I’ll Take Mine Black

by Kari Collett, RDN, LDN, CLT

Mille Lacs Health System

People love their morning coffee. Especially as the days grow cooler and darker, there’s nothing that smells as good as fresh brewed coffee or warms cold hands like a hot mug. Coffee has been the center of much debate over the years as it relates to health. Often times when a person has onset of health complications, the first piece of advice heard from a well-meaning expert:  ditch the coffee.

Maybe we don’t need to be in such a haste to toss the coffee. The Beverage Guidance Council, a group that provides recommendations about the risks and benefits of various beverage categories, found that coffee and tea tied for second place as being the healthiest beverages. Water, of course, took first place. Interestingly, coffee is also the second most consumed beverage in the world.

Studies have shown that there are some benefits to drinking coffee. Coffee can support those with hepatitis C infection by helping prevent DNA damage and improving the clearance of the virus. Other studies indicate that consuming coffee regularly can help prevent Parkinson’s disease or slow the progression after onset; it might also improve cognitive function and help prevent depression. Coffee consumption can even reduce the risk of mortality by 10-15% in those with heart disease, respiratory disease, stroke, injuries, accidents, diabetes, and infections.

Studies that differentiate between caffeinated coffee and decaffeinated show that the benefits are more evident in regular coffee. It could be that the naturally occurring caffeine in coffee has synergy with the other components such as antioxidants in coffee making it a healthful food as a whole, not just in parts.

Why, then, do people hear so often that coffee is not good for their health? One reason could be that a person may be drinking too much. The benefits tend to turn into harm if a person is drinking more than 3-4 cups per day. The other potential problem is what people are often putting into the coffee. Coffee loaded with creamers, sweeteners, and flavors have health risks associated with extra calories and chemicals – both leading to unwanted inflammation. Lastly, a person could be sensitive to caffeine causing various symptoms such as heartburn, anxiety, or brain fog. Everyone is different, and caffeine may be harmful to some individuals.

Drinking coffee can result in elevated cholesterol levels for some, but cutting coffee doesn’t necessarily have to be the first step to correct it. Other lifestyle and dietary interventions may be just as beneficial without having to take out that yummy cup of Joe. It’s not ideal to drink coffee during pregnancy, either. There just isn’t enough evidence to state that it’s good for baby.

If you have no reason to cut out coffee, then keep enjoying it. But do enjoy in moderation, and without added ingredients. For more information or assistance with your nutrition needs, contact your health care provider or dietitian.