Post by Doreen MacLean R.D.
“I drink too much coffee” is something I hear an awful lot. Usually it’s one of the first things that a new client will tell me—and then they’ll follow that up with “but I don’t take cream or sugar.”
What I wish I could tell just about every single of one of them is this: You probably aren’t drinking too much coffee! A cup of coffee in the morning is definitely okay. So is two. Heck, even three. Four? You’re pushing it, but you’re probably okay.
There’s actually a lot of research into coffee and its effects. A lot of the research that has been done is observational (which means that researchers ask people who much they drink and then observe to see what diseases they get), rather than interventional (which means that researchers take a group of people who don’t drink coffee and make half of them start drinking coffee and have the other half abstain, and see what the differences are between the two groups). This means that a lot of the research isn’t gold-standard, but it still gives us a pretty good idea of the risks and benefits of coffee.
Some of the benefits of coffee are reductions in disease development. Those who drink moderate amounts of coffee (1-3 cups/day) are less likely to develop diabetes, Parkinson’s, liver disease, and colon cancer, and may be less likely to suffer a stroke. Coffee also has not been shown to promote heart disease, and may promote better cognitive function in later years. There is a lot of speculation about why we see these benefits, and it is suggested that it may be due to the antioxidants, minerals, or caffeine found in coffee. And how can we talk about coffee without talking about the caffeine? Caffeine has been well-researched, and has been shown to improve sports performance if taken before exercise, and also to mildly improve alertness and focus.
While there are a lot of great things about coffee, there are also some risks associated with it. Too much caffeine can have negative effects on the body (as can too much of anything). Excessive caffeine can contribute to high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, anxiety, poor sleep or insomnia, and daytime fatigue. Caffeine can take up to 8 hours to completely clear the body, so it’s best to avoid coffee after 2pm.
Some people are also more sensitive to caffeine than others. Researchers have found a genetic mutation that determines how fast or slow a person’s body breaks down caffeine. If you are sensitive to caffeine, you should avoid too much coffee, as you might be at higher risk of developing heart disease or high blood pressure if you drink too much. You should also avoid coffee in the afternoons as it will be more likely to disrupt your sleep compared to someone who isn’t caffeine sensitive.
So what’s the bottom line? Coffee is good for you, up to about 4 8-oz cups per day, and depending on how sensitive you are to the caffeine and how healthy you are. So go ahead and enjoy your morning coffee!