Apr. 15. 2016
Written By:
McKel (Hill) Kooienga
McKel Hill Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel Hill Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

Founder of Nutrition Stripped and the Mindful Nutrition Method™

Is coffee healthy or not?

One day you’ll read an article sharing the benefits of coffee and how it can help you live longer, yet the next day you’ll read an article sharing coffee isn’t good for you. So, should you be drinking coffee?

Is Coffee Healthy?

Did you know that the average Americans drink 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 the 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.

When did coffee get such a bad reputation? Some advocates who shy away from coffee consumption based on it’s “acidity” may be missing the facts of how our bodies 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 of our overall body pH (9).

However, abstaining from coffee because of individual preference or your sensitivity to it is another story to dive into with some credibility. 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 may come with drinking coffee or too much coffee.

Things To Consider When Drinking Coffee

The quality and how coffee is grown

We recommend 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 to your body.

Caffeine dependency

Do you rely on coffee to wake you up for the day? What would happen if you cut coffee out of your day, would you miss it terribly or be okay? 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.

May make anxiety worse

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 might not be for you right now (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.

Can impact your hormones

Cortisol is an interesting hormone 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.

Can decrease sleep quality

Are you burning the candle at 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 in to 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.

You might metabolize coffee differently

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.

Can impact 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.

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.

Potential Benefits of Drinking Coffee

Reduce certain types of cancer

Coffee may help reduce the risk for certain types of cancer including prostate, liver, breast, gastric, and colorectal.

Reduce 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)

Reduce Inflammation

Coffee has been associated with reducing inflammation (16), oxidative stress (17), and HDL cholesterol.

Improve 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)

How To Decrease Coffee Consumption

If you’re curious about what life is like without coffee or want to test how dependent you are on coffee, try this simple timeline to wean yourself off the caffeine.

  • 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: you’re done, replace with the following recipes!

Replace your coffee with these:

Coffee lovers unite and try these nutrient-dense recipes:

NS Recommends

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 a break. If you do love coffee, be sure to purchase only from organic and fair trade products.

(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.
(2) http://www.thepaleomom.com/2014/08/chronic-stress-leads-hormone-imbalance.html
(3) http://examine.com/faq/do-i-need-to-cycle-caffeine/
(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) http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/multimedia-article/facts/ | 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
(15) http://www.saragottfriedmd.com/coffee-hijacks-thyroid-levels-2/
(16) http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/early/2010/02/24/ajcn.2009.28548.abstract#_jmp0_
(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.