Is Coffee Unhealthy?

Myths Stripped, Nutrition Stripped

Is Coffee Unhealthy | Nutrition Stripped #coffee #unhealthy #nutritionmyths

Is coffee unhealthy…or not? As a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, I’m asked questions like this all the time and seeing what goes on in the wellness digital space can sometimes be comical. I often see trends and dogmas being repeated and thrown around and then taken as fact. Let’s strip this myth once and for all. Is coffee unhealthy…or not?

“In this series, I’m stripping away the fluff around these nutrition and healthy living myths, dogmas, and practices from reading your submissions to our inbox. Join the conversation and share in the comments why/if you went along with this myth.”


Is coffee unhealthy…or not? 

Did you know that the average Americans drinks about 3 cups of coffee a day? (5) Coffee is the primary source of caffeine in our diet. Although numerous studies show drinking coffee can improve health from lowering risk of certain types of cancer, Parkinson’s disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and heart disease, caffeine in coffee might not be great for everyone. Other than the “pH acidic theory”, when did coffee get such a bad rap? Advocates and gurus who shy away from coffee consumption purely based on the fact that it’s “acidic” leave me wondering if they know what our bodies actually do to control pH balance in the body. Yes, coffee is acidic and foods do contribute to an overall alkaline or acidic ash in our bodies, but we have to give our bodies more credit here. Our bodies tightly regulate our pH levels and, yes, food can affect this. One cup of coffee may show up “acidic” in a urinary analysis (or using urine strips to test), but those results don’t support the theory in full, plus urine strips aren’t a great measure for our overall body pH (more on the acid vs. alkaline diet theory later) (9). However, abstaining from coffee because of individual preference or your sensitivity to it – well, that’s another story to dive into with some credibility. For most of us, though, just because coffee is acidic doesn’t mean it’s unhealthy for us. That isn’t a pass to guzzle five cups of coffee a day, though, as there are some problems that come from drinking coffee or too much coffee.


No. 1_ The quality and how it was grown. I’ve spoken before about my recommendation to only use fair trade and organic sources of coffee (and chocolate) to make sure you’re supporting healthful labor practices, but organic also ensures high quality coffee beans. I have my favorite brands listed at the end of this post and how to use it. Coffee is one of the most heavily sprayed crops with pesticides, so choosing high quality coffee ensures that you aren’t adding harmful chemicals and toxins to your body.

No. 2_ Caffeine and your dependency on it. I never knew how much I relied on the caffeine in coffee to “wake me up” for the day until I was laying in bed one Sunday morning and I just wanted to sleep in. Yet what interrupted my plans for sleeping in was this pull to the kitchen to get coffee. It was at that point I realized how caffeine can have dependency and addictive qualities. I cut out coffee cold turkey that day and only started integrating it back into my diet a couple of years ago. I’m sharing my experience with you to test you and encourage you to ask yourself, “what would happen if I cut out coffee?” Do you know what you feel like without caffeine/coffee? For this reason, I recommend cycling (3) caffeine and coffee use to keep your body in check.

No. 3_ Stress and anxiety. Caffeine from coffee is a stimulant and great for post-workout for some individuals, but on the other hand, if you suffer from anxiety or are living with high stress, coffee isn’t for you (4). On the flip side, caffeine has also been shown to help decrease depression and symptoms of anxiety, although those studied were probably “fast metabolizers” and not your average person. If you struggle with depression or tend towards anxiety, try cutting down on coffee and see if you notice a difference in the way you feel.

No. 4_ Hormonal health. I’m fascinated with the role our hormones like cortisol play in our bodies. Cortisol is an interesting hormone (we’ll be talking more in depth later on this one) that increases when your body is under physical/mental/emotional stress. Increased cortisol is a normal stress response, but what’s not normal is chronically high levels of cortisol. Caffeine found in coffee can exacerbate stress and increase cortisol levels, so again, if you’re a sensitive individual be mindful of this. Cortisol in particular has this tricky way of throwing off our delicate hormonal balance. Dr. Sara Gottfried calls this phenomenon the “progesterone steal” and explains how it may not be the best to consume for those with thyroid issues (15).  Also, if you want to nerd out about this process, Dr. Sarah Ballantyne is also a great resource on hormones (2).

No. 5_ Sleep. Are you burning the candle from both ends? Emotional, physical, mental stress, chronic illness, not sleeping well, or not following your self-care routine? You could be more sensitive to caffeine under these times of stress on the body. Be mindful and listen into what your body is telling you. If you feel worn down, coffee might be too much and exaggerate your symptoms, especially when consumed closer to the late afternoon/evening times. Some people show that caffeine doesn’t affect sleep at all, whereas others couldn’t sleep after drinking caffeine late in the day (8). This just goes to show we’re all unique and we have to find what works for us. Listen to your body and if you notice that caffeine late in the day keeps you up or causes restless sleep, limit it after noon or so.

No. 6_Your DNA. Our liver does many things and metabolizing caffeine is one of them. Some of us are “slow metabolizers” of caffeine (due to a gene called CYP1A2), which basically means you process caffeine slowly which can increase your chances for impaired fasting glucose (6), heart disease (1), and hypertension (7). Some of the health benefits listed in this post also are closely related to the “fast metabolizers” among us, so if you think you might be slow metabolizer (again, listen to your body), consider cutting down on the amount of caffeine you drink.

No. 7_ Nutrient absorption. Caffeine can also affect your body’s absorption of minerals such as iron and zinc which may lead to iron deficiency anemia (10). If you think you might have a mineral deficiency, read up more on that topic here and consider getting blood tests done by a doctor.

Coffee, Elevated | Medicinal Mushroom Bulletproof Coffee Nutrition Stripped

Now that I’ve detailed how caffeine might negatively affect your body and your health, it’s time to get to the good part. Read below for how coffee might be good for you.


No. 1_ Cancer: Coffee may help reduce risk for certain types of cancer including prostate, liver, breast, gastric, and colorectal.

No. 2_ Diabetes and metabolic syndrome: In this case, coffee may help improve blood sugar control and reduce weight just by drinking 1 1-1/2 cups of coffee a day. (11) (12) (14)

No. 3_ Inflammation: Coffee has been associated with reducing inflammation (16), oxidative stress (17), and HDL cholesterol.

No. 4_ Mental and athletic performance: Caffeine increases blood flow and circulation to the muscles, and since it’s a stimulant you can guess this would give you a jolt in the gym. Some studies have shown that you can burn 15% more calories with a pre-workout cup of coffee (18). On the mental/emotional front, some studies have shown that depression decreases with increases in caffeine (but these could be the “fast metabolizers” we discussed earlier). (13)

The verdict:

Coffee isn’t “bad” for you or unhealthy, but sensitive individuals should be mindful of the caffeine levels in their diet and listen to their body especially during stressful periods in life. I personally love coffee, but there’s a fine line between enjoying it in moderation and triggering my migraines. I typically cycle off for 3 weeks at a time to give my body, hormones, and adrenals a break. If you do love coffee, be sure to purchase only from organic and fair trade producers like this one in the NS Shop and also listen to how your body functions on caffeine.

Take action. Want to test getting “off the coff”? Try this:

  • Day 1: consume your normal amount, for example 1 cup
  • Day 2: cut down 1/4 cup, for example drinking 3/4 cup
  • Day 3: cut down 1/4 cup
  • Day 4: cut down 1/2 cup, for example drinking 1/2 cup
  • Day 5: cut down 1/2 cup
  • Day 6: consume only 1/4 cup, for example drinking just a small amount
  • Day 7: your done, replace with the following recipes!

Replace your coffee with these:

Coffee lovers unite and try these nutrient dense recipes:


Have you ever followed this myth? Leave a comment and let’s chat! And if you’d like more guidance from a nutrition expert on how much coffee you should be drinking for your health and wellness goals, sign up here for a 1-1 nutrition consult.

xx McKel

(1) Cornelis MC, El-Sohemy A, Kabagambe EK, Campos H. Coffee, CYP1A2 genotype, and risk of myocardial infarction. JAMA. 2006 Mar 8;295(10):1135-41. PubMed PMID: 16522833.
(4) Broderick P, Benjamin AB. Caffeine and psychiatric symptoms: a review. J Okla State Med Assoc. 2004 Dec;97(12):538-42. Review. PubMed PMID: 15732884.
(5) | National Coffee Drinking Trends 2010, National Coffee Association
(6) Palatini P, Benetti E, Mos L, Garavelli G, Mazzer A, Cozzio S, Fania C, Casiglia E. Association of coffee consumption and CYP1A2 polymorphism with risk of impaired fasting glucose in hypertensive patients. Eur J Epidemiol. 2015 Mar;30(3):209-17. doi: 10.1007/s10654-015-9990-z. Epub 2015 Jan 17. PubMed PMID: 25595320.
(7) Palatini P, Ceolotto G, Ragazzo F, Dorigatti F, Saladini F, Papparella I, Mos L, Zanata G, Santonastaso M. CYP1A2 genotype modifies the association between coffee intake and the risk of hypertension. J Hypertens. 2009 Aug;27(8):1594-601. doi: 10.1097/HJH.0b013e32832ba850. PubMed PMID: 19451835.
(8) Penolazzi B, Natale V, Leone L, Russo PM. Individual differences affecting caffeine intake. Analysis of consumption behaviours for different times of day and caffeine sources. Appetite. 2012 Jun;58(3):971-7. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2012.02.001. Epub 2012 Feb 9. PubMed PMID: 22326679.
(9) Remer T, Manz F. Potential renal acid load of foods and its influence on urine pH. J Am Diet Assoc. 1995 Jul;95(7):791-7. PubMed PMID: 7797810.
(10) Muñoz LM, Lönnerdal B, Keen CL, Dewey KG. Coffee consumption as a factor in iron deficiency anemia among pregnant women and their infants in Costa Rica. Am J Clin Nutr. 1988 Sep;48(3):645-51. PubMed PMID: 3414579.
(11) Shilpa Bhupathiraju et al. Changes in coffee intake and subsequent risk of type 2 diabetes: three large cohorts of US men and women. Diabetologia, April 2014 DOI: 10.1007/s00125-014-3235-7
(12) Rustenbeck I, Lier-Glaubitz V, Willenborg M, Eggert F, Engelhardt U, Jörns A. Effect of chronic coffee consumption on weight gain and glycaemia in a mouse model of obesity and type 2 diabetes. Nutr Diabetes. 2014 Jun 30;4:e123. doi: 10.1038/nutd.2014.19. PubMed PMID: 24979152; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4079928.
(13) Lucas M, Mirzaei F, Pan A, et al. Coffee, Caffeine, and Risk of Depression Among Women. Archives of Internal Medicine. 2011;171(17):1571-1578. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2011.393.
(14) Effects of coffee consumption on subclinical inflammation and other risk factors for type 2 diabetes: a clinical trialAm J Clin Nutr 2010 ajcn.28548; First published online February 24, 2010.doi:10.3945/ajcn.2009.2854
(17) Hori A, Kasai H, Kawai K, Nanri A, Sato M, Ohta M, Mizoue T. Coffee intake is associated with lower levels of oxidative DNA damage and decreasing body iron storage in healthy women. Nutr Cancer. 2014;66(6):964-9. doi: 10.1080/01635581.2014.932398. Epub 2014 Jul 25. PubMed PMID: 25062326.
(18) Fernández-Elías VE, Del Coso J, Hamouti N, Ortega JF, Muñoz G, Muñoz-Guerra J, Mora-Rodríguez R. Ingestion of a moderately high caffeine dose before exercise increases postexercise energy expenditure. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2015 Feb;25(1):46-53. doi: 10.1123/ijsnem.2014-0037. Epub 2014 Jun 5. PubMed PMID: 24901809.

Share your thoughts

  • Denine

    Great article about coffee!! Such a refreshingly accurate assessment!! I love your suggestion for cycling off caffeine and had not thought about that. Great idea! Thank you!

    • McKel Hill

      Glad you enjoyed it Denine! xM

    • Seth

      Should be…I love and appreciate your blog
      (Darn gadgets and their auto incorrect edits)

      • McKel Hill

        Great suggestions and topics to bring up, thanks for sharing Seth!

    • Marie

      I really enjoyed this and found it very usefull. Thank you for all those information.

      • McKel Hill

        Glad it was helpful Marie!

  • Christine

    I’m curious how you cycle your caffeine intake as mentioned the other day and in this article? I’m not dependant on coffee or caffeine by any means but do take a pre-workout (vega) supplement before my intense workouts 2-3x a week and like the tradition of having a coffee on occasion or matcha tea. Would love to know more! Thanks 🙂

    • McKel Hill

      Cycling can be as simple as going off coffee/and all caffeine for a couple weeks at a time, every season or every other month. Again it’s all about your sensitivity. If I start becoming “dependant” on coffee to get out of bed in the mornings, I know I gotta call it quits for a bit. Make sense?

  • Brooklyn

    Great post! How do you typically sweeten your coffee if at all & what milk do you recommend? Thanks! ❤️

    • McKel Hill

      I don’t sweeten it! I make my Coffee Elevated, high fat and that’s all ya need! (stevia if you “need” a little something)

  • Zoe

    Great article McKel! I’m just curious as to why matcha is considered a better alternative to coffee itself; I have read that matcha, or a matcha latte, as an equivalent amount of caffeine as coffee does. Both matcha and coffee contain their own antioxidants, so what makes the caffeine in matcha superior?

    • McKel Hill

      Great question Zoe, I don’t say matcha is a better alternative, just “a” alternative if you don’t want to drink coffee. The makeup of matcha is different and their caffeine content is different as well. You can read up on matcha here! Hope that helps answer your question!

  • Samantha

    Hey McKel! I love, love, love your website and especially this blog post. As a nutritionist + coffee lover myself, I was super engaged by this blog piece. What’re your thoughts on a liver detox and coffee consumption?

  • Shyla

    This is such a great article! I personally LOVE coffee, and have for many years, but caffeine doesn’t really love my body. I am really excited to hear more about your opinions on the alkaline vs. acidic body debate. It’s such an interesting topic and I would like to hear your thoughts on the subject. Due to my caffeine sensitivity, I have been researching decaffeinated coffee to curb the jitters… and there is some nasty stuff they do to decaffeinate it! However, I did run across a method of decaffeination called Swiss Water Decaffeination. Do you know anything about this or have any advice/opinions that you’d like to share?

    Thanks in advance!


    • McKel Hill

      Yes, I don’t recommend decaf because of the processing. I would recommend trying something like Teeccino mentioned here in the blog or other alternatives!

  • Maria

    Great article! It took me years to understand my sensitivity to coffee. I still drink it and i’ve learned to listen to my body to adapt my consumption. I also opt for decaf a few times a week and I feel much better 🙂

    • McKel Hill

      Thanks for sharing Maria! When drinking decaf, I would recommend being mindful of the source as well. 😉

  • Maria | Go messy or go hungry

    Great article! It’s a balance, like everything. One thing I didn’t see you mention is medication – at one point I was taking a type of birth control that made me metabolize caffeine more slowly. If I had more than one cup I was jittery the whole day!

  • Kate

    Does coffee have any impact on skin? Like causing breakouts and so on?

    • McKel Hill

      It could be one of several different factors (mainly hormonal impact)

  • Brynn at The Domestic Dietitian

    Such a a great and informative post!

    I love that you include the pro’s and con’s! I think everyone is so different to how they react to certain foods. I love that you advise finding what works best for you.

    I personally know that 2 cups is my limit or I start to feel jittery and actually kinda cranky! My husband on the other hand literally drinks a pot of coffee every day and sometimes even makes himself a cup before going to bed at night. Caffeine really doesn’t affect him and he doesn’t seem to have any of the other side effects. Everyone reacts differently 🙂

    • McKel Hill

      Funny isn’t it, how different people react to coffee and caffeine! Glad you enjoyed the post Brynn xM

  • Ann

    Great article, McKel! FYI: I was hoping to share this on Facebook as I get this question about coffee all the time, but the link came up as “not found” when I used your FB button at the bottom of the post.

    In any case, thanks for the great work you do – so inspiring!

    • McKel Hill

      Sometimes FB is silly like that; if you refresh your browser that tends to work! Thanks for sharing it though and glad it was helpful Ann!

  • Summer

    In your post you write “I have my favorite brands listed at the end of this post and how to use it” but I can’t find that information. Did I miss it? Thank you.

    • McKel Hill

      Yep! I have it written under “the verdict” in the NS Shop!

  • Nicole Rae

    What a great summary! I love that this article sticks to the facts and presents both sides objectively. I’ve never been a fan of the acid/alkaline food theory myself – I think the same thing – “Don’t these people know what our bodies can do?” I myself have noticed that if I’m stressing out my ears, it’s better to lay off the coffee. It just makes my chest hurt because it spikes my anxiety up. But, on the other hand, life without coffee for me is bleak and terrible. I am a self-professed coffee addict. I genuinely love the taste and, as someone with a “to do” list that’s constantly longer than reality will allow, I rely on coffee to accomplish absolutely everything I possibly can. And that works for me! Coffee is one big warm “you can do it!” in a cup.

    • McKel Hill

      Haha I love this Nicole and couldn’t agree with you more! I LOVE coffee, but I have my seasons with it 😉 Thanks for sharing this!

  • Kristina

    Love how you utilize scientific sources! –a fellow RD

    • McKel Hill

      Air high five! #teamdietitian

  • Leslie

    This is one of the best articles I’ve ever read about coffee! I’m someone who loves coffee, but I’m sensitive to it. It can trigger migraines for me too. I have also decided recently that I don’t want to be addicted to coffee. I was drinking 3 mugs of strong coffee every day. I’m down now to 1 small cup in the morning and a demi-tasse in the afternoon. I’m thinking of cutting down more and doing a half coffee/chicory in the morning. One thing I would warn about cutting coffee too quickly – I’ve found that I have a hard time being regular when I don’t have coffee. Even with more liquids and fiber in my diet. Trying to “get healthy” too soon in the past led to diverticulitis that made me sick for 2 years. (In my “get healthy” Rush, I also was doing a banana smoothie, which I’ve learned bananas make me constipated and I was snacking on almonds which were like throwing nails on my irritated colon.) I’m doing better now, but I am cautious now about radical diet changes too quickly.

    What about the myth(?) that adding milk to your coffee gives fibroids?

    • McKel Hill

      Thanks for sharing your story and experience Leslie, everyone is so different with coffee. I’ve never heard of that myth about milk and fibroids!

  • Nina

    One other potential problem is digestion imo. I have a pretty sensitive digestive system and coffee really irritates my digestion most of the time so I never really feel like having it.

    • McKel Hill

      Great point to bring up! I’m not sure how I grazed over that in detail, but yes it can be very hard on digestion for some.

  • Haley

    Great article! This is exactly what I was looking for: and non-biased, research based post on the pros/cons of coffee consumption. You’re a rockstar. Thanks for the post!

  • Candace Meagan Young

    Hey McKel,

    I have found myself drinking more coffee since starting grad school then I did in undergrad. Mostly because I took adderal in undergrad and have found that my behavior is better for it by not taking it any longer. I am anemic unfortunately, so I have found myself crashing hard every 4-5 days. I take iron pills and iron nutrient foods and then I feel better. Then it starts all over again. Just a roller coaster ride! I know how you said that our bodies can regulate PH levels but since I am drinking an abundant amount of coffee per day, do you think low acidity coffee will do the trick or is there some magical coffee that won’t effect my iron levels? BTW, thank you for doing this post, I have found myself going over it many times! 🙂

    • Hello! I would recommend you take any iron supplements AWAY from coffee, tea, high fiber foods, and take them with vitamin C rich foods to help absorption. There can be many underlying issues that cause low iron, so first it’s about figuring that out- happy to do a consult with you as well. Email [email protected] xx

      • Candace Meagan Young

        That makes a lot of sense. Thanks so much!

  • Emilie Grow

    I have recently been wondering about high fructose corn syrup. Some people have told me that it is no worse than other sugars, and some have told me it’s absolutely terrible. I can’t find any of your blog posts about it. Have you covered this topic? What are your views? I would love to read a post about this!!:)

    • I have a couple blog posts on sugar related topics but more to come + something coming Jan. 2017 to help!

  • Lilianne Pare

    Great article. This reading comes up a few months after I cut coffee consumption altogether. I had to travel for work to a place where the coffee was really bad, so I turned to tea not to poison myself 😛
    I was not a huge but regular coffee drinker (max 1 or 2 cups per day, mostly espresso style). I started noticing difference, in my digestion mostly. Waaay better. And although I was drinking it mostly for the taste (and morning comfort!) and not for its wakening effect, I think I did started feeling more calm after stopping coffee. I have a sometime high level stress job, and I am by nature someone quite hyper.
    Bottom line I feel better with only the occasional coffee.

    So, since I reversed my coffee/tea ratio, what about the effects of caffeine from tea? From my personal experience (and since I’ve been drinking tea by the jar for the past months) it seems like I react better to it.

    • Happy you enjoyed this post and it was helpful answering your questions Lilianne! Have you read the tea 101 blog post yet? That’ll answer your questions about caffeine in teas 🙂

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Nutrition Stripped is a participant of several affiliate programs which is designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking directly to sources that Nutrition Stripped genuinely likes. If you click on any of those links, which are known as “affiliate links”, and make a purchase within a certain time frame, I’ll get a small commission. The commission is paid by the third parties, not by you! Affiliate links and resources earned help support my efforts here at Nutrition Stripped, thank you!

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T-shirt Size Chart

Size US Sizes UK Sizes AUS Sizes
Small (S) 2-4 32-34 6-8
Medium (M) 6-10 36-40 9-13
Large (L) 10-14 40-44 13-17


No worries, just shoot us a quick email at [email protected] with SHOP in the subject and let us know what size you’re looking for and we’ll set you up!

Avocado Love t-shirt is made with super soft blend of 65% poly 35% viscose; it’s lightweight, flowy, hangs off the body and runs true to size. The boxy crop tee doesn’t show the tummy, just slightly when you raise your hands.

Matcha Matcha Matcha t-shirt is made with a durable 100% cotton blend. It runs a bit on the larger side, but shrinks an entire size due to the cotton.

Kale Made Me Do It t-shirt is made with super soft blend of 65% poly 35% viscose; it’s lightweight, flowy, hangs off the body and runs true to size. The sleeves are purposefully a little loose, hanging off the shoulders giving room to move.

Good Food Good Vibes t-shirt is made with super soft blend of 65% poly 35% viscose; it’s lightweight, flowy, hangs off the body and runs true to size. The sleeves have a deep scoop showing your side body more than a normal tank, great to show off a touch of your sports bra, lacy bra, or any tank underneath.

Each t-shirt is individually hand screen printed here in Nashville, TN by our friends Grand Palace Printing. Each design is printed multiple times to ensure quality color. A lot of love goes into making every single t-shirt, here’s how to take care of it when it gets to you:

+ Wash cold
+ Line dry or lay flat to dry to retain best color and size

Shop Support

Have questions about your order? Exchanges/returns, or just to share a testimonial of your experience with Nutrition Stripped? We’re happy to help answer any and all questions you might have. Please email us at [email protected].

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