The composer J.S. Bach spoke for a lot of us with his Coffee Cantata lyric: "Without my morning coffee, I'm just like a dried-up piece of roast goat."
Americans drink 400 million cups of coffee per day, or 146 billion cups each year. Turns out that it's good for more than jump-starting our mornings or keeping us awake during meetings; a lot of recent research suggests that coffee offers a host of potential health benefits.
This incredibly complex beverage contains more than 1,000 compounds that can affect the body. The most commonly studied are caffeine (a nervous-system stimulant that's known to have positive cognitive effects) and polyphenols (antioxidants that can help slow or prevent cell damage).
Though researchers don't always know exactly which of coffee's ingredients are responsible for producing their studies' health-boosting results, there's evidence that drinking coffee may help do the following:
While he's never gone so far as to prescribe a daily dose of java for any of his patients, he says, "I'm certainly familiar with a lot of research showing that coffee has a mildly beneficial effect in protecting against issues like stroke, diabetes and cardiovascular problems."
He offers a few caveats, however:
Bottom line? Enjoy a daily cup or two of coffee, but don't use it as a substitute for other healthy behaviors.
"Keep in mind that the research focuses on the benefits of black coffee, which we're still learning about," Rothschild says. "But we definitely know the harms associated with the fat and sugar you find in a lot of coffee drinks."
A Starbucks Venti White Chocolate Mocha, for instance, has 580 calories, 22 grams of fat (15 of which are saturated) and 75 grams of sugar. A plain cup of brewed coffee? Two calories, no fat and zero carbs.
If you can't drink it black, stick with low-calorie, low-fat add-ins, such as skim milk or almond milk.
"It's not true that coffee will stunt kids' growth, as parents used to be fond of saying," Rothschild says. But there are a few good reasons for kids not to drink coffee or other caffeinated drinks (e.g., colas and energy drinks).
One study, published in 2014 in the journal Pediatrics, showed that even small amounts of caffeine, equivalent to one cup of coffee, increased children's blood pressure and — to compensate for the rise in blood pressure — slowed heart rates.
Beyond that, Rothschild says, he'd be concerned about sleep disruption and behavioral issues that might result from ingesting a stimulant.
"Caffeine causes the gastroesophageal sphincter to relax, which allows acid to enter the esophagus," Rothschild explains.
"People who have trouble sleeping can get into a vicious cycle: They sleep badly, increase their caffeine intake the next day to compensate, then sleep badly again, and on and on," he says, suggesting that people with insomnia avoid all caffeine after noon.
"There's some evidence showing that moderate to high coffee consumption — more than four cups per day — is linked with calcium loss and fractures," says Rothschild.
Bottom line? Enjoy a daily cup or two of coffee, Rothschild says, but don't use it as a substitute for other healthy behaviors. "Unless you have a condition like reflux, it's fine to keep drinking a reasonable amount of coffee," he says.
But you can also try other healthy ways to get some of the benefits you might attribute to coffee.
"For instance, if you rely on coffee to fight after-lunch sluggishness every day, you might think about getting outside and going for a 10 to 20 minute walk," Rothschild suggests. "It'll not only wake you up, but you'll also get a lot of benefits in terms of bone health and cardiovascular health."
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