Amanda Norcross • April 08, 2021
Is coffee good for you? Our answer is a resounding "yes," of course. But we talked to nutritionists and doctors and looked at science-backed studies to get the facts straight.
"The health benefits of coffee are continually being uncovered," says Lisa Richards, nutritionist and author of The Candida Diet. "While some of these benefits may seem insignificant statistically, when coupled with a healthy lifestyle, they can be a health-boosting addition to a balanced diet."
We know it contains very few calories, but is black coffee good for you?
"Black coffee is fine," says Keith-Thomas Ayoob, EdD, RD, FAND. But from a nutritional standpoint, he suggests adding milk if you enjoy your coffee that way, pointing to the benefits of calcium and vitamin D (two important vitamins that many of our diets lack).
There's increasing evidence that decaf coffee is good for you. This study reviews the potential benefits of decaffeinated coffee and indicates there's good reason for more research on its benefits. "Non-caffeine compounds in coffee—and there are hundreds of them—are being investigated for everything from anticarcinogenic effects to prevention of kidney diseases and the reduction of LDL cholesterol (the bad kind)," explains Ayoob. "And when coffee is decaffeinated, the vast majority of potentially beneficial compounds remain, which may be why many studies that also look at decaf coffee still show benefits."
"I base my recommendations for daily coffee consumption on caffeine content," says Ayoob. "A max of 300 milligrams per day should be enough. That's about three 8-ounce cups of home-brewed coffee."
We all rely on coffee for a boost in the morning (or the afternoon or evening). "This is most likely the caffeine at work," says Ayoob. Of course, the caffeine kick eventually wears off and there's risk of the infamous "crash," so he suggests enjoying your coffee with a well-balanced meal that includes protein and fat.
Coffee has proven to increase metabolism in multiple studies, and increased metabolism is what results in more calories burned, ultimately helping you lose weight if that's your goal. "Just don't use it as a diet aid or you may be disappointed over time," Ayoob warns.
Antioxidants offer up a large range of health benefits, and have been seen as a possible prevention of diseases ranging from cancer to Parkinson's disease. "Coffee is the single largest source of antioxidants in the diets of most coffee drinkers," says Ayoob. "It's loaded with hundreds of phenolic compounds and antioxidants, with caffeine being the most well-known."
"Caffeine stimulates insulin production," Ayoob explains. "But consumption of decaf coffee has also been associated with a reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes, so there may be something more than caffeine involved here." Caffeine consumption also lowers the risk of Type 1 diabetes, though you have to drink a lot of coffee in a day. "For those who drink a significant amount of coffee—six or more cups per day—their risk of Type 1 diabetes is 22 percent lower than those who drink less coffee," says Richards.
"Coffee drinkers are known to have lower liver enzyme counts," Richards explains. "This means coffee can have a liver protective aspect and has been shown to reduce the risk of cirrhosis."
When we think about the health benefits of coffee, fiber isn't top of mind for most of us—but it should be. "A little-known fact about coffee is that it provides 1.8 grams of fiber per serving," says Richards. "This may seem like a low number, but with a goal of 20 to 40 grams per day, this makes a cup or two of coffee a day a significant contributor when most people are getting less than 20 grams of fiber in their daily diet.”