Is coffee good for you or bad for you? The on-going debate is about as hot as your morning cup of Joe.
In this article, we’ll help you answer that question for yourself by weighing coffee’s pros and cons. You'll also learn how to maximize the benefits while minimizing the downsides.
And since 80 percent of the world drinks coffee, let’s start with all of the reasons to love it.
The Health Benefits of Coffee
How would you feel if you found out that coffee is much more than just a warm, delicious beverage?
What if it’s also one of the healthiest parts of your diet?
In case you need another reason to love your morning routine, we have some good news:
Thousands of studies show an overwhelmingly positive connection between coffee consumption and improved health.
As you’re about to learn, you can drink your brew and enjoy good health, too.
But before we get into the research, it’s helpful to differentiate between the bean and the caffeine.
Assessing the caffeine separate from coffee’s other nutrients can help us make informed choices about how to get the most out of our morning cup.
The Bean vs. the Caffeine
Fill in the blank: “Coffee is the number one source of ______ in the western diet.”
If you said “caffeine,” you’re not wrong, but you’re also not entirely right.
The answer? Coffee is the number one source of antioxidants in most Americans’ diets. 
That’s right. Most people get more free-radical-fighters from coffee than from vegetables and fruit combined. Does that mean coffee has more antioxidants than other foods? Not necessarily. Coffee ranks 11th in antioxidants per serving.  We just drink so much of it that it has become our primary dietary source!
Coffee is also a source of vitamin B2, B5, manganese, potassium, and other vitamins and minerals.
This means that coffee (if you drink it) is likely to be one of the healthiest parts of your diet. The antioxidants and nutrients in the coffee bean are hands-down good for you.
On the other hand, the caffeine in coffee can be both good and bad for you.
Although caffeine is responsible for much of what makes coffee healthy, it also has a dark side. And determining if coffee is “bad for you” will ultimately boil down to your relationship with caffeine.
So, the real question is... “Is caffeine bad for you?”
And like most things in health, the answer is, “it depends.” But we’ll cover that later.
Let’s take a look at some of the many ways coffee (both the bean and the caffeine) positively impact our health.
Coffee Improves Brain Function
The research confirms what you already know and why you reach for your cup of Joe morning after morning.
Coffee, specifically its caffeine content, improves:
- Energy levels
- Reaction time
- And other markers of general mental performance. [3, 4]
Additionally, both fully caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee have been shown to support neurological health.
This means that the polyphenols in coffee also benefit brain function, not just the caffeine. 
Coffee Enhances Fat Burning and Metabolic Rate
The caffeine in coffee stimulates an increase in the hormone epinephrine (aka adrenaline).
Among other things, epinephrine signals the body to free up fat for fuel, a process referred to as fat oxidation.
When fat is oxidized, it’s broken down, released into the bloodstream, and utilized for energy.
An increase in fat oxidation also increases the body’s resting metabolic rate (the number of calories you burn at rest). 
Caffeine boosts resting metabolic rate by as much as 29% depending on body composition, caffeine tolerance, and other variables. 
But there’s a catch: these benefits are short-lived as we develop a tolerance to caffeine’s effect on fat burning and metabolism over time.
If you use coffee to support fat loss, consider regular caffeine resets to avoid caffeine tolerance.
Coffee Boosts Athletic Performance
Coffee also has a positive impact on athletic performance. 
The caffeine in coffee has been shown to reduce the level of perceived exertion during exercise. In other words, athletes feel stronger at a given intensity with caffeine than without it. 
Caffeine also has an ergogenic effect, increasing the energy available to muscles during exercise. In other words, caffeine helps athletes perform harder for longer.
However, like fat metabolism, the effects diminish as we become tolerant to caffeine over time.
Coffee and Gut Health
Coffee can even have positive effects on your gut microbiome. This benefit is most likely due to the polyphenols in coffee, not the caffeine.
One study in the International Journal of Food Microbiology found that coffee may increase the number of good bacteria in the gut.  After three weeks of moderate coffee consumption (3 cups per day), subjects had more active Bifidobacterium spp, a beneficial probiotic strain that corresponds with digestion, metabolism, and heart health. 
Coffee Improves Overall Healthspan
And for the grand finale… Drinking coffee may also extend your life!
Several studies associate regular coffee consumption with a lower risk of early death and a longer lifespan than non-coffee drinkers. 
The antioxidants in coffee are most likely the contributing factor as they combat the oxidative stress associated with aging and other causes of early death.
It's official: coffee (the bean) is excellent for your health, and there are thousands of studies to back it up.
Not only can coffee improve brain function and neurological health, it may also support fat burning, metabolism, athletic performance, and gut health. Additionally, coffee drinkers may enjoy longer lives.
The caffeine in coffee, on the other hand, is not so black and white. While caffeine is a stimulating compound that contributes to many of the health benefits (and perks) of coffee, it can also have a dark side.
Caffeine: The Dark Side of Coffee?
Caffeine, like many powerful substances, is a Goldilocks game. But that’s probably no secret to any coffee drinker.
We all know that feeling of being over-caffeinated: Jittery, sweaty, anxious, and irritable.
Many of us are also familiar with caffeine tolerance. When your single cup of coffee no longer has that same mind-blowing effect, so you start to have one more… and then another… Until you’re up to 5 cups a day.
And before you know it, your sleep is starting to suffer, so you wake up groggy and reach for more coffee. The vicious cycle of codependency continues.
Because of its adverse impacts on our precious sleep, caffeine (when not used responsibly) can outweigh many of coffee’s benefits.
So back to our original question: Is coffee good for you? It’s undoubtedly a “yes.” Unless you’re overdoing it on the caffeine.
But how much caffeine is too much?
Typically, this depends on a few factors: How much caffeine you consume and how you genetically metabolize it.
Caffeine and Your Genes
How much caffeine you can handle partly depends on your genetics.
About half the population has a variant in the CYP1A2 gene for “slow coffee metabolism,” meaning they are more sensitive to caffeine. Slow caffeine metabolizers are more likely to experience jitters, disrupted sleep, and other adverse effects of caffeine. 
However, while some slow metabolizers experience adverse effects from caffeine, others don’t.
This suggests two things:
- Caffeine metabolism is more nuanced than a binary model of “slow” or “fast.” Think of it as a continuum. This means that you’re not doomed if you’re labeled “slow,” nor do you have the green light to down coffee 24/7 if you’re labeled “fast.”
- Other variables affect caffeine tolerance and metabolism, including sleep, stress, diet, activity level, lifestyle, and even our gut microbiome.
While this complicates things, it’s good news (especially for the “slow metabolizers” who love their cuppa).
Regardless of your genes, you are in control of the variables that determine whether or not coffee is good for you.
Keep reading to learn more.
How to Maximize The Health Benefits of Coffee
Many of us don’t want to break up with coffee just because of caffeine’s potentially harmful effects. But we also want to sleep well and avoid caffeine dependence.
Here’s how you can have your cup and drink it, too.
1. Find Your Limit and Set a Curfew
If you suspect that you already consume too much caffeine, try scaling back a cup or two and commit to having your last fully caffeinated cup no later than noon.
If you’ve hit your quota, are past your curfew for the day, or both, consider switching to decaf coffee for one or more guilt-free overtime cups.
2. Try an Occasional Caffeine Reset
Regularly resetting your adenosine receptors with a caffeine detox can protect you from dependence. It will also help reset your caffeine tolerance so that single cup in the morning becomes “magical” again.
Best of all, it’s simple, it only takes a few days, and if you switch to decaf, you won’t even miss the caffeine.
Tap here for a step-by-step guide to the caffeine reset.
3. Switch to Decaf Coffee
Remember that thing about antioxidants? Well, decaf coffee has them too!
In addition to the health benefits of polyphenols and antioxidants, going full decaf allows you to enjoy the same ritual, aroma, taste, social bonding, and bowel-moving upsides of coffee, without the caffeine.
Note that most decaffeinated coffees have between 3-7 milligrams of caffeine compared to the 70-140 milligrams in regular coffee. While everyone responds differently, that amount is generally small enough to have a negligible effect on most people.
4. Choose High-Quality Coffee
Not all coffee is created equal—especially when it comes to your health.
Over 97% of the world’s coffee is considered “commercial coffee,” a commodity crop grown to maximize yield, sprayed with pesticides, stored in a way that encourages mold growth and oxidation of the beans, all of which compromises the healthfulness of the coffee.
If you’re looking to maximize the health benefits of a drink that you consume every day, multiple times a day, then be sure to choose organic, toxin-free coffee.
5. Avoid Turning Good Coffee Bad
Instead of nullifying your brew’s health benefits by adding tons of cream and sugar, consider these tips for spicing up your coffee cup.
Additionally, storage and grind timing are also critical to optimizing the health-promoting properties of coffee. That’s why you should also learn how to store, grind, and brew coffee like a pro.
If you’ve made it this far in the article, you should have a good grasp of what makes coffee healthy and unhealthy and how to go about drinking it in a healthy way for you.
However, you might still have some questions.
Below are answers to the most commonly asked questions about coffee and its impact on health.
Common Coffee Questions and Misconceptions
Doesn’t coffee stunt your growth?
Although caffeine can inhibit calcium absorption, there is no evidence that coffee stunts growth.
Isn’t coffee bad for your bones?
Caffeine is rumored to interfere with calcium absorption, thus increasing the risk of osteoporosis.
While caffeine does have an inhibitory effect on calcium absorption, the net effect is minimal. It can be easily offset by eating foods rich in calcium (as little as 1-2 tablespoons of milk).
As one research review concludes, “There is no evidence that caffeine has any harmful effect on bone status or on the calcium economy in individuals who ingest the currently recommended daily allowances of calcium." 
What about the cholesterol in coffee?
There is evidence that unfiltered coffee can increase LDL cholesterol levels for those concerned about cholesterol. 
Unfiltered brewing methods like French press, espresso, and the Moka pot allow natural oils called diterpenes to pass through to your coffee. These diterpenes are thought to raise cholesterol levels.
Methods that use paper filters, such as pour-overs or commercial drip machines, catch these diterpenes and have a neutral effect on cholesterol.
So if you’re concerned about an increase in cholesterol, stick with a brewing method that uses a paper filter.
Does caffeine cause dehydration?
No. Caffeine is a mild diuretic and may cause you to urinate more often. However, the amount of water you drink with your coffee is generally greater than that lost from urination. Therefore, responsible caffeine consumption should not cause dehydration.
Ki Points on Coffee
Whew, there’s a lot to love about coffee!
Coffee has a positive impact on:
- Overall healthspan
- Cardiovascular and gut health
- Brain function and neurological health
- Athletic performance (specifically the caffeine in coffee)
- Fat burning and metabolic rate (specifically the caffeine in coffee)
But because of the caffeine content, there are also good reasons to drink it cautiously and responsibly.
In sum, whether or not regular coffee is bad for you depends on your relationship with caffeine.
As with all things health-related, the best approach is to tinker with the variables at your disposal, listen to your body, and then make informed decisions that best serve you.
And remember that your relationship with regular coffee doesn’t need to be “all or nothing.” You can always consider:
- Integrating decaf into the mix
- Limiting your amount and timing
- Practicing regular caffeine resets
Regardless of what strategies you use, and if you’re drinking regular, decaf, or both, the quality of your coffee matters. A lot.
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