Thanks to Intern Sanaa for helping to put this article together!
On average, Americans drink about three cups of coffee per day.
As a reminder, we consider one cup of coffee to be 6 ounces, which is pretty small in today’s typical coffee mug!
Historically, people have seen drinking coffee as a bad habit, associating it with other vices like alcohol consumption and smoking, but over the years, the health debate around coffee has become a subject of much contention.
The question has been whether or not this drink causes more harm than good, and now, research sheds new light on the subject.
According to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), coffee consumption is unlikely to increase the risk of pancreatic and kidney cancer, and may actually reduce the risk of endometrial and liver cancer.
Scientists have discovered several phytochemicals (yes, those cancer fighting nutrients we’re always talking about!) in coffee including chlorogenic and quinic acids. In addition, coffee is a good source of the B-vitamin riboflavin, a nutrient that helps your cells produce energy and promotes immune function.
The AICR recently added coffee to its list of cancer fighting foods and declares that research is actively being done to provide more evidence on the extent of coffee’s health benefits.
Caffeinated vs Decaffeinated Coffee
The AICR states that one theory as to how coffee might protect against colorectal cancer is due to its caffeine content. Caffeine is considered to possibly speed up the digestion process, which reduces the amount of time that the cells lining our digestive tracts are exposed to carcinogens. Caffeine may also influence cell signaling, disrupting colorectal cancer growth.
The health benefits aren’t limited to caffeinated coffee only!
Research indicates that although levels of certain phytochemicals such as chlorogenic acid may be lower in decaf coffee, decaf coffee still contains plenty of nutrients; in fact, some human studies suggest that decaf coffee is just as effective as regular coffee in reducing risk of Type II Diabetes – and we know that reducing your risk of Type II Diabetes offers a multitude of other health benefits including reducing cancer risk.
How much coffee is too much coffee?
If you are drinking enough to experience symptoms of high caffeine consumption such as:
- muscle tremors, and
- stomach upset
Then you may be drinking too much coffee!
Research has found that there are no negative effects associated with drinking up to 36 ounces of coffee (six 6-ounce cups), but keep in mind that the safe limit for caffeine consumption is about 400 mg per day—that’s 24 ounces of coffee (four 6-ounce cups).
In addition, some people may be more sensitive to caffeine and therefore reduce their intake, and still others such as people with heart problems, should avoid it altogether. I also think that if you go without coffee for a day or two and end up with a headache, then you probably need to give it some time off.
Coffee has been shown to have some health benefits and can be a part of an overall cancer-protective diet, but it’s not a magic health food – if you don’t already drink coffee, don’t feel like to need to start drinking it in order to improve your health. However, if you’re someone who usually gets your caffeine fix from soda, you would be better served by switching to tea or coffee, as long as you don’t load it with sugar!
Other lifestyle factors such as increasing physical activity, eating more fruits and veggies, or cutting down on excess processed food consumption will have more bang for its buck than simply adding more coffee.
Coffee can be a healthy drink, but keep in mind, that many coffee drinks have additional milk, sugar, flavorings—all of which contain calories and fat that add up. In fact, your favorite Peppermint Mocha/Pumpkin Spice Latte/Caramel Frappuccino likely has as many calories and grams of fat and sugar as an entire meal, if not more – YIKES!
The good news is, with a little bit of time and creativity, you can enjoy flavored coffee with fewer calories and sugar and save money in the process!
– Julie and Sanaa
Here’s a healthy recipe adapted from AICR to get you started:
Banana-Vanilla Coffee Smoothie
- ½ cup nonfat milk
- ½ cup strong-brewed coffee (for brewing, use 2 Tbsp. ground coffee per ½ cup water)
- 1 cup frozen non-fat coffee-flavored yogurt
- 1 large, peeled frozen banana, cut into 4 pieces
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Pour milk and coffee into blender. Add frozen yogurt, banana and vanilla. Puree until thick and creamy. Pour into tall glasses and serve.