Can you eat clean and still enjoy a cup of coffee? Is Coffee Good for You? A close look at legitimate research published in mainstream medical journals such as JAMA , the New England Journal of Medicine, Annals of Internal Medicine and the Journal of Epidemiology, says yes. So pour yourself a cup and read on…
Do You Think Avoiding Coffee Goes with the Territory of Eating Clean?
Ever since my diagnosis with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 1998, my husband and I have been eating clean and following an anti-inflammatory whole foods diet. When we first started overhauling our diet and lifestyle over fifteen years ago, the subject of whether or not coffee would be included came up right away. My husband was in his surgical residency program back then and was adamant there was no way he could get through it without coffee. Although I certainly didn’t have a grueling schedule to keep up with, I did love my coffee and the idea of giving it up in the name of clean eating was not something I was particularly enthused about doing. Even though plenty of doctors, nutritionists, diet book authors, health coaches and fitness trainers were all down on coffee, my husband and I decided to look at the research on coffee for ourselves simply because we seriously loved the stuff.
We used Andy’s medical background to pour through the coffee research published in mainstream medical journals and we came to the decision that drinking coffee and eating clean could absolutely go hand in hand. To this day, one of my all-time favorite coffee health trivia tidbits comes from a Japanese cohort study published in the Journal of Epidemiology that showed coffee consumption was associated with a decreased risk of death from ALL causes (1). Does that mean coffee is not bad for you after all? Is coffee good for you? Turns out, it most likely is. The more research we did on coffee the more we were convinced that our daily coffee habit was far more helpful than it was harmful.
When we published our first nutrition book back in 2005, we included our coffee research in it and we have been drinking coffee and including it as a part of our anti-inflammatory nutrition program ever since.
Is Coffee Good for You?
It looks like coffee might finally be getting a well-deserved break. Since coffee is currently on the table and up for serious discussion when the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans are released later this year, we figured now was as good of time as any to chat a bit about the surprising health perks percolating in your morning cup of joe.
If you have not yet heard the news, the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee has been submitted to the Federal government and for the first time ever, the report addresses caffeine and coffee. Not only does the report say caffeinated coffee is OK—it even goes so far as to say coffee is good for you. This was the same conclusion my husband and I made ourselves over a decade ago. If the government chooses to adopt the advisory committee’s recommendations on coffee consumption when the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans are released later this year, it will surely be a happy (and profitable) day at Starbucks no doubt.
We should point out here that we certainly do not always agree with government-endorsed food and nutrition recommendations, but we will be in agreement with the new coffee guidelines should they come to fruition.
Why Do People Think Coffee Is Not Healthy?
Why has coffee gotten such a bad reputation among the healthy living enthusiasts for so many years? A likely explanation most likely stems in part from older studies linking coffee to an increased risk of heart disease and pancreatic cancer, among other things. But that research failed to account for the smoking that went hand in hand with coffee drinking years ago. When scientists separated out the effects of smoking, they got a different picture. More recent cohort studies (which are second best only to the gold standard randomized clinical trials), following tens of thousands of people for many years, have found coffee drinkers do not have greater risk of heart attacks or strokes after all; in fact, coffee drinkers appear to have a slightly lower risk. Same goes for type 2 diabetes and gout.
The truth is there is very little legitimate research that coffee is harmful. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen coffee crossed off the clean eating diet list or bad-mouthed in nutrition books, but these recommendations inevitably come without any research to back them up.
Keep in mind, coffee beans are loaded with antioxidants, some of which become even more potent during the roasting process. Antioxidants protect against oxidative stress by “mopping up” damaging free radicals that have been implicated in cancer, heart disease and the aging process in general.
Maybe you should pour yourself a second cup before you read on..
Healthy Coffee Research from Mainstream Medical Journals
Consider the following six questions….
- Is coffee good for you if you have a known genetic risk factor for Parkinson’s disease?
- Is coffee good for you if you have a family history of type 2 diabetes, stroke or heart disease?
- Is coffee good for you if you have asthma?
- Is coffee good for you if you suffer from headaches?
- Is coffee good for you if you are at risk for gallstones?
- Is coffee good for you if you have hepatitis or liver disease?
If you have never looked at the research, you might think the answer to every single one of these questions would be ‘no.’ Surprisingly, that is not the case.
If you read a lot of health and nutrition books, surely you have come across many that claim coffee is harmful to your liver and that it somehow interferes with your body’s ability to detoxify itself. Well, it turns out this just is not the case. Not only is coffee not harmful to your liver, there is legitimate research showing it actually has benefits. In fact, the 2015 issue of the American Journal of Gastroenterology evaluated the association of coffee intake with liver cancer and death from chronic liver disease and the conclusion was, “Increased coffee consumption reduces the risk of hepatocellular carcinoma and chronic liver disease in multiethnic US populations.” Over the past 20 years, an increasing number of epidemiological and experimental studies have demonstrated the positive effects of coffee on chronic liver diseases.
Coffee also appears to provide protection from type 2 diabetes. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and the Brigham and Women’s Hospital found study subject who regularly drank coffee had a significantly reduced risk of developing diabetes over a twelve- to eighteen-year study period as compared to people who didn’t drink coffee. (2) Another study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association examined more than 14,600 people from Finland. (3) Researchers discovered that Finnish women and men who drank three to four cups of coffee daily had a great than 25 percent reduced risk of developing diabetes!
But how in the world can a substance known to cause the jitters in some people actually help prevent a disease characterized by tremors? While it sounds absurd, research shows it’s true. The Journal of the America Medical Association published results of a study examining 8,004 Japanese-American men. Men who did not drink coffee were five times more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease than men who drank more than 38 ounces (about 3 1/2 cups) of coffee daily. (4)
What about heart health? Is coffee good for you even if you have heart disease? Massive population studies find coffee is innocent when it comes to causing heart disease. Again, another study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association found no link between coffee consumption and heart disease, which was determined through a prospective study involving more than 85,000 women. (5) Another study examining more than 45,000 men also showed no link between coffee containing caffeine and cardiovascular disease. (6)
If you have asthma, combining an anti-inflammatory whole foods diet with coffee would be a much safer and healthier treatment than steroids. Two large studies, one performed in the United States (7) and one in Italy (8), showed a decrease of asthma among people who drink coffee. This is probably because caffeine is similar in its chemical structure to theophylline, an effective prescription asthma medicine.
If all of this reading is giving you a headache, coffee might even be able to help you with that! One of the active ingredients in Excedrin, the popular headache medicine, is caffeine equivalent to about 1 1/2 cups of coffee. Coffee has been shown to stop certain types of headaches, particularly migraine headaches, in their tracks.
And believe it or not, studies even show coffee drinkers are less likely to develop gallstones and kidney stones when compared to non-coffee drinkers. After adjusting for variables, one large study from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital showed each cup of coffee consumed per day resulted in a 10 percent decreased chance of developing kidney stones in women. (9) A ten year prospective study following 46,008 men found that men who consistently drank two to three cups of regular caffeinated coffee daily had a 40 percent decreased risk of symptomatic gallstone disease as compared to men who did not drink coffee. (10)
Is Coffee Good for You if You Drink 10 Cups?
The latest scientific evidence indicates drinking two to three cups of coffee per day is not harmful. And, as we now know, most likely helpful. However, the association between coffee consumption and good health surely comes to an end somewhere around the fifth or sixth cup and certainly by the tenth! The point is, excess is never healthy no matter what. And for the record, research has actually linked more than three cups of caffeinated coffee a day to bone fractures in women.
Also, some people (including my 88-year old dad), find that they cannot tolerate coffee as well as they get older. I would say that if you get the jitters or an upset stomach after drinking coffee then you should either not drink coffee at all, or reduce the amount. And, if you have trouble sleeping at night, you should probably have your last cup around noon.
The BIG Downside to Coffee
What about coffee and weight gain? Is coffee good for you if you are overweight? In our opinion, the biggest health risk from coffee is weight gain. And no, drinking a 2-calorie cup of black coffee is not what causes weight gain. The weight gain associated with drinking coffee can directly be correlated with what you put in it. It’s the 400 calorie Starbucks White Chocolate Mocha and the frappuccinos with mile-high mounds of whipped cream that pack on the pounds. Black coffee is not going to cause weight gain.
What if you don’t like black coffee? Well, for the record, I don’t either. Although my husband has always taken his coffee black, I have always needed cream as I just can’t stomach black coffee. I stopped adding sugar to my coffee over a decade ago, but I could never do without the cream. So, even though we otherwise ban milk and cream on Clean Cuisine , we have always allowed for a splash of cream in coffee because up until the last 6 months or so, I couldn’t come up with a substitute that tasted good and was healthier. However, I recently did discover a new “whole food” coffee trick that has finally enabled me to drink my coffee (at home, anyway) sans dairy. I’ve even found a healthful “whole foods” way to sweeten my coffee now too. Click HERE for my favorite coffee drink made with a dairy-free whole food creamer and whole food sweetener.
In the meantime, if you drink coffee I would stick with a basic cup of black coffee, no sugar and just go easy on the cream. And if you are making your coffee at home, you might as well buy organic cream, ideally from cows raised on green pasture.
And if you don’t drink coffee, well, maybe you should start? I for one, have no intention of ever giving up my coffee.
1. Iwai N, et al. “Relationship between coffee and green tea consumption and all-cause mortality in a cohort of a rural Japanese population.” J Epidemiology. 2002 May; 12(3): 191-8.
2. Salazar-Martinez E, et al. “Coffee consumption and risk for type 2 diabetes mellitus.” Ann Intern Med. 2004 Jan 6; 140(1):1-8
3. Tuomilehto J, et al. “Coffee consumption and risk of type II diabetes mellitus among middle-aged Finnish men and women.” JAMA. 2004 Mar 10;291)10): 1213-9.
4. Ross GW, et al. “Association of coffee and caffeine intake with the risk of Parkinson’s disease.” JAMA. 2000 May 24-31;283(20):2674-9.
5. Willet WC, et al. “Coffee consumption and coronary heart disease in women. A ten year follow-up” JAMA. 1996 Feb 14;275(6): 458-62.
6. Grobbee DE, et al. “Coffee, caffeine and cardiovascular disease in men.” N Engl J Med. 1990 Oct 11;323(15):1026-32.
7. Schwartz J, Weiss ST. “Caffeine intake and asthma symptoms.” Ann Epidemiol. 1992 Sept; 2 (5):627-35.
8. Pagano R, et al. “Coffee drinking and prevalence of bronchial asthma.” Chest 1988 Aug; 94(2):286-9.
9. Curhan GC, et al. “Beverage use and risk for kidney stones in women.” Ann Intern Med. 1998 Apr 1; 128(7);534-40.
10. Leitzmann MF, et al. “Prospective study of coffee consumption and the risk of symptomatic gallstone disease in men” JAMA. 1999 Jun 9; 281(22):2106-12.