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  • Stacey Simon, RD

Ask the Dietitian: Is Coffee Healthy?

Question: "I’ve heard that coffee is good for me, but I’m not convinced. Is coffee okay for my diet?"


If you’re anything like me, you love a hot cup of coffee on a cool fall morning (or afternoon!). You may be wondering if coffee is a healthy drink, an okay addition to your diet, or something you should avoid. Luckily for my fellow coffee lovers, coffee in moderation can be a part of a balanced, nourishing diet, and may even improve our health. Here, we’ll take a look at some of the literature on coffee to help answer your question!



How much is too much coffee?

When we talk about “moderation,” you may be wondering what that means. When talking about coffee limits, we’re more concerned with caffeine limits than coffee in general. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting caffeine to a maximum of 400 mg daily. An 8-ounce cup of joe contains around 95 mg caffeine (it may contain more or less, depending upon the beans you use, how they’re ground, and the way you prepare them). Too much caffeine can cause increased heart rate, insomnia, anxiety, and jitters. Certain individuals may be more sensitive to the effects of caffeine than others, too. Remember that we also get caffeine from other foods and beverages including chocolate, teas, and sodas, so your caffeine intake can add up quickly.



Coffee add-ons

Of course, when we talk about the many benefits of coffee, we’re not talking about those (albeit fun) mix-ins like cream, creamer, sugar, whipped cream, syrups, and more. Many creamers and creams are high in saturated fat, which isn’t good for our hearts, and many syrups (I’m looking at you, PSL or peppermint mocha!) are high in added sugar, which isn’t good for our blood sugar.



Skip the whip, reduce the pumps of flavored sweetness, opt for a low saturated fat milk or creamer and you can make that coffee drink a more regular part of your diet!


The Benefits of Coffee on Health

There are studies that lead us to believe that long-term coffee drinkers have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes than non-coffee-drinkers. When it comes to the heart, coffee may play a role there, too. Coffee may help lower the risk of heart disease and stroke. Coffee may play a role in our mental health, as well. One study found that participants who drank 4 or more cups of coffee daily had lower risk of depression. Studies also hint at the possibility of guarding against Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, too. Coffee also contains plant compounds called polyphenols which act as antioxidants and can help reduce pain, stress, and inflammation. Coffee has also been shown to support liver health and reduce colon cancer risk.


The Bottom Line on Coffee

If you’re a coffee lover, drink up knowing the many potential benefits of coffee, including decreased risk of:


· Stroke

· Alzheimer’s disease

· Parkinson’s disease

· Colon cancer

· Liver cancer

· Heart disease

· Depression

· And much more!


Of course, even with all these potential benefits, those who don’t tolerate caffeine or coffee for any reason (which may include jitteriness, anxiety, trouble controlling blood pressure, or a sensitive stomach) should steer clear (or switch to decaf, if that helps!). As with alcohol, if you don’t already drink coffee, there’s no need to start. And for pregnant or breastfeeding mamas, talk with your doctor or dietitian about specific caffeine limits.


And of course, remember that added cream and sugar makes that cup of joe less health-forward, so dress up that cuppa with care!


Stacey Simon, MS RDN CSG CDN is a virtual dietitian. If you're looking to work with a dietitian, you can give Stacey a call at 603.264.7382 or email her at stacey@staceysimonnutrition.com for more information.

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