What is Coffee?
Coffee is a brewed drink prepared from roasted coffee beans, the seeds of berries from certain Coffea species. When coffee berries turn from green to bright red in color – indicating ripeness – they are picked, processed, and dried.
Dried coffee seeds (referred to as “beans”) are roasted to varying degrees, depending on the desired flavor. Roasted beans are ground and then brewed with near-boiling water to produce the beverage known as coffee.
Coffee is one of the world’s most popular beverages second to water. Worldwide, experts estimate that people consume around 2.25 billion cups of coffee per day.
Thanks to its high levels of antioxidants and beneficial nutrients, it also seems to be quite healthy.
Studies show that coffee drinkers have a much lower risk of several serious diseases.
Essential Nutrients of Coffee
Coffee is rich in many of the nutrients naturally found in coffee beans.
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin): 11% of the DV
- Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid): 6% of the DV
- Vitamin B1 (thiamine): 2% of the DV
- Vitamin B3 (niacin): 2% of the DV
- Folate: 1% of the DV
- Manganese: 3% of the DV
- Potassium: 3% of the DV
- Magnesium: 2% of the DV
- Phosphorus: 1% of the DV
This may not seem like a lot, but try multiplying it with the number of cups you drink per day — it can add up to a significant portion of your daily nutrient intake.
But coffee really shines in its high content of antioxidants. In fact, the typical Western diet provides more antioxidants from coffee than from fruits and vegetables combined.
Regular black coffee (without milk or cream) is low in calories. In fact, a typical cup of black coffee only contains around 2 calories. However, adding cream or sugar will increase the calorific value.
Coffee beans also contain polyphenols, a type of antioxidant. Antioxidants can help rid the body of free radicals, a type of waste product that the body naturally produces as a result of certain processes.
Free radicals are toxic and may cause inflammation. Scientists have found links between inflammation and various aspects of metabolic syndrome, including type 2 diabetes and obesity.
In 2018, some researchers suggested that the antioxidant content of coffee may offer protection from metabolic syndrome. The author of one article from 2017 notes that although scientists can prove that certain compounds are present in coffee beans, it remains unclear what happens to them once they enter the human body.
Benefits of Drinking Coffee
1. The Biggest Source of Antioxidants in the Western Diet
For people who eat a standard Western diet, coffee may be one of the healthiest aspects of their diet. That’s because coffee is quite high in antioxidants.
Studies show that many people get more antioxidants from coffee than from fruits and vegetables combined.
In fact, coffee may be one of the healthiest beverages on the planet.
2. May Help You Live Longer
Given that coffee drinkers are less likely to get many diseases, it makes sense that coffee could help you live longer.
Several observational studies indicate that coffee drinkers have a lower risk of death.
In two very large studies, drinking coffee was associated with a 20% reduced risk of death in men and a 26% decreased risk of death in women, over 18–24 years.
This effect appears particularly strong in people with type 2 diabetes. In one 20-year study, individuals with diabetes who drank coffee had a 30% lower risk of death.
3. Doesn’t Cause Heart Disease and May Lower Stroke Risk
It’s often claimed that caffeine can increase your blood pressure.
This is true, but with a rise of only 3–4 mm/Hg, the effect is small and usually dissipates if you drink coffee regularly.
However, it may persist in some people, so keep that in mind if you have elevated blood pressure.
That being said, studies don’t support the idea that coffee raises your risk of heart disease.
On the contrary, there is some evidence that women who drink coffee have a reduced risk.
4. May Lower Risk of Certain Types of Cancer
Cancer is one of the world’s leading causes of death. It is characterized by uncontrolled cell growth in your body.
Coffee appears to be protective against two types of cancer: liver and colorectal cancer.
Liver cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death in the world, while colorectal cancer ranks fourth.
Studies show that coffee drinkers have up to a 40% lower risk of liver cancer.
Similarly, one study in 489,706 people found that those who drank 4–5 cups of coffee per day had a 15% lower risk of colorectal cancer.
5. Can Fight Depression and Make You Happier
Depression is a serious mental disorder that causes a significantly reduced quality of life.
It’s very common, as about 4.1% of people in the US currently meet the criteria for clinical depression.
In a Harvard study published in 2011, women who drank 4 or more cups of coffee per day had a 20% lower risk of becoming depressed.
Another study in 208,424 individuals found that those who drank 4 or more cups per day were 53% less likely to die by suicide.
6. May Protect Your Liver
Your liver is an amazing organ that carries out hundreds of important functions.
Several common diseases primarily affect the liver, including hepatitis, fatty liver disease, and many others.
Many of these conditions can lead to cirrhosis, in which your liver is largely replaced by scar tissue.
Interestingly, coffee may protect against cirrhosis — people who drink 4 or more cups per day have up to an 80% lower risk.
7. May Lower Your Risk of Parkinson’s
Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative condition, right behind Alzheimer’s.
It’s caused by the death of dopamine-generating neurons in your brain.
As with Alzheimer’s, there is no known cure, which makes it that much more important to focus on prevention.
Studies show that coffee drinkers have a much lower risk of Parkinson’s disease, with a risk reduction ranging from 32–60%.
In this case, the caffeine itself appears to be beneficial, as people who drink decaf don’t have a lower risk of Parkinson’s.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common neurodegenerative disease and the leading cause of dementia worldwide.
This condition usually affects people over 65, and there is no known cure.
However, there are several things you can do to prevent the disease from occurring in the first place.
This includes the usual suspects like eating healthy and exercising, but drinking coffee may be incredibly effective as well.
Several studies show that coffee drinkers have up to a 65% lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
9. May Lower Your Risk of Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is a major health problem, currently affecting millions of people worldwide.
It’s characterized by elevated blood sugar levels caused by insulin resistance or a reduced ability to secrete insulin.
For some reason, coffee drinkers have a significantly reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.
Studies observe that people who drink the most coffee have a 23–50% lower risk of getting this disease. One study showed a reduction as high as 67%.
According to a large review of 18 studies in a total of 457,922 people, each daily cup of coffee was associated with a 7% reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.
10. Contains Essential Nutrients
Many of the nutrients in coffee beans make their way into the finished brewed coffee.
A single cup of coffee contains.
- Riboflavin (vitamin B2): 11% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI).
- Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5): 6% of the RDI.
- Manganese and potassium: 3% of the RDI.
- Magnesium and niacin (vitamin B3): 2% of the RDI.
Though this may not seem like a big deal, most people enjoy several cups per day — allowing these amounts to quickly add up.
11. Can Drastically Improve Physical Performance
Caffeine stimulates your nervous system, signaling fat cells to break down body fat.
But it also increases epinephrine (adrenaline) levels in your blood.
This is the fight-or-flight hormone, which prepares your body for intense physical exertion.
Caffeine breaks down body fat, making free fatty acids available as fuel.
Given these effects, it’s unsurprising that caffeine can improve physical performance by 11–12%, on average.
Therefore, it makes sense to have a strong cup of coffee about half an hour before you head to the gym.
12. Can Help You Burn Fat
Caffeine is found in almost every commercial fat-burning supplement — and for good reason. It’s one of the few natural substances proven to aid fat burning.
Several studies show that caffeine can boost your metabolic rate by 3–11%.
Other studies indicate that caffeine can specifically increase fat burning by as much as 10% in obese individuals and 29% in lean people.
However, it’s possible that these effects diminish in long-term coffee drinkers.
13. Can Improve Energy Levels and Make You Smarter
Coffee can help people feel less tired and increase energy levels.
That’s because it contains a stimulant called caffeine — the most commonly consumed psychoactive substance in the world.
After you drink coffee, the caffeine is absorbed into your bloodstream. From there, it travels to your brain.
In the brain, caffeine blocks the inhibitory neurotransmitter adenosine.
When this happens, the amount of other neurotransmitters like norepinephrine and dopamine increases, leading to enhanced firing of neurons.
Many controlled studies in humans show that coffee improves various aspects of brain function — including memory, mood, vigilance, energy levels, reaction times, and general mental function.
14. Coffee and Other Liver Diseases
People who consume coffee may also have a lower risk of gallstone disease.
In 2014, researchers looked at coffee consumption among people with primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) and primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC). These are autoimmune conditions that affect the bile ducts in the liver.
They found that people with PSC were more likely to have a lower coffee intake than those without the condition. There was no evidence to suggest that coffee intake was different among people with or without PBC.
Also, one 2014 study suggested a link between coffee consumption and a lower risk of dying from nonviral hepatitis-related cirrhosis. The researchers suggested that drinking two or more cups of coffee every day might reduce the risk by 66%.
The Difference Between Regular and Decaf
Some people opt for decaffeinated coffee instead of regular. Decaffeinated coffee is usually made by rinsing coffee beans with chemical solvents. Each time beans are rinsed, some percentage of the caffeine dissolves in the solvent.
This process is repeated until most of the caffeine has been removed. Keep in mind that even decaffeinated coffee does contain some caffeine, just much less than regular coffee.
Drinking too much coffee can also have some adverse effects. In the sections below, we cover some of these risks.
Some studies have found that women who drink a lot of coffee may have a higher risk of bone fractures.
Men with a higher coffee intake, on the other hand, appear to have a slightly lower risk.
The researchers added that coffee consumption may not be safe during pregnancy. In fact, there is some evidence to suggest a link between high coffee consumption and pregnancy loss, a low birth weight, and preterm birth.
There may be a higher risk of endometriosis among women who drink coffee, but there is not enough evidence to confirm such a link.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease
People who drink a lot of coffee may have a slightly higher risk of this condition.
Consuming high amounts of caffeine may increase the risk of anxiety, especially among people with panic disorder or social anxiety disorder. Less commonly, it may trigger mania and psychosis in those who are susceptible.
One study from 2016 concluded that a high intake of caffeine during adolescence can lead to permanent changes in the brain.
The scientists behind the study expressed concern that this could increase the risk of anxiety-related conditions in adulthood.
Presence of toxic ingredients
In 2015, researchers found relatively high levels of mycotoxins in commercial coffee. Mycotoxins are toxic substances that can contaminate coffee as a natural product.
Some people worry that acrylamide, another chemical present in coffee, may be dangerous.
How to Maximize the Health Benefits
There are some things you can do to maximize the beneficial health effects of coffee.
The most important is to not add a lot of sugar to it.
Another technique is to brew coffee with a paper filter. Unfiltered coffee — such as from a Turkish or French press — contains cafestol, a substance that can increase cholesterol levels.
Bear in mind that some coffee drinks at cafés and franchises contain hundreds of calories and a lot of sugar. These drinks are unhealthy if consumed regularly.
Finally, make sure to not drink excessive amounts of coffee.
One meta-analysis from 2017 concluded that it is “generally safe” for most people to consume three to four cups of coffee per day and that doing so may actually reduce the risk of certain health conditions.
The study authors warned, however, that smoking may cancel out any benefits of drinking coffee.
Caffeine is an important feature of coffee, but coffee contains many compounds, and there are different ways of drinking it. This makes it difficult to determine exactly how coffee affects a person and which components have which benefits and risks.
A person who wishes to derive health benefits from coffee should avoid exceeding the daily recommended intake and try to monitor the ingredients they add, such as sugar, cream, or flavorings, as these may not be healthful.
Pregnant women and those at risk of bone fractures may wish to avoid coffee.
If you want to buy coffee, then there is an excellent selection online.
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