The answer to the question of whether coffee is good for your health might not be super important to you – after all; that breakfast cup is a must for most of us. We don’t ask questions before we’re caffeinated; it’s too early. But if you’re consuming something 365 days a year, shouldn’t you sort of… know what it’s doing for or against your health?
You might think there’s not a lot to coffee (re: your coffee-hating friend who refers to it as “bean juice”), but you – and they – would be wrong. Coffee’s got a lot going for itself, which is likely why it’s a favorite beverage across the world. But, as to whether this popularity is good or bad for our bodies, that has a lot more to do with you than coffee itself.
Coffee’s Nutritional Profile: Mind & Body
The bare-bones nutritional profile of a cup of plain Arabica coffee is:
- 2-3 calories
- 5mg sodium
- 0g fat
- 0g sugar
- >1g protein
- 118mg potassium
- 7mg magnesium
Obviously, most of us press that brew button on our Keurig® for the caffeine kick you need at 7am. But as you can already see – there’s more to coffee than that. Along with the nutrients listed above, coffee contains antioxidants, the most important of which are polyphenols.
Let’s take a look at what these different compounds do for the body. We’ll get to the caffeine part later.
Coffee is a Low-Calorie Drink
Yes, that salted caramel frappuccino with whipped cream you grab at the café every few days (because – treat yourself) can run you anywhere from 400-800 calories. But that’s not the coffee’s fault. Do you have any idea how much dairy and sugar are in those things? Not to mention artificial flavors and preservatives. No thanks.
But even if you’re just pouring your favorite hazelnut coffee creamer into your mug at home, you’re still talking 50-100 calories per 2 tablespoons. And let’s be real – you pour way more than 2 tablespoons in there, don’t you.
To really reap the low-calorie, sugar-free perks of coffee, stop putting so much other stuff in it. If you’re not a black-coffee person, that’s cool. Instead of reaching for that sugar-laden creamer, try a flavored variety of coffee.
Pro tip for transitioning to clean flavored coffee: try a sampler pack with several different flavors before you buy a bag you’re not sure about.
Vitamins & Minerals that Boost Your Body’s Systems
As we saw above, one cup of coffee contains 118mg of potassium. And potassium is, like, really important. It’s one of the vital nutrients that affects the health of every single cell in your body. It regulates the cardiovascular system, which is important for heart rate, muscle function and nerve firing. Potassium also aids your digestive system, including protein and carbohydrate synthesis.
The magnesium in coffee is another biggie; magnesium affects neurotransmitters in your brain, maintains DNA structure and health, and regulates your nervous system and digestive functions, among literally hundreds of other things.
Besides potassium and magnesium, coffee contains several other micronutrients that are good for you:
- Phosphorous: supports bone health, kidney function and cell repair
- Manganese: supports soft tissue and bone health, regulates sex hormones, brain and nerve function
- Folate: necessary for DNA, RNA and white and red blood cell production, aids carbohydrate synthesis
- Choline: anti-inflammatory, necessary for healthy brain and nervous system function
The Magic of Polyphenols
A single cup of Arabica coffee (even the decaf kind) contains a higher concentration of antioxidants than most leafy greens. There’s a thesis that could be written on it, really, but a major body-cleansing player in coffee’s antioxidant game is polyphenols.
Polyphenols are a group of antioxidant compounds that naturally occur in some plants. They help regulate blood sugar, reducing the risk of Diabetes II, they’re anti-inflammatory, and they protect the body against environmental toxins and UV damage. They’ve also been touted as anti-aging because of their skin-friendly benefits.
What’s Missing in Coffee is Great for Your Health
Just as important for your health as what’s in coffee is what’s not in coffee. There’s no fat, no sugar, no cholesterol, and no additives or preservatives. Because of this, coffee has been linked to a reduced risk of endometrial cancer, colon cancer, melanoma, heart-related conditions, as well as Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
How Much is Too Much? Coffee, Caffeine & the Body
Okay, now for the main event: the caffeine in coffee. We’ve all heard both sides of the arguments for caffeine being good or bad for you; they’re some pretty staunch camps on the topic. Health benefits of caffeine include:
- Boosts energy production
- Increases metabolism
- Supports mental clarity
- Improves athletic performance
- Supports cardiovascular health
So, what’s so bad about caffeine? The risks of regular caffeine consumption include:
Here’s the thing, though. For the most part, these caffeine-related coffee risks are because of overconsumption of caffeine, as well as when you drink it. Caffeine affects the body for about 5 hours after you drink it. So if you’re having caffeinated coffee at 7pm, you’re not going to sleep well tonight. Yet another great reason to find a decaffeinated coffee that hits the spot.
As for overconsumption, to some extent, you’ll know when you’ve had too much, whether because of jitters or that weird feeling in your chest. Listen to your body; figure out your tolerance and don’t go over it. But for sure never drink more than 300-400mg of caffeine a day. For reference, an 8oz cup of regular coffee contains around 100mg of caffeine.
Why Sustainable, Small Batch Roasted Coffee is Better for You
Say you’ve taken all this advice to heart; you swapped creamers for flavored coffee beans, switched out your 3rd cup of the day with a decaffeinated coffee variety, and you don’t drink caffeinated coffee past 3pm so it won’t affect your sleep.
Bad news – you could still be risking your health. If you’re drinking mass-produced coffee – regular, flavored or decaf – you could be consuming trace chemicals found in industrial processing methods, subpar decaffeination processes and artificial flavors. It’s perhaps also important to note that coffee companies both artisan and behemoth sometimes load their flavored coffee with chemicals like propylene glycol. You should try to find flavored coffees without chemicals.
Good news – you can guarantee you aren’t consuming any of that nasty stuff by purchasing sustainably-sourced Arabica coffee beans from a small-batch roaster. Small-batch specialty coffees are clean; you know where they come from (down to the specific coffee bean farm in some cases), you know how and when they were fresh-roasted, and you can be sure the flavors used in these artisan coffees are natural, sugar-free, gluten-free and vegan. Not many roasters are willing to pay the premium for high-end flavor-ingredients with these desirable attributes.So if you really want to optimize the health benefits of your daily cup of joe, ditch the mass-produced grocery store stuff. They source a cheaper bean and don’t keep their product fresh. Choose a coffee from a small batch specialty roaster. They source a higher quality bean and offer a fresher coffee. This isn’t wine or cheese; you don’t want coffee that has been roasted and then warehoused for months. It simply doesn’t taste nearly as good as specialty organic coffee roasted in small batches.