Java. Joe. Rocket fuel. Coffee. Whatever you call it, it is one of the most popular beverages consumed worldwide and is grown in more than 50 countries around the world, according to the National Coffee Association.
And while coffee may seem like a simple product, this roasted aromatic brew is actually a complex mixture of more than 1,000 bioactive, volatile compounds.
Each of us metabolizes coffee differently. But despite these differences, drinking coffee in moderation can have some beneficial effects on our health.
“Coffee is yet another example of how great taste and health can go together,” says Stephen Devries, MD, a preventive cardiologist and executive director of the educational nonprofit Gaples Institute for Integrative Cardiology. “There is now a wealth of data showing coffee drinking linked to reduced rates of heart disease, diabetes and, most importantly, to increased longevity,” Devries says.
Coffee’s healthy compounds
Coffee contains an array of polyphenols — antioxidant compounds that may be beneficial for overall health.
One of the main polyphenolic compounds in coffee is chlorogenic acid, which has been found to reduce oxidative stress, in turn leading to lower blood pressure. Other significant compounds may have therapeutic antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antifibrotic or anticancer effects, according to an umbrella review published in The BMJ.
Of course, coffee also contains caffeine, which is its most widely studied compound. Caffeine is found in more than 60 plants and is believed to be an inherent pesticide for plants to defend themselves from foreign invaders. Depending on how the coffee is brewed, an average 8-ounce brewed cup of coffee contains 75 to 165 mg of caffeine.
“There are a host of compounds in coffee known to be helpful, including a very high concentration of antioxidants that reduce cellular damage and inflammation,” Devries says. “Chlorogenic acid slows the absorption of glucose and is likely a key to the lower risk of diabetes seen in coffee drinkers,” he adds.
Coffee is acidic, though, so if you’re drinking it every day you should make sure to balance your pH levels by consuming alkaline-rich foods and beverages, says Kristen Brogan, RD, a registered dietitian and speaker with On Target Living, a health coaching organization based in Chicago. This includes “fruits, vegetables, ancient grains, nuts, seeds, organic animal products, as well as coconut water, mineral water and herbal teas,” she says.
“Too much coffee can deplete serotonin levels over time,” Brogan says, “which can contribute to poor gut health, low immune function, poor memory and sleep issues.”
Overdrinking coffee may also result in a caffeine addiction, Brogan explains. If you are dependent on coffee for energy, rethink your lifestyle and get more sleep, water, nourishing foods and exercise.
For safe consumption, don’t drink more than 400 mg of caffeine (or about four to five cups of coffee) a day according to the Food and Drug Administration.
“Surprisingly, up to five cups of coffee a day have been linked to improved health and longevity,” Devries says. But beyond that amount the effects are not as clear. “We do know that some people are sensitive to caffeine and can experience fast heartbeats or an upset stomach,” he says. “Fortunately, the health benefits [of coffee] don’t seem to be related to the caffeine itself, as decaf coffee also appears to be helpful.”
Quality and mindful consumption counts with coffee. Brogan recommends choosing high-quality coffee from fair-trade, organic brands in order to avoid synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.
Take a mindful coffee break
Black coffee has less than 5 calories and no sugar, but with all the coffee drink options out there, your morning cup of java has the potential to be loaded with additives, including sugar, artificial sweeteners, saturated fat and calories.
“Remember that the health benefits of coffee only apply to the pure unadulterated brew,” Devries says. “Syrupy, sugar-laden coffee drinks just don’t cut it.” Therefore, being mindful of what you add to your coffee is important.
Keep in mind that more robust research needs to be done using different doses of coffee and that tolerance to coffee and caffeine varies among individuals based on age, gender and overall health status. If you are pregnant, limiting coffee, especially caffeine, to less than 200 mg per day is recommended.
As with everything, enjoy your daily java, but do so mindfully.
3 Steps to Store Coffee
1. Store fresh, high-quality coffee beans in an opaque, airtight container at room temperature — a dark, cool location is best. To keep coffee beans fresh, avoid air, heat, moisture and light.
2. Buy coffee in small batches, since it begins to lose freshness immediately after roasting.
3. Freeze coffee beans, if desired. They must be in a truly airtight container as they absorb moisture, odors and flavors easily.