It can sometimes seem like every food or drink is linked to unhealthy side-effects. Each week brings new reports of foods we should avoid – even when the evidence behind these supposed health risks is often minimal. This causes confusion and makes it hard to know what we should and shouldn’t eat.
Until recently, coffee was a good example of something we were told to feel guilty for drinking. There was weak evidence that it could cause certain types of cancer, for example, and it was even added to the WHO’s list of carcinogenic substances. This was bad news for coffee lovers like myself!
This view of coffee being unhealthy is beginning to change though. Health benefits of coffee are being uncovered all the time – and it was recently removed from the WHO’s list of carcinogenic substances (much to my relief).
So, if you’re a coffee addict, here are seven scientifically-backed reasons not to feel guilty about drinking it. Most of these need more research to be conclusively proven, but there is evidence to suggest they are real benefits of drinking coffee.
- Coffee (In Moderation) May Protect Against Heart Failure
One of the most surprising benefits of drinking coffee may be that it protects against heart failure.
A study in 2012 by the Beth Israel Deaconess Centre seems to show drinking around four cups of coffee per day decreased the risk of heart failure by up to 11%. This effect was found by analyzing data from over 140,000 people, and the effect was the same for both men and women.
The benefit is almost entirely dependent on how much you drink though. Too little and there is no beneficial effect – at least for heart failure. Too much, which may be as little as six cups per day, and coffee might cause more harm than good. In this case, moderation is key.
There needs to be more research into why coffee has this effect, but it could be because it protects against high blood pressure and diabetes. These are thought to be two of the most dangerous causes of heart failure. The researchers admit more work needs to be done to determine the optimal level of coffee strength and caffeine for heart health though.
- Coffee Could Protect Against Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is an epidemic in the western world. As our diets have changed to include calorie-dense processed foods and plenty of sugar, the risks of diabetes have continued to rise.
That’s why researchers are excited to find that coffee may prevent diabetes. Several studies have shown this effect, but one of the most important was published by UCLA.
Researchers studied women who drink four or more cups of coffee per day. They found these women were up to 50% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those that didn’t drink. This is thought to be because caffeine can stimulate the release of a hormone that regulates testosterone and oestrogen, which have both been linked with type 2 diabetes.
Interestingly, decaf coffee doesn’t have the same effect. So, if you want to reduce your chances of getting diabetes, make sure you drink caffeinated coffee.
- Coffee Improves Energy Levels
Every coffee drinker knows a morning cup helps them feel more awake and ready to face the day. It wasn’t until relatively recently that the cause of the effect was established by research though.
When you drink a cup of coffee, the caffeine it contains crosses into your blood. It’s then taken up to the brain, where it’s involved in blocking a neurotransmitter called Adenosine.
This effectively “makes space” for other neurotransmitters to be become active, which leads to more neurons firing. The result is that coffee doesn’t just make you feel awake, it also improves your reaction times, mood and memory.
One thing that’s not clear is whether coffee brewed from freshly ground beans has a greater stimulatory effect than instant coffee. It would be interesting to know whether coffee brewed by a bean-to-cup machine, such as these, was more beneficial than pod or instant coffee (as many coffee enthusiasts claim). There’s no doubt fresh coffee tastes better though!
- Coffee Contains a Variety of Essential Nutrients
Coffee beans are packed full of important nutrients. Many of these remain after brewing a cup, making coffee a more nutritious alternative to plain water.
Examples of nutrients contained in coffee include Vitamin V6, Manganese, Potassium and Vitamin B2. A cup may also contain a small amount of magnesium.
It’s true the amounts of these nutrients in your coffee is small. You probably can’t hit your recommend daily allowances just from coffee, even if you drink 4-5 cups per day. Coffee can still help you meet nutritional targets though.
- Coffee May Help You Lose Weight
Most of the ingredients in weight-loss supplements have one thing in common: they aren’t proven to help you lose weight.
The exception is caffeine. It’s found in almost every weight loss supplement – and has been proven to speed up metabolism by up to 11%. This won’t help much if you’re overeating, but can lead to greater fat loss for people on a restricted calorie diet.
So, if you want to speed up fat loss, skip the expensive supplements and just drink coffee each day.
- Coffee May Protect Your Liver
Coffee has been shown to potentially reduce the risks of liver disease and liver cancer. In a recent study, regular consumption of coffee was found to lower the risk of cancer in the liver by up to 40%. Similar amounts of coffee may also reduce the risk of a disease called PSC and even cirrhosis of the liver.
Why coffee protects your liver isn’t so clear. Unlike diabetes, decaffeinated coffee has the same effect. This suggests it’s caused by an ingredient of the coffee rather than caffeine.
Whatever the reason, drinking coffee – at least in moderation – seems to be great for your liver.
- Reduces the Chance of Parkinson’s Disease
One of the most common illnesses of the central nervous system is Parkinson’s disease. This disease causes symptoms such as slow movements, inflexible muscles and involuntary tremor.
Back in 2013, researchers released a study that seems to show increased coffee intake may protect against Parkinson’s. The effect isn’t small either. Researchers described coffee drinkers as having a “significantly lower incidence of Parkinson’s.”
As a further benefit, coffee may help people already suffering from Parkinson’s disease. This is because the high caffeine content of coffee may help with limb control.
There are plenty of guilty pleasures in the modern western diet – but coffee doesn’t need to be one of them. With a variety of health benefits, you can feel relaxed in the knowledge that moderate coffee consumption is probably good for you.
The key word is moderation though. Excessive caffeine consumption can cause anxiety, shaking and other negative symptoms. According to the research, the sweet spot seems to be around 3-4 cups per day. Listen to your body though, as it’s often obvious if you’ve drunk too much!
Barbara is a mum, wife and coffee addict from the UK. When she’s not drinking or writing about coffee, she’s probably playing with her beloved bulldog (Lola). You can find her on Twitter.