Coffee is perhaps the most well-studied beverage on the planet. It’s difficult to go a month without hearing about a new scientific finding related to one of the world’s favorite drinks.
Because of such a high level of interest, it also shouldn’t come as a surprise that plenty of perplexity surrounds coffee’s complex nature. In addition, there exists a history of scientific studies that seem to suggest coffee links to possible health problems. However, this early observational research regularly viewed coffee consumption through epidemiology and found associations that were confounded by variables such as smoking, poor dietary habits, sedentary behaviors, and products used to adulterate it, such as the use of trans fat-ridden creamers, syrups, and sugars.
Now, better well-designed research is telling a different story. When scientists honed in on coffee, just coffee, its health value was illuminated. Most recently, for example, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee reviewed all the latest evidence surrounding coffee as it relates to health and, for the first time in history, gave a recommendation to continue enjoying coffee in a moderate range—three to five cups per day for adults (1).
Inherently, what the evidence suggests, is that coffee is good, but that both poor health behaviors and unhealthy products often associated with its use could make coffee an easy target to vilify.
From recent scientific studies, we now know that those who drink coffee on a regular basis tend to live healthier lives, perhaps in part because it’s a unique delivery vehicle of certain antioxidant phytochemicals and beneficial amounts of caffeine, but also because it might displace other types of drinks such as sugary beverages in the diet (2, 3).
From randomized controlled trials, we know that coffee is also useful for boosting energy, increasing memory and concentration, helping to maintain blood sugar control, boosting mood, boosting better blood flow, and is a proven ergogenic aid (4-13). Coffee, in fact, is shown to enhance short-term athletic performance in sprinting, cycling, weightlifting, and distance running (8-10).
Coffee drinkers are also reported to have better long-term cognitive function and memory in comparison to non-coffee drinkers (14). And, yes, people who drink coffee do tend to have lower bodyweights, when consumed at levels of three to five cups per day (15).
That doesn’t give folks a green light to drink as much coffee as they want. Risks associated with too much coffee drinking still remain, so a word of caution is necessary for overconsumption. When consumed in excess or in the evening or night, coffee is also linked to poor sleep and insomnia (16). Coffee is also not a great accompaniment to tobacco, drugs, and alcohol (17-19).
However, for the most part, it’s quite safe to say that coffee has all but shaken off its reputation as potential villain in the diet. In fact, it’s more likely that it’s one of the best-studied, scientifically supported drinks.
For coffee’s key benefits, without the risks, the solution is to avoid the type of poor-quality coffee that demands regular amounts of sugar and creamers, and instead to choose premium, or high-quality coffee that is delicious and satisfying.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines: Part A. Executive Summary. Available at: http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015-scientific-report/02-executive-summary.asp
- American Chemical Society Meeting & Exposition, Washington, D.C., Aug. 27-Sept. 1. 2005.
- Lopez-Garcia E, Van Dam R, PhD,. Li T, MD, Rodriguez-Artalejo F, MD,PhD et al. Association of long-term coffee consumption with total and cause-specific mortality. Ann Intern Med. 2008;148(12): 904–914.
- Lee JK, Kim K, Ahn Y, Yang M et al. Habitual coffee intake, genetic polymorphisms, and type 2 diabetes. Euo J Endocrinol. 2015;14-0805.
- Beam J, Gibson A, Kerksick CM, Conn A, White A et al. Effect of post-exercise caffeine and green coffee bean extract consumption on blood glucose and insulin concentrations. Nutrition. 2015;31(2):292-297.
- Yang T, Crowe F, Cairns B, Reeves G et al. Tea and coffee and risk of endometrial cancer: cohort study and meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutri.2015;101(3):570-8.
- Xiaofeng Y, Zhijun B, Jian Z et al. Coffee consumption and risk of cancers: a meta-analysis of cohort studies. BMC Cancer. 2011;11.96.
- Arciero P, Miller V et al. Performance enhancing diets (PED’s) and the PRISE protocol to optimize athletic performance. J Nutri Meta. 2015; 2015:1-39.
- Noguchi K, Matsuzaki T, Sakanashi M et al. Effect of caffeine contained in a cup of coffee on micro-vascular function in healthy subjects. J Pharm Sci. 2015. 127(2):217-222.
- Duncan MJ, Smith M, Cook K, James S. The acute effect of a caffeine-containing energy drink on mood state, readiness to invest effort, and resistance exercise to failure. J Strength Cond Res. 2012; 26(10):2858-65.
- Dodd F, Kennedy D, Riby L et al. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study evaluating the effects of caffeine and L-theanine both alone and in combination on cerebral blood flow, cognition and mood. Psychopharmacology, 2015;1-14.
- Kim Y, Kwak S et al. Caffeine intake from coffee or tea and cognitive disorders: A meta-analysis of observational studies. Neuroepidemiology.2015; 44(1): 51-63.
- Agim Z et al. Dietary factors in the etiology of parkinson’s disease. BioMed Research International, 2015. 1-16.
- Santos C, Costa J, Santos J, Vaz-Carneiro A et al. Caffeine intake and dementia: systematic review and meta-analysis. J Alzheimers Dis. 2010;20(1):187-204.
- Grosso G, Stepaniak U, Micek A, Topor-Mądry R, Pikhart H, Szafraniec K et al. Association of daily coffee and tea consumption and metabolic syndrome: results from the Polish arm of the HAPIEE study. Eur J Nutr. 2014; 10: 1-10.
- Greden J. Anxiety or caffeinism: A diagnostic dilemma. The American Journal of Psychiatry. 1974; 131(10):1089-1092.
- Jiangbo C, Shuo L. Tea and coffee consumption and risk of laryngeal cancer: A systematic review meta-analysis. JPone. 2014;10.
- Zeegers M, Tan F, Goldbohm R, Van den Brandt P. Are coffee and tea consumption associated with urinary tract cancer risk? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Int J Epidemiol. 2001; 30(2):353-62.
- Tang N, Wu Y, Ma J, Wang B, Yu R. Coffee consumption and risk of lung cancer: a meta-analysis. J.Lung Cancer. 2010; 67(1):17-22.