A zombie. A shell of yourself. Crabby, snappish, and overly sensitive.
On days you go without “It”, those are all terms people would use to describe you. Guess what “It” refers to. Yep, that’s right: coffee.
Or, in other words, life juice.
But as much as you can't live without coffee, have you ever considered that all that sipping (Gulping? Guzzling?) might be bad for you?
After all, it appears that researchers and the media alike can’t seem to decide whether coffee is healthy or not.
Sounds like that crazy, hot-then-cold ex named “Do Not Contact” on your phone, huh?
Well, today, let’s get to the bottom of this coffee mystery together (you’ll have to deal with your ex yourself — sorry ¯_(ツ)_/¯)
Is coffee healthy?
Here’s the thing.
Most research linking coffee and increased risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and premature death is old. Like, maybe not as old as your grandparents, but definitely old.
And don’t be mistaken. The old-ness is not what’s wrong with the research — instead, it’s the fact that many were severely confounded.
The researchers failed to account for the fact that tobacco smokers tend to drink more coffee than non-smokers.
Meaning? Coffee was receiving a largely undeserved bad reputation.
Learning from their mistake, more recent research with appropriately adjusted models (accounting for risk factors like tobacco use and other chronic health conditions, such as obesity) has actually found coffee’s health effects to be either neutral or slightly positive.
In fact, take this 2017 umbrella review of 218 (!) meta-analyses published in The BMJ, for instance.
1️⃣ All-cause mortality
2️⃣ Cardiovascular disease and mortality
3️⃣ Certain types of cancer
4️⃣ Neurological, metabolic, and liver conditions
When intakes of 3-4 cups daily were compared to none. Bottom line? Moderate coffee consumption is likely healthy.
Bonus: coffee also seems to help with weight loss
Coffee is healthy and helps with weight loss (unlike waist training, lol)?
If you thought that sounds too good to be true, here's the surprising bit: it's not. Or, at least, that's what a 2023 study published in Clinical Nutrition suggests.
More specifically, the researchers found that an increase from low to moderate coffee consumption (note: “low” was defined as ≤3 cups/month, and "moderate" was defined as 1-7 cups/month) led to a slight reduction in:
- Total body fat
- Trunk fat
- Visceral adipose tissue (i.e., “hidden” fat stored deep in the belly, wrapped around the organs)
Sidenote: lean is not always better. Learn more here:
That said, significant effects were not observed when coffee consumption increased from low to high (> 1 cup/day).
Curious about the underlying mechanism through which coffee helps with weight loss?
🥤 Displaces other calorie-laden beverages: For example, instead of drinking a chocolate milkshake with a jaw-dropping 520 calories (and that’s for the Small at Macdonald’s!), you drink a Long Black that practically contains 0 calories. This could really bring down your daily calorie intake — helping you achieve the deficit needed for weight loss.
🥴 Has a bitter flavor profile: Preclinical studies have found that bitter substances may stimulate the secretion of gastrointestinal hormones, modulate gut motility (suppressing hunger), and reduce food intake.
Wait … so, why didn’t the researchers see enhanced weight loss results when coffee consumption increased all the way to “high”, then?
Think back to what we said about old research investigating whether coffee was healthy: they suffered from confounding variables. Now, imagine the lifestyle of someone drinking moderate amounts of coffee vs. another drinking at least 1 cup of coffee per day.
Chances are that (not always, but definitely highly likely) the latter would live a more stressful, hectic, fast-paced life that wouldn’t afford them the luxury of:
- Working out frequently
- Meal prepping
- Sleeping enough
So, at the risk of stating the obvious, all these poor lifestyle choices would then interfere with coffee’s weight-loss-enhancing effects.
Moderate coffee consumption should be a part of a healthy lifestyle
OK, what's your takeaway here, then?
Well, it depends on your current coffee consumption level. If you’ve been …
- Trying to avoid coffee because you’re convinced it’s bad for you: You might actually be more healthy drinking more coffee (up to 3-4 cups daily)!
- Drinking 3-4 cups daily: You're pretty much at the "sweet spot". That said, you might want to keep an eye on your sleep. Make sure you can still hit 7-8 hours of high-quality sleep nightly.
- Chugging >4 cups of coffee daily: You might want to consider cutting back to lower your risk of caffeine overdose (which can be life-threatening). After all, coffee probably isn't your only caffeine source — especially if you’re a fan of energy drinks or pre-workouts. Plus, caffeine might not play nice with creatine.
Also, note that coffee won’t magically make you healthier if you don’t exercise and eat like crap.
Think of it as a supplement to, instead of a replacement for, a healthy lifestyle.
Wondering what a healthy lifestyle looks like? Here are a few pointers:
- Proper nutrition (focus on minimally processed foods, with lots of vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, and enough lean protein sources)
- Regular sleep/wake pattern
- Appropriate stress-management techniques, e.g., meditation instead of drowning your sorrows in alcohol
- Regular physical activity — that means cardio, enough NEAT, and resistance training
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Namely, with GymStreak, you’ll never worry about having to plan your own workout sessions; the smart, AI-powered app does it all for you. You'll also find a nutrition planner + tracker that'll help you fuel your body right.
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Find Generic Long Black Calories & Nutrition Facts | MyFitnessPal. (n.d.). Retrieved June 22, 2023, from https://www.myfitnesspal.com/nutrition-facts-calories/generic-long-black/Grilled Chicken Breast (Half
Freedman, N. D., Park, Y., Abnet, C. C., Hollenbeck, A. R., & Sinha, R. (2012). Association of coffee drinking with total and cause-specific mortality. The New England Journal of Medicine, 366(20), 1891–1904. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMoa1112010
Grosso, G., Godos, J., Galvano, F., & Giovannucci, E. L. (2017). Coffee, Caffeine, and Health Outcomes: An Umbrella Review. Annual Review of Nutrition, 37, 131–156. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-nutr-071816-064941
Henn, M., Babio, N., Romaguera, D., Vázquez-Ruiz, Z., Konieczna, J., Vioque, J., Torres-Collado, L., Razquin, C., Buil-Cosiales, P., Fitó, M., Schröder, H., Hu, F. B., Abete, I., Zulet, M. Á., Fernández-Villa, T., Martín, V., Estruch, R., Vidal, J., Paz-Graniel, I., … Ruiz-Canela, M. (2023). Increase from low to moderate, but not high, caffeinated coffee consumption is associated with favorable changes in body fat. Clinical Nutrition (Edinburgh, Scotland), 42(4), 477–485. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clnu.2023.02.004
Marcus, G. M., Rosenthal, D. G., Nah, G., Vittinghoff, E., Fang, C., Ogomori, K., Joyce, S., Yilmaz, D., Yang, V., Kessedjian, T., Wilson, E., Yang, M., Chang, K., Wall, G., & Olgin, J. E. (2023). Acute Effects of Coffee Consumption on Health among Ambulatory Adults. New England Journal of Medicine, 388(12), 1092–1100. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMoa2204737
Opinion | Coffee and Cancer. (1981, March 14). The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/1981/03/14/opinion/coffee-and-cancer.html
Poole, R., Kennedy, O. J., Roderick, P., Fallowfield, J. A., Hayes, P. C., & Parkes, J. (2017). Coffee consumption and health: Umbrella review of meta-analyses of multiple health outcomes. The BMJ, 359, j5024. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.j5024
Rezaie, P., Bitarafan, V., Horowitz, M., & Feinle-Bisset, C. (2021). Effects of Bitter Substances on GI Function, Energy Intake and Glycaemia-Do Preclinical Findings Translate to Outcomes in Humans? Nutrients, 13(4), 1317. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13041317
Small Chocolate Shake: Soft Serve & Chocolate Syrup | McDonald’s. (n.d.). Retrieved June 22, 2023, from https://www.mcdonalds.com/us/en-us/product/chocolate-shake-small.html