-study analysis on coffee over the past 2 decades, there is a growing belief that it is finally a truly healthy option that has many benefits when consumed the right way, and up to 3 – 4 times per day. So get your coffee on!