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Top Health Benefits of Coffee (Plus Tips on Keeping It Healthy)

By Joanna Foley, RD

Medically Reviewed by Natalie Olsen, MS, RDN, LD, ACSM-EP

Published on May 4, 2022

Coffee has many health benefits, including providing antioxidants, increasing energy, and protecting against some diseases. It is important to use healthy ingredients when preparing coffee to fully take advantage of its health benefits.

Written by
Joanna Foley, RD
Registered Dietitian
Joanna received a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics from California State University and has been practicing as a Registered Dietitian for 8 years. Working in a variety of settings, her career began in a hospital setting where she worked as a clinical inpatient dietitian, supporting the care and healing of acutely ill patients.
Medically Reviewed by
Natalie Olsen, MS, RDN, LD, ACSM-EP
Registered Dietitian, Certified Exercise Physiologist
Natalie is a registered dietitian, functional medicine practitioner and certified exercise physiologist with over 15 years experience in the health and wellness industry and holds a Master's degree in Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine through a collaborative program provided by the University of Western States and the Institute of Functional Medicine.
Top Health Benefits of Coffee (Plus Tips on Keeping It Healthy)
Photo credit: iStock.com/yipengge

Coffee drinking has reached all-time highs, according to a survey by the National Coffee Association (NCA). (1)

Many adults look forward to their morning “cup of joe.”

If you drink coffee, you may also rely on its natural caffeine to help get you through your day.

Drinking coffee can have many health benefits. This article will explain what exactly coffee is, the top 5 health benefits of coffee, coffee safety, and tips for keeping coffee healthy.

A Little Bit About Coffee

Coffee comes from beans that grow on the Coffea plant. (2)

It is grown all around the world and has been around for centuries. Experts estimate that there are between 25 and 100 species of coffee plants.

There are many steps involved in turning coffee beans from their plant into the common coffee drink. The first steps include planting, harvesting, processing, drying, milling, and exporting.

Then the coffee is roasted, ground, and finally brewed to create the coffee drink you are familiar with.

Coffee naturally contains caffeine. One cup (8 oz) of coffee contains about 95 mg of caffeine. (3)

It is estimated that more than 90% of American coffee drinkers drink caffeinated coffee brews.

Decaf coffee is also an option, though. Decaf coffee isn’t entirely caffeine-free, but it only contains about 2 mg per cup (8oz). (4)

Decaf coffee is a great option for those who want the taste and pleasure of drinking coffee but may not desire or tolerate caffeine.

Summary 

Coffee comes from beans that grow on the Coffea plant. It naturally contains caffeine but can be made into decaf coffee. Coffee goes through many processes before becoming the brewed coffee drink you may be familiar with.

Health Benefits of Coffee

In its purest form, coffee contains many health benefits.

Brewed coffee beans provide almost no calories. It also contains no carbohydrates, protein, or fat, and it doesn’t top the charts when it comes to most vitamins or minerals.

However, it does help provide small amounts of some nutrients.

One cup of coffee provides about 14% of the daily value needed for riboflavin (vitamin B2) and 12% of pantothenic acid (vitamin B5).

It also provides 2% each of the daily value for the minerals manganese, magnesium, and potassium.

Since the average American drinks 3 cups of coffee daily, these nutrient amounts can add up and contribute to daily needs when combined with a well-balanced diet. (1)

Most of the health benefits of coffee don’t come from its macro or micronutrients, though. Instead, they come from other things.

Health benefits of coffee include:

Rich in Antioxidants

Coffee beans provide comparative amounts of antioxidants to other beverages, including red wine and some teas. (5)

Antioxidants are substances that support and protect your cells from damage by fighting against free radicals.

Free radicals are unstable molecules that can build up in cells and cause harm to other molecules. Antioxidants can therefore help protect and fight off diseases.

Antioxidants also help protect against oxidative stress.

Oxidative stress is a condition that occurs when the body has too many free radicals and not enough antioxidants. If it’s not controlled, oxidative stress can cause diseases.

The roasting process of coffee beans does kill off some of the antioxidants in coffee. However, research confirms that coffee is still a source of antioxidants in the human diet.

May Help Lower Your Risk for Many Diseases

Coffee has been shown to help protect against chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease, and memory disorders. (6, 7)

One study also found that the risk of depression decreased in women who regularly drink caffeinated coffee. (8)

In addition, a major study found that drinking 3–5 cups of coffee per day during midlife was linked to a 65% decreased risk of Dementia and Alzheimer’s during the elderly years. (9)

May Help Boost Energy Levels

The caffeine in coffee is a natural stimulant. Caffeine is best known for helping to increase energy levels throughout the day.

Part of the way it does this is by blocking the effects of hormones that are responsible for sleep, including adenosine and melatonin. (10)

Caffeine can also help improve endurance and strength during physical activity and delay the time to fatigue. This makes it especially ideal for athletes. (11, 12)

May Improve Focus

The increased energy from caffeine can also lead to improved focus and alertness.

Caffeine stimulates the body’s central nervous system and increases the production of a brain chemical called dopamine. (13)

Dopamine controls the ability to focus and maintain concentration. This can make drinking moderate amounts of caffeine beneficial for students, working employees, and many other individuals.

May Help with Weight Management

Research has shown that the caffeine present in coffee might promote weight loss, BMI, and body fat reduction. (14)

However, these benefits can only occur if more calories are burned than consumed.

Summary 

Some of the health benefits of coffee include being rich in antioxidants, possibly lowering your risk of disease, supporting weight management, and improving focus and energy levels.

Is Drinking Coffee Safe?

There are no known significant safety issues with drinking coffee in moderate amounts.

However, there are possible concerns related to the caffeine content of coffee and the pesticides used during its growing process.

Caffeine

It is possible to have a sensitivity to caffeine or to consume too much of it. This can be dangerous.

The exact amount of what is considered too much caffeine varies from person to person. Factors like body weight, medications, life stage, and your individual metabolism all determine how sensitive you may be to caffeine.

Some people are not very sensitive to caffeine at all.

The FDA has determined that 400 milligrams of caffeine a day is the safe threshold that is not generally associated with dangerous or negative effects. (15)

That equals about four to five cups of coffee per day.

However, this amount only applies to healthy adults. There is no known safe dose for children.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no caffeine for kids under 12, and no more than 100 mg per day for children aged 12–18. (16)

It is also recommended to limit caffeine consumption if you are pregnant, trying to become, or breastfeeding to less than 200 mg daily, which equals about 2 cups of coffee.

It is best to speak with your healthcare provider about recommended consumption in these cases. (17)

Excessive amounts of caffeine can have serious health consequences, including death. However, this is generally not a concern for drinking caffeine from coffee alone.

Instead, it most applies to highly concentrated forms of caffeine from supplements, energy drinks, and other similar products.

Symptoms of too much caffeine may include anxiety, difficulty sleeping, racing heartbeat, upset stomach, and more. These symptoms may be more likely if the caffeine is consumed on an empty stomach.

Related: Understanding Caffeine: Is It Good or Bad for Your Health?

Pesticides

A separate safety concern with coffee may come from the pesticides that are used in its growing process. Pesticides are chemicals sprayed on crops to destroy insects and prevent harm to the plant.

A variety of pesticides can be used in the growing and roasting process of coffee. These chemicals can then transfer into your brewed cup of coffee.

Pesticides can be harmful to your health in many ways, and the dangers can be both short and long-term.

Short-term side effects of pesticides may include rashes, nausea, and diarrhea.

Long-term side effects can be more serious and include things like cancer, birth defects, brain disorders, and imbalanced hormones. (18)

These side effects are more likely to occur if you are exposed to a lot of pesticides from many sources on a regular basis.

Choosing organic coffee beans both for use at home and when ordering at a store is your best bet to limit these effects. This is because organic foods and beverages are not allowed to be exposed to pesticides.

Summary

Drinking moderate amounts of coffee is believed to be safe. However, drinking too much caffeine can be dangerous. Some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others. Pesticides used in coffee-growing may harm your health, but choosing organic coffee beans can protect you from potential negative side effects.

Tips to Keep Coffee Healthy

Coffee on its own can be a healthy beverage. However, the way that many Americans drink coffee can take away from its health benefits.

This is because common coffee drinks can be loaded with added sugar, saturated fat, artificial flavorings, and other ingredients.

A traditional 16-ounce sweetened vanilla latte from a coffee shop can contain over 35 grams of sugar (nearly 9 teaspoons).

Ice-blended coffee drinks can contain over 400 calories, 65 grams of sugar (16 teaspoons), and nearly 10 grams of saturated fat.

It is important to be mindful of your daily intake of added sugar and saturated fat, as too much can lead to poor health outcomes.

That is why it is important to enjoy your coffee in a way that honors your health so you can fully reap its benefits.

Here are some tips for making coffee drinks healthy when ordering out or making coffee at home:

Be Mindful of Your Size

Keep in mind that the larger the size of your coffee drink, the more sugar and other artificial ingredients might be in it.

Try sticking to the medium or small size (12 to 16 oz) when ordering out. When making coffee at home, stick to 1–2 cups.

This can still give you your coffee fix without taking away from its health benefits too much.

Choose the Right Milk

Many milk-based coffee drinks are made with sweetened condensed milk or whole milk, containing a high amount of calories and less-healthy saturated fats.

Condensed milk also has a lot of added sugar in it.

A healthier option would be to use organic low-fat milk or unsweetened almond, oat, or soy milk. This will save on calories, sugar, and fat.

Be Aware of Added Sugar

Coffee drinks from restaurants can be loaded with added sugar without you adding any on your own.

Added sugar can hide in ingredients like sweetened milk, creamers, syrups, and whipped cream. It is also present in the sugar packets you may use yourself.

When ordering out, it is a good idea to request half the amount of sugar in any given drink. It is also best to leave off the whipped cream.

When making coffee at home, pay attention to how much sugar is in the coffee creamer you use and how much you may be adding yourself.

Using a small amount of organic half-and-half or another similar alternative instead of traditional, sweetened creamers can help reduce sugar intake.

Your taste buds can adapt to less sweet flavors over time.

Read the Nutrition Label

When buying pre-packaged coffee drinks and creamers, always check both the nutrition facts panel and the ingredients list.

Reading the ingredients list is important to find out what you may be putting in your body.

Watch out for the added sugar, calories, and saturated fat content. Also, pay attention to any artificial colors, flavorings, or preservatives.

Keep It Simple

A good rule of thumb is the fancier the drink, the more sugar and added ingredients it may have.

The occasional treat or indulgence is okay. Yet try to keep the coffee you drink most often to a simple latte, or something similar.

What to Put In Your Coffee

Here are the ingredients that are best added and avoided when it comes to coffee.

Ingredients to add:

  • Organic low-fat cow milk, or unsweetened plant-based milk of choice.
  • Low-sugar or unsweetened creamers.
  • Small amounts of natural sweeteners like stevia or monk fruit, or no sweeteners at all.
  • Other optional ingredients include things like adaptogens or collagen peptides. Adaptogens are types of plants that may help reduce the effects of stress in the body and support hormonal balance. Collagen peptides are a type of protein that can have health benefits. Both adaptogens and collagen peptides can easily blend into cold or hot coffee and provide extra nutrients without changing the flavor too much.

Ingredients to avoid:

  • Artificial sugars like aspartame, sucralose, and acesulfame potassium. These are often found in products designed to be “sugar-free”.
  • Artificial flavorings and colors.
  • Added sugar from things like flavored syrups, sweetened creamers, and whipped cream.
  • Excess sugar or cream in general.

The Bottom Line

Drinking coffee can have many health benefits. These include supporting a healthy weight and increasing energy and focus.

Coffee also provides a great source of antioxidants and helps protect against many diseases.

However, coffee drinks from restaurants or even those made at home may be less healthy. This is because they might be loaded with things like added sugar, saturated fat, and artificial ingredients.

You can help keep your coffee healthy by making swaps to cut back on sugar and fat and keep the ingredients simple and natural.

There are not many safety concerns associated with drinking moderate amounts of coffee. It is important not to drink too much caffeine, though, especially if you are sensitive to it.

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At WellnessVerge, we only use primary references for our articles, including peer reviewed medical journals or well-respected academic institutions.

  1. NCA releases 2020 National Coffee Data Trends, the "Atlas of American Coffee":
    https://www.ncausa.org/Newsroom/NCA-releases-Atlas-of-American-Coffee
  2. Coffea arabica (Arabian Coffee, Coffee Plant) | North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox:
    https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/coffea-arabica/
  3. Beverages, coffee, brewed, prepared with tap water -FoodData Central:
    https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/171890/nutrients
  4. Beverages, coffee, brewed, prepared with tap water, decaffeinated -FoodData Central:
    https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/171889/nutrients
  5. Antioxidant and Antiradical Activity of Coffee - PMC:
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4665516/#:~:text=Antioxidants%20and%20Antioxidant%20Activity,of%20antioxidants%20consumed%20by%20people.
  6. Coffee consumption and the incidence of type 2 diabetes in men and women with normal glucose tolerance: The Strong Heart Study - PMC:
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2888983/
  7. Frontiers | Coffee Consumption and Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease: An Umbrella Review and a Systematic Review and Meta-analysis | Pharmacology:
    https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphar.2021.786596/full
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    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21949167/
  9. Caffeine as a protective factor in dementia and Alzheimer's disease - PubMed:
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20182054/#:~:text=In%20the%20CAIDE%20study%2C%20coffee,decreased%20risk%20of%20dementia%2FAD.
  10. Caffeine | The Nutrition Source | Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health:
    https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/caffeine/#:~:text=Caffeine%20binds%20to%20adenosine%20receptors,serotonin%2C%20norepinephrine%2C%20and%20GABA.
  11. Acute effects of a commercially-available pre-workout supplement on markers of training: a double-blind study - PMC:
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4190923/#B6
  12. Effect of Caffeine Supplementation on Sports Performance Based on Differences Between Sexes: A Systematic Review - PMC:
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6835847/
  13. Caffeine increases striatal dopamine D2/D3 receptor availability in the human brain - PMC:
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4462609/
  14. The effects of caffeine intake on weight loss: a systematic review and dos-response meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials:
    https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10408398.2018.1507996?journalCode=bfsn20
  15. Spilling the Beans: How Much Caffeine is Too Much? | FDA:
    https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/spilling-beans-how-much-caffeine-too-much
  16. Caffeine and Children:
    https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Caffeine_and_Children-131.aspx#:~:text=At%20this%20time%2C%20pediatricians%20advise,those%2012%2D18%20years%20old.
  17. Caffeine: How much is too much? - Mayo Clinic:
    https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/caffeine/art-20045678
  18. Pesticides & Human Health | Californians for Pesticide Reform:
    https://www.pesticidereform.org/pesticides-human-health/#:~:text=Pesticides%20can%20cause%20short%2Dterm,%2C%20dizziness%2C%20diarrhea%20and%20death.