Coffee is a deeply ingrained part of American culture. Until recently, most people drank coffee as a stimulant. But the rise of Seattle-based Starbucks and the “coffee house” culture has created an appreciation for quality coffee with an awareness of bean origin, roast and brewing method. And in the Northwest particularly, it’s hard to walk a block in Portland or Seattle without passing a local coffee shop where you can find a good cup of java.
Whether you prefer a triple-tall, extra-hot vanilla latte or a purist pour-over, we’ve got good news for you: your java addiction might be better for you than you think. A slew of recent medical studies have touted the numerous health benefits of coffee consumption. But are those claims too good to be true?
To help sort through the research, we sat down with Seattle-based nutritionist and registered dietitian Kelly Morrow to understand what that cup o’ joe really does for you.
What are the benefits of drinking coffee?
Recent medical studies have shown coffee to have a multitude of health benefits, including reducing the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, preventing Type 2 diabetes, improving athletic performance, alleviating depression, and helping prevent certain types of cancer, heart disease and stroke. According to Morrow, coffee also has antioxidants and phytochemicals that support good health.
What are the side effects of too much coffee?
If all of this sounds too good to be true, there are some side effects of coffee that need to be taken into consideration before pouring yourself that second (or third) cup. As Morrow points out, the high levels of caffeine in coffee may not be ideal for health. Those with high blood pressure, hypoglycemia, or anxiety may find that the caffeine in coffee exacerbates their symptoms. People who have chronic inflammatory conditions may suffer increased inflammation when they drink caffeine. For those struggling to get a good night’s sleep, drinking caffeine – even early in the day – can disrupt normal sleep cycles.
Finally, many coffee drinks are loaded with extra calories from sweeteners, creamers and flavorings. Be careful what you add to your coffee, as the additional calories can add up quickly.
How much coffee is healthy to consume?
According to Morrow, this depends on the person and how well their body handles caffeine. Most people will feel the effects of caffeine if they ingest a high dose within a short period of time. In general, 200 milligrams of caffeine – equivalent to 1.5 shots of espresso or one 12-ounce cup of regular drip coffee – is considered a moderate dose. 400 milligrams and above is consider a high dose. However caffeine amounts vary substantially depending not only on the size and type of drink, but also on the company that makes the coffee. For example, a Grande (16-ounce) drip from Starbucks has 330 milligrams of caffeine, where the equivalent sized coffee from McDonald’s has only 133 milligrams.
Tip: Compare the caffeine content of the most common brands.
Ever drink too much coffee and feel the “jitters?” Unfortunately, the best remedy is time, although drinking extra water is important to keep your body hydrated and help flush the caffeine from your system. And if you’re drinking decaf to avoid caffeine, keep in mind that decaf coffee can still contain 10 to 15 milligrams of caffeine per cup. It may not sound like much, but it can be noticeable for those sensitive to caffeine.
What does this all mean?
Drinking a cup of coffee or two a day can offer some health benefits, but it’s important to be aware of your total caffeine consumption, particularly if you’re predisposed to any health issues. Be cognizant of what sweeteners and creamers you add to your coffee.
Finally, when buying coffee, seek out “fair trade,” as coffee plantations can be linked with inhumane working conditions and destruction of tropical rain forests. So enjoy that perfectly-pulled espresso from your local micro-roaster. Just don’t overdo it.