Coffee – One of the few things in the world that makes waking up in the morning tolerable and the “liquid courage” (the other kind) we need to face the day. And the morning cup of coffee is just the start. You can drink this “health potion” multiple times throughout the day to keep you going. Neither office tasks nor chores at home look too mind-numbing or tedious when you have coffee breaks to look forward to.
But whether you are one of the 29% of Americans who drink two cups of coffee a day or one out of ten who need six cups or more every day, you begin to wonder if coffee really is the right catalyst to get you through the day? What are the health concerns associated with avid coffee consumption? Or how much coffee is too much?
These and other similar questions might make the taste of coffee bitter in your mouth, and not in a good way. This is why we’ve prepared this comprehensive guide to answer any questions you might have about coffee consumption.
Is Coffee Healthy?
In a word, yes. But don't take our "word" for it. Plenty of studies have been conducted on the subject, and it has been determined that not only is coffee drinking not bad for your health, but it actually has several benefits. Unless you are consuming too much coffee (Yes! There is an optimal amount) or have certain pre-existing conditions, regular coffee consumption carries almost no risk.
Before we discuss coffee's actual health benefits, it's a good idea to dispel some of the myths about coffee and caffeine.
Common Misconceptions About Coffee Consumption Side Effects
There are several common misconceptions about coffee; many of them are associated with caffeine, a main constituent of coffee. So, if you exclusively drink decaf, you might consider skipping to the coffee benefits segment.
Coffee causes dehydration, which is a myth with a slight tinge of fact. Coffee is a mild Diuretic, i.e., the substance that pushes your body to dispel more water. But it's more than balanced out by the amount of water in each cup of coffee (or milk, which is 87% water). So you ingest enough water the coffee causes your body to release.
Coffee causes insomnia is one of the most believable health myths about coffee, since most people drink coffee precisely for this reason, i.e., to stay awake, which leads many to believe that coffee might prevent you from taking a good night’s sleep as well. But studies have determined it has more to do with sleeping habits than coffee itself. If you don’t drink coffee a few hours before going to bed (ideally six), you are likely to be fine.
Coffee is bad for the heart is another misconception that has been dispelled multiple times. A moderate amount of coffee (and consequent caffeine ingestion) doesn’t negatively impact your health. You may have to monitor your coffee consumption amount if you have hypertension, but again, moderation is key.
Coffee is addictive. This myth is true, but it’s also not as bad as it sounds. Coffee is actually physiologically addictive, which means that you will feel "withdrawal symptoms," mostly a light headache (and a bad mood) if you go too long without coffee. But they are too mild to deter you from moderate coffee consumption.
There are several other misconceptions about the adverse health side effects of coffee, but a quick internet search and a plethora of research papers can set you at ease about most of them. Now that we know that coffee is non “not healthy,” let’s dive into its actual health benefits.
Health Benefits of (Moderate) Coffee Consumption
There are several health benefits of drinking coffee. One actual, tangible health benefit is a good mood, which is key to individual and group mental health. Take the coffee maker away from an office and restrict coffee runs, and see how rapidly the mood changes in the office.
Coffee is a stimulant (a relatively mild one) that causes alertness and stimulates mental activity. Whether it’s a pile of laundry at home or a pile of paperwork in the office, you might feel more “up for the job” after a cup of coffee. It’s a tangible health benefit because it allows you to spend more time doing something and less time pondering it, offering more peace of mind and a sense of accomplishment (triggering dopamine).
Other health benefits are:
It helps you burn fat. It increases your metabolism and can easily expedite fat burning in your body by 10% - 29%.
Apart from mental alertness, coffee can trigger a better physical response as well. So it's just as right a beverage for a day of physical activity as it is for a day at the office.
Coffee lowers the risk of Type 2 Diabetes that plagues almost one in every ten Americans.
If you drink about four or more cups of coffee a day, you might be able to reduce your risk of several liver diseases by up to 80%.
Coffee offers some protection against a few neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s (by 32-60%) and Alzheimer's (by about 65%). This tells us that coffee's positive impact grows as you age, as these diseases are most active in old age.
Coffee is actually good for the heart. Forget being a cause for cardiovascular diseases; this magic aromatic potion actually reduces the risk of stroke.
From the dispelling of common myths to several proven health benefits, the information above answers the question “is coffee healthy?” in detail. So if you are ever worried about the health repercussions of coffee consumption, remember that in moderation, coffee is good for your mind and body. Again, the key is “moderation." You should have a good idea of how much coffee you can (and should) consume.
How Much Coffee Can You Drink In A Day?
If you search for the optimal amount of coffee consumption without any adverse side effects, you'll find answers/calculations in two forms: The number of cups and the amount of caffeine. The latter is more accurate but also relatively impractical because most people don't know how much caffeine is in a typical cup of coffee, thanks mostly to a wide spectrum of coffee types.
But several other factors, like the type of coffee roast you are using, can also impact the amount of caffeine you ingest in a cup of coffee.
Dark roast carries less caffeine than light roast beans. And the fact that the coffee cup sizes are not standardized doesn't really help. Still, if you can keep a few numbers in your head (with the help of coffee, of course), you might have no trouble keeping your coffee consumption to healthy levels.
The “FDA Approved” amount of caffeine (through coffee, assuming it's your only source of caffeine) a healthy adult can ingest in a day is 400 milligrams. Ideally, it should be spread out throughout the day. If you drink two or three large cups of coffee in a row and exhaust your allowable (healthy) caffeine quota for the day, you can’t complain about the (mild) repercussions.
Now all that’s left to figure out is how much caffeine is in different cups of coffee, and you are good to go. An eight-ounce cup of:
Brewed coffee contains 96 milligrams
Espresso contains 512 milligrams
Instant coffee contains 62 milligrams
There are several other factors that impact caffeine quantity as well, like the coffee bean species. Robusta beans contain almost twice as much caffeine compared to Arabica (for the same weight).
To simplify, if you are drinking espresso, it’s a good idea to keep track of the volume of the espresso shot you've ingested throughout the day. Six ounces and you are in the safe zone (384 mg of caffeine), but any more and you'll be going beyond the 400-milligram cap. Similarly, when you are opting for brewed coffee, knowing about the bean species and the roast can help you make a more informed coffee consumption decision.
It’s imperative that you remember that coffee is not the only source of caffeine. You can ingest caffeine through tea, chocolate, and energy drinks (among other sources) as well.
Different Types Of Coffee Beans And Roasts You Need To Know About
Coffee is healthy, but you can make it healthier by adopting some good coffee practices (related to both preparation and consumption).
But since these healthy practices have a lot to do with the type of coffee bean species, different roasts, and a few other factors, it’s a good idea to develop a basic understanding of these things.
Four Type Of Coffee Beans
There are four officially classified coffee bean species, each with its own unique characteristics (aroma, flavor, richness, etc.). However, not all coffee beans are readily available.
Arabica - Arabica coffee beans make up about 60% of the global supply. They are easily available and offer a smooth flavor with little to no hint of bitterness. The coffee plant these beans come from requires special circumstances to grow properly (altitude, shade, and plenty of water). But once it takes root, it’s relatively easy to care for, on account of its small size (usually around 12-inch in height). From a health perspective, these beans offer a relatively lower level of caffeine.
Robusta - The second most readily available coffee bean species is Robusta. It comes from a hardy plant that doesn't need a lot of altitudes and can thrive in a wide variety of relatively harsher environments. It's also not as susceptible to pests as other beans. The result is that it’s easy to care for, offers more yield per acre, and is relatively more affordable. The trade-off is taste, especially a distinct presence of bitterness. That’s one of the reasons it’s most widely used to prepare espresso and instant coffee. They also have relatively higher caffeine content.
Liberica - Native to Liberia in West Africa, this particular coffee bean is almost a novelty in the North American coffee market. It makes up about 2-3% of the global coffee supply and is mostly produced in the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Its flavor is a bit unusual, but a lot of coffee lovers adore and defend its unique taste.
Excelsa - Another low-caffeine option is Excelsa, grown almost exclusively in Southeast Asia. It was considered a separate coffee bean species but has recently been reclassified as a Liberica subspecies. They offer a characteristic richness and depth of flavor.
In the US, you are most likely to come across Arabica and Robusta beans, both good choices. Each has its own characteristic taste and price point, and with different roast and brew combinations, you can achieve a lot of control over the flavor of the beans.
Relatively fewer coffee drinkers roast coffee beans themselves. No matter how deep your love of coffee is, you might not have the time, skill, equipment, or patience required for coffee roasting. And even if you brew your own coffee, you don’t necessarily need to go through the process of roasted beans since there are plenty of options available. Especially now, when coffee subscription services have become so commonplace.
Different roasts also have different caffeine levels (heavily influenced by the type of bean), and the simple rule of thumb you need to remember is this:Lighter roasts have slightly higher levels of caffeine compared to darker roasts.
The four common roasts are:
Dark Roast - Dark roasts are characterized by low caffeine, a slightly oily sheen, and sweeter flavors. They are roasted at high temperatures (464 to 482 Fahrenheit), which culls the origin flavor and brings out a richer one. They also have minimal acidity. There are tiers within dark roasts as well, like Italian and French roast.
Medium-Dark Roast - If you come across coffee-blend names like Viennese and full city, know that they are on the “medium-dark” roasting scale. They are produced within a relatively tighter temperature window, i.e., between 437 and 446 Fahrenheit, but a more defining difference is the time. Medium-dark roasting lasts lower than dark roasting. Still, they share a lot of characteristics of a dark roast (richer flavor, less acidity, etc.).
Medium Roast - The right time and temperature when it comes to coffee bean roasting to develop different roasts are often determined by the number of cracks a coffee bean goes through. In order to get a medium roast, beans are heated just before the second crack is heard. It’s also called the “American Roast” because it’s preferred in the US. Medium roast beans don’t have an oily surface, retain some of their acidity, and offer a relatively balanced flavor.
Light Roast - If coffee beans are heated just after the first crack, they are considered light roast. They retain most of their acidity and their caffeine, but they also retain their origin flavors. They have a light brown color and no oil on the surface. They are usually preferred for their stronger origin flavor, especially in single-origin coffee beans, where all the beans come from the same source and retain a characteristic origin flavor.
Another factor that impacts the caffeine content is the size of the beans (which is influenced by the roasting). Light roasts are smaller, denser compared to dark roasts. So even if the caffeine level difference is minimal, if we use equal weights of but is slightly more pronounced if you use equal volumes, i.e., scoops. One scoop of light roasts will be slightly heavier than one scoop of dark roasts and will also likely have a higher number of individual beans, resulting in higher caffeine content.
What Is The Healthiest Coffee You Can Drink?
Even if you are not limiting yourself exclusively to coffee subscription services, there is relatively little argument that one of the healthiest coffee brands you can drink is Lifeboost Coffee. It tops the charts in most of the healthy coffee brands. But it's important to understand not just the name but the characteristics and traits of the healthy coffees you can consume.
The essence of a healthy coffee can be “boiled” down to the beans, i.e., the core ingredient. How and where it’s grown, how it’s treated, processed, roasted, and brewed. And a few traits of some of the healthiest coffees would be:
Organic: The fewer artificial elements there are in the coffee "lifecycle," the healthier it's likely to be. Organic coffee beans are grown without spraying them with any pesticides and without “infecting” the cycle with Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). That means no toxins and unnatural elements come to you as part and parcel of the coffee package. Make sure the beans you use don't just claim to be organic but come from verifiable, certified sources.
Single-Origin: It's more than just a fancy marketing gimmick. Single-origin coffee beans that can be traced back to a solitary production source (or region) carry less risk of transporting toxins and unhealthy elements to you, unlike blends that are a mixture of coffee beans from several different sources (not all of which can be vetted).
Mold/Mycotoxin-Free: Mold in food products, including beans, is a common and well-known phenomenon, and minimal levels of this contaminant in coffee beans are unlikely to cause you harm. That’s also true because most growers take measures to ensure minimal to low mycotoxin levels. And that’s something you should look for in your coffee beans, i.e., what measures are they employing to ensure your coffee is mycotoxin-free. Coffee beans grown at higher altitudes are relatively mold-free.
Coffee Beans And Roasts: If caffeine content is how you determine which coffee beans are healthier, Arabica are naturally the better option. But if you are also factoring in the antioxidants, the choice might come down to different roasts. Arabica wins when it comes to medium or dark roasts, but for light roasts, Robusta might have the upper hand.
Brew: When it comes to the healthiest brew, the studies support filtered brew. It promises a 15% reduced risk of death compared to an unfiltered brew.
Apart from these “factors” that determine which coffee is the healthiest for you, there are certain measures you can take to make your relatively healthier:
Avoid drinking coffee late in the day. Remember the six-hour before sleep time rule, and figure out your daily deadline for drinking coffee. For many people, no coffee consumption after 2 or 3 p.m. is usually considered healthy.
Avoid sugar as much as you can. If you absolutely can’t take your coffee without sugar, reduce the amount. Better yet, look for natural, low-calorie alternatives.
Stay away from artificial creamers. If you are choosing high-quality beans and optimal roast (which is likely to cost more), nullifying its positive impact with artificial creamers with preservatives and artificial sweeteners would not be wise.
Add some cocoa and cinnamon (not necessarily at the same time) to your coffee. Cocoa offers a lot of antioxidants, and cinnamon lowers blood glucose, making it good for people with diabetes (and at-risk individuals).
Try not to ingest coffee on an empty stomach. Make it one of the first things that pass through your mouth in the morning, not the first thing.
If you choose the right coffee and pick up some (or most) of the good coffee consumption practices, this beverage will be just as good for your health as it is for your mood.
Coffee consumption in moderation and with the right ingredients (and practices) is quite healthy. And most of the health benefits it offers are tied to the right coffee. Finding the right brand, beans, and roast can be an exquisite culinary adventure. You might have to try several different beans, blends, different roasts, and brew (and their multiple combinations) before you find the right coffee.
But that would be worth it because the effort and time cost might directly impact your health. And if you are still on the quest to find the perfect blend of health and taste (not the perfect coffee blend, remember single-origin), give Lifeboost Coffee a try. It offers all the traits of a healthy coffee and more.
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This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Charles Livingston nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content.
All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement or lifestyle program.