Coffee is one of the world’s most popular beverages — and for good reason: the bitter beverage contains caffeine, a stimulant which “lifts” you up. But is coffee safe? Yes, it is. In fact, coffee has numerous health benefits.
Now I know what you’re thinking, there has to be a catch, right? Doctors have long warned us against consuming too much caffeine, and while there are coffee studies that swing both ways, we have taken the time to separate the bad from the good (fueled only by black coffee and baby carrots) to provide you with the absolute truth about your coffee addiction. And the news is good.
Of course, the amount of coffee you choose to drink each day is a personal decision you should run by your doctor. But there’s plenty of research that supports moderate coffee drinking falling somewhere within the gray area of a “health beverage.”
Here’s the solid proof you’ve been looking for to justify your coffee habit.
1. Increases nutrient intake
While Dr. Swapan Banerjee, family medicine doctor in Seabrook, Texas, isn’t so quick to jump on the “my coffee is magic” campaign, he concedes that there are pros and cons to drinking America’s favorite morning beverage. For starters, coffee contains beneficial antioxidants, Banerjee says. He adds that there are also a number of essential nutrients in coffee: 11 percent of the recommended daily allowance for riboflavin, 6 percent of the RDA for pantothenic acid, 3 percent of the RDA for manganese and potassium and 2 percent of the RDA for magnesium and niacin.
“Coffee is rich in riboflavin,” confirms registered dietitian Natalie Rizzo. “Riboflavin, otherwise known as vitamin B2, is one of the essential B vitamins. It’s not found in many foods, but it’s abundant in coffee. Riboflavin helps break down nutrients in the body and a deficiency can lead to painful, peeling skin and lips.”
2. Improves endurance
It’s not just your imagination — drinking a cup of joe before a workout does give you the strength of 10,000 women. Coffee helps improve endurance in athletes by fighting commonplace exercise fatigue, says certified personal trainer Joshua Duvauchelle. According to Duvauchelle, it’s the caffeine that can help you go the extra mile. He tells SheKnows, “While some gym enthusiasts turn to commercially prepared stimulant supplements before exercising, coffee offers many of the same benefits, but cheaper!”
Rizzo adds, “Make sure you indulge in that cup of coffee at least two hours prior to exercise to avoid digestion issues.” And, run this by your doctor before making it a habit. Everyone’s body is different.
3. Jumpstarts weight loss
I promise we’ll get to the legitimate health benefits in a minute, but first, there are a few frivolous “perks” to drinking your morning cuppa. According to a 2019 study conducted by the American Heart Association, coffee can help you lose weight. How? The beverage stimulates the body’s “brown fat,” a heat-generating form of fat that literally burns calories. This isn’t the first time researchers have observed the beverages weight loss benefits: More than two decades ago, Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism researchers discovered that caffeine in coffee can help you burn fat by boosting metabolism, and losing weight can reduce the risk of numerous other conditions, including depression, cancer and heart disease.
4. May protect against Alzheimer’s disease
Drinking your daily coffee not only keeps you sharp for that morning meeting, but it could provide brain-boosting benefits for the future. Rizzo says one of the biggest health benefits of drinking coffee is its potential to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, a modern epidemic without a cure. “The antioxidants in coffee may prevent some brain cell damage associated with the disease,” she explains.
5. May protect against diabetes
If you fall into the high-risk category for Type 2 diabetes — meaning that you are one of the 84 million Americans over the age of 18 with prediabetes — this may come as welcome news. Coffee can’t cure Type 2 diabetes, but Banerjee reminds us of compelling research that points to its protective benefits. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2008 confirmed that regular coffee drinking (with potential benefits from black tea, but not green tea) has been associated with a lower risk of Type 2 diabetes.
6. May protect against liver cancer
Clearly, coffee has more health benefits than you can count on two hands — like its ability to reduce risk of stroke, reduce risk of depression in women and provide support for heart arrhythmia, cirrhosis of the liver, asthma attacks, gallstones and even Parkinson’s disease.
But, here’s a big one you’re not likely to forget: Duvauchelle says drinking coffee can help to reduce the risk of liver cancer by up to 50 percent. Many of coffee’s anti-cancer benefits can be traced back, again, to its higher-than-average antioxidant content.
How much coffee can you drink?
We can all agree that coffee is amazing and at least a little good for you. But, unfortunately, there’s still no research that supports a caffeinated free-for-all. What’s more, every person responds differently to coffee. A morning jolt for you might be a nightcap for someone else. The recommended daily amount falls somewhere in between too little and too much — EU’s Food Safety Authority estimates that 400 milligrams of caffeine, or roughly four cups of coffee, is a perfectly safe amount of caffeine for a healthy adult. A life-threatening dose of caffeine has been estimated between 10,000 and 14,000 milligrams according to the Food and Drug Administration. Each coffee health study may be based on a different daily amount.
So, listen to your body, talk to your doctor, read the research and safety recommendations, and make a decision you are comfortable with. And when all else fails, remember the motto that will serve you well in almost all areas of life: Everything in moderation.
A version of this article was originally published in October 2015.