The health benefits of coffee

Is coffee actually healthy, can caffeine boost energy and performance, and how much is too much? We look at the science behind the health claims...

A black cup of coffee with coffee beans in a scoop on a table

Coffee is a brewed drink prepared using roasted coffee beans which are taken from the berries of the Coffea plant. There are two main species of coffee beans which are the Arabica and Robusta, and depending on where they are grown, both the country and the altitude determines the flavour of the coffee. For example, Brazilian coffee usually has more chocolate and spice flavour compared to Ethiopian coffee which has a stronger, sweet berry flavour. 

Nutritional benefits of coffee

There are two main factors that could be considered benefits to drinking coffee. The first is associated with its high antioxidant status. Antioxidants are important for health as they prevent our cells from being oxidised by toxins, chemicals and inflammation. The second is the stimulant caffeine, although this also presents potential risk factors if consumed in excessive amounts and for certain people who may be vulnerable to its effects (see below). Coffee, in addition, does contain some B vitamins, magnesium and potassium.

Can coffee help you live longer?

Recent research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine suggests that having three cups of coffee per day could lengthen lifespan by lowering the risk of death from several key conditions including heart disease. The study followed over 500,000 people from 10 European countries for over 16 years. However, critics say that the study could not take into account every circumstance, such as economic, social and other lifestyle factors, that could have contributed to their findings. They also excluded participants with some pre-existing conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, or stroke before beginning the study.

Can coffee increase energy and performance?

Coffee can help some people to feel less tired and increase energy levels thanks to its caffeine content. When coffee is consumed, it is absorbed into the bloodstream and travels to the brain where it ‘fires up’ certain neurons that can lead to improved memory, mood, energy and cognitive function if consumed in moderation.

The caffeine benefits can then reach even further when it comes to athletic performance as it may help to increase the amount of oxygen consumption during exercise, as well as stimulating the nervous system, which may aid the breakdown of body fat for energy. Some reports state that drinking coffee before exercise can improve athletic performance as much as 11-12%.

Can coffee boost metabolism?

Initial research suggests that caffeine may moderately boost your metabolic rate and that it may help the body to burn fat, both during activity and when resting. Researchers have speculated, therefore, that caffeine could show promise in the treatment of obesity. However, more research is required before this could be made as a valid health claim.

A selection of varieties of coffee on spoons on a table

Can coffee prevent Alzheimer’s?

There have been several studies into whether drinking coffee can help guard against neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer's, including papers published in 2010, 2011 and 2015. However, the findings of these studies have so far been inconsistent and larger studies with longer follow-up periods are required before a clear link can be established between coffee and these neurological conditions.

Can coffee help protect against diabetes?

There is some evidence to suggest that coffee may lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, although more research in this area is required. In response to a separate study on coffee and diabetes, the NHS points out that proven methods of reducing your risk include maintaining a healthy weight, eating a varied and balanced diet, and exercising regularly.

Are there any risks in drinking coffee & how much is too much?

The NHS currently do not set limits for coffee consumption for most people, but they do advise pregnant women to limit their caffeine intake to 200mg per day. This is the equivalent to two mugs of instant coffee but less than two mugs of filter coffee.

Caffeine is a stimulant and everyone reacts differently to it. Caffeine can act as a diuretic which can cause the body to produce urine more quickly. People who are more sensitive to caffeine or who drink a lot of caffeinated drinks sometimes report dizziness, tremors and insomnia as side effects. If you are concerned about your caffeine intake you should speak to your doctor or GP.

It is also worth bearing in mind that many coffee-based drinks contain added milk, sugar, artificial sweeteners or flavoured syrups, and these extras can add a significant chunk of calories, fat and sugar to your diet.

Do different varieties make a difference nutritionally?

Coffee comes in different forms: whole beans, ground coffee and freeze-dried. Whole beans and ground coffee are best kept dry and in an airtight container away from light, heat and moisture to maintain freshness and they usually last up to 6 months. Freeze-dried (instant) coffee on the other hand can be kept a lot longer and you should look at the individual jars or containers for their use-by date.

Nutritionally speaking organic black, fresh (beans or ground) coffee is best as it is higher in antioxidants. Some research suggests that dark roast blends have higher antioxidant levels than light or medium roast blends.

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This article was published on 10th July 2017.

Nicola Shubrook is a nutritional therapist and works with both private clients and the corporate sector. She is an accredited member of the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT) and the Complementary & Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). Find out more at urbanwellness.co.uk.

All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other healthcare professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local healthcare provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

Comments, questions and tips

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MummyDove
10th Dec, 2017
Some years ago my mother read that a moderate amount of coffee raises seratonin levels, helping people with mild depression fight it naturally - something I was facing at the time. I started drinking it with tonnes of sugar and milk to disguise the taste then grew to love it. More recently, my liver has been under stress (and under investigation with my GP). Looking into how I could help myself I found this https://www.britishlivertrust.org.uk/liver-information/diet-and-liver-disease/coffee-and-the-liver/ The British Liver Trust has assessed the available research (June 2016) and decided "Regularly drinking moderate amounts of coffee may prevent liver cancer – the World Health Organisation has recently confirmed this reduced risk after reviewing more than 1,000 studies in humans Coffee also lowers the risk of other liver conditions including fibrosis (scar tissue that builds up within the liver) and cirrhosis Drinking coffee can slow the progression of liver disease in some patients Beneficial effects have been found however the coffee is prepared – filtered, instant and espresso" I enjoy my morning latte even more. And I thought a few other readers might appreciate hearing about this research.
shk design
27th Aug, 2017
Like the benefits of drinking red wine, take everything in moderation. Maintain a balanced diet with plenty of exercise. Coffee is not a cure-all. Coffee may lower the risk of certain types of diabetes but when you add cream and sugar instead of drinking it black, you are increasing the fat and the sugar intake which is not good for diabetes. How about getting coffee into a pill or capsule and sell it in a pharmacy as a health food product?
nsriv
24th Nov, 2017
I have following questions 1. What happen if we take coffee with milk and sugar 2. What are the effects of taking tea including milk as compare to coffee
goodfoodteam's picture
goodfoodteam
24th Nov, 2017
Thanks for your question. To find out more about milk, check out the following article: https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/which-milk-right-you. We haven't currently done a similar article for tea but we're continuing adding more health content so watch this space!
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