Is Coffee bad for you, or is it good?

It is a common misconception that caffeine or coffee are genuinely harmful. I’ve heard it mentioned countless times how coffee raises your blood pressure and therefore is bad for the heart.

I’ve also read how coffee can reduce chances of awful things like type II diabetes and Parkinsons, and in this article I am going to review the evidence and answer the question Is Coffee bad for you.

A picture of Is Coffee Bad For You
This post is part of a series:

  1. What is Caffeine?
  2. Is Coffee bad for you, or is it good?
  3. Caffeine Side Effects

Coffee nutrition facts

Coffee, especially if it is ground on the spot, actually contains some important vitamins and minerals.

According to Nutrition data, coffee is a decent source of these nutrients:

  • A cup may contain about 0.2mg of Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), which is 11% of the RDA.
  • It may also contain 0.6mg of Pantothenic Acid (Vitamin B5), which is 6% of the RDA.
  • A cup may contain 7.1mg of Magnesium, around 2% of the RDA.
  • It is also a source of Potassium, containing 116mg or 3% of the RDA.
  • It is also a decent source of Manganese, containing 0.1mg or 3% of the RDA.

Coffee may also contain some other vitamins and minerals in minor quantities. The amount of nutrients differs significantly, coffee that is brewed from fresh ground high-quality beans will most likely contain a much higher amount of nutrients than cheap, low-quality varieties.

Certain substances in coffee may inhibit absorption of certain minerals, mainly iron and zinc.

You might be interested in the difference in health benefits between coffee and green tea, if so I’ve written a great post about tea vs coffee.

Is Coffee bad for you?

Coronary Artery Disease
The research on coffee and coronary artery disease have been mixed, but the majority of them seem to point to it not having any significant effect on cardiovascular disease. However, some of them have, and therefore it is a possibility that coffee could increase risks of heart disease but if it does then it is a very small effect.

Hypertension
It is a fact that coffee does increase blood pressure, especially for people who are not used to drinking it. However, for regular coffee drinkers the effects diminish, but might add around 1-2mmHg to both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. It would be a good idea for people with high blood pressure to reduce their intake.

Osteoporosis and fractures
There have been several studies that showed reduced bone mineral density and increased risk of hip fracture, especially at higher doses, and a few studies that showed no association. It might be a good idea for postmenopausal women to minimize their intake, and make sure their Vitamin D levels are adequate.

Pregnancy risks
Some studies have found an association with coffee drinking and spontaneous abortion in pregnant women, and others have found caffeine to increase chances of impaired fetal growth. It is a good idea for pregnant women to minimize their intake of caffeine and many health authorities recommend staying under 300mg/day.

Is Coffee good for you?

Type II diabetes.
There have been several research studies that show how coffee drinking can drastically reduce chances of developing type II diabetes, with numbers as high as a 50% reduction. Take note that this is one of the most rapidly developing diseases in western countries today.

Parkinson’s Disease
Coffee drinking has been found to reduce chances of developing Parkinson’s disease in men, but the results in women have been mixed.

It seems that women undergoing hormone replacement therapy have increased chances of Parkinson’s when drinking coffee, but women who haven’t undergone such therapy show a benefit in the same way as men.

Colorectal Cancer
It seems that coffee drinking may reduce chances of developing colorectal cancer, with reductions varying from about 20-50%. This is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in the world, so a reduction of this magnitude is quite important.

Liver disease
Coffee drinking may reduce chances of developing liver diseases such as Cirrhosis, and a form of liver cancer called Hepatocellular carcinoma. It seems that people who already had liver issues saw the most benefit, and this reduction was particularly evident in people suffering from hepatitis B and C.

Conclusion

If someone were to ask me “Is coffee bad for you?” or “Is coffee good for you”, I would say that it has both health benefits as well as negative effects. In my opinion, the benefits do outweigh the negatives but every individual should decide for himself.

It does seem that the processing method matters, filtered coffee has less of some harmful substances, mainly diterpenes, which raise cholesterol levels. There are more diseases that coffee has been shown to have an effect on that I choose not to discuss here, such as Alzheimers and dementia.

For people who have hypertension or a family history of heart disease, and pregnant women as well as postmenopausal women, it might be a good idea for them to minimize caffeine or aim to stay under 300mg/day.

According to the studies, it might actually be a good idea to drink coffee for people with a genetic propensity to type II diabetes or Parkinson’s, or for people suffering from Hepatitis.

For healthy people, I would say that if you like coffee, by all means drink all you want without feeling guilty. Take note however that the risk of harmful effects does increase with a higher dosage, and that caffeine addiction and caffeine withdrawal symptoms are very real phenomenons that can be quite unpleasant for some people.

Sources: Higdon, Jane V. and Frei, Balz (2006) ‘Coffee and Health: A Review of Recent Human Research’, Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 46:2, 101 – 123.

50 Comments

  1. Great article, I’ve always been told that coffee is “bad for me”, but it’s good to see studies that show the other side of the coin.

    I’m definitely a big coffee drinker at times and this is good news for me.

    -Nathan

  2. I am a big fan of coffee nowadays. Didn’t used tome…couldn’t handle it. I could get wired and not be able to sleep on a half a cup. Once I got my magnesium levels corrected, I can drink a cup before bed and sleep hard and deep.

    http://raypeat.com/articles/articles/caffeine.shtml

    • I like to sleep hard & deep to lol Sorry I just read that and had to say great choice of words : ) I was never a big fan of the beans either until I got my first (and only) espresso machine now I’m loving the black stuff! Although I’ve just got a certain brand and noticed that it makes me feel quite heady?

      Peter

  3. Yup magnesium is really important too, one of the few supplements that I take. I will be covering it in some posts, probably this week :)

  4. I am wondering if decaf is better for you than regular. I mix the two about two thirds decaf and drink tons of coffee.

  5. Although I don’t have any hard evidence, I would think that decaf would actually be worse than regular.

    The reason being that decaffeinating coffee requires some harsh processing methods. In my opinion the less processed option is always the best.

  6. anna webb says:

    It is a little difficult for me to enjoy a day without having at least one cup of coffee in the morning. I am not saying that it is manditory for me to have it, but it does make the day seem a little more pleasant if I get to. I suppose that I do rely on it to get me to face the day.

  7. No need to feel guilty about that, I drink about 3 cups a day myself and I really don’t think it’s harming me in any way. According to the research studies it might even be beneficial in many ways.

  8. I was always a terrible student, I had all the symptoms of ADHD, and I never sought Treatment; (because I don’t believe it is a ‘disease’, just symptoms due to lack of sleep, exercise and diet) Anyways I did however get myself into college and began drinking coffee regularly while I studied. I have never been able to focus the way I can when I drink coffee!!! It has become my drug of choice! Only 2-3 cups a day and I feel healthier now then ever! A 3.8 GPA, I owe it all to coffee! I think it is much better than taking some prescription drug.

  9. Good article Kris,

    I have found coffee to be highly useful in the last few months as I changed my diet and lifestyle to fit in with doing Intermittent Fasting. I find that the boost in mental alertness, energy levels and having something hot to imbibe really helps me deal with being hungry (unlike many people who do I.F. I get hungry and stay hungry when fasting).

    I have one large mug in the morning and that’s generally it. I still get a small amount of shaking (I am strongly affected by stimulants), but now I have changed my emotional/mind response from ‘Oh the shakes, not good’, to ‘Oh I’m shaking slightly, and that’s all OK’.

    So for someone like me, it could well be viewed as a positive thing, good for me, as it helps me maintain a lifestyle that has resulted in a significant shift toward better food (much less processed and bulky carbs, more protein and a bucketload more veg).

    Keep up the good work!
    George

  10. I used to do intermittent fasting myself, I’m not sure I would have been able to without the coffee to curb the hunger :)

  11. I just came across your website after doing some research on junk food addictio. Very cool… it’s sure to become one of my daily reads!

    About coffee/caffeine, while I don’t doubt the positive health effects it can have, in my experience the side effects can be quite something. It very much depends on the individual consuming it. I know plenty of people who drink a steady three cups per day and don’t seem to have any negative effects. I know others who can’t down half a cup without getting jittery and nerve-wracked. Myself I was a moderate-to-heavy drinker for seven years, until this past March. The side effects were getting to be too much for me, for example exteme jitters and nervousness, difficulty sleeping, difficulty concentrating, extreme withdrawal symptoms even going half a day without. I weaned myself off it gradudually and I can’t say I miss the stuff. My sleeping has improved dramatically and I’m far less jittery and more collected than before.

    But that’s just my experience. To each their own. If it’s working for you, then great.

    Either way, interesting read!

  12. Hey Daniel, thanks for commenting.

    It’s true that a lot of people are very sensitive to caffeine and would do best by avoiding it. I go through withdrawal symptoms myself if I don’t have any coffee and I’ve quit drinking it a few times, but in general I feel better when I have a few cups per day.

  13. Good Info-I just have one cup a day, but I just had my blood checked and my vitamin D level was really low so I wanted to see if coffee affects it. I don’t think a cup a day is going to really make me have a low reading, but I decided to start a daily suppliment just in case. I have a nodule on my thyroid and in my research on the web I discovered that it does lower your vitamin D levels.

  14. It is always a good idea to supplement with D if your readings are low :)

    Haven’t ever heard of coffee affecting Vitamin D status though.

  15. Great article :)
    does this article include iced coffee?
    thanks

  16. Hello John,

    yea I suppose, as long as it isn’t filled with sugar or something.

  17. I think one reason why people criticize coffee so much is because of the added sugar which 99% of people who drink coffee put in it. If I make coffee at home I use about 2/3 Water, and 1/3 Milk. No Sugar, unless I’m out of milk briefly, like today. I don’t usually drink too much coffee, but lately I am because I’m in University and I find it A.) wakes me up a lot and B.) helps with the focusing when I’m reading or studying for university (I’m an English Major). I was diagnosed with ADHD as a child, have terrible focus and memory generally, but Coffee seems to help a fair bit. If I drink some coffee while reading, I tend to remember far more, though not always… I’d say I remember more, more than I don’t … if that makes any sense. When I have an Essay to write and it’s the last minute (like the other night), I down a couple cups of coffee and I seem to come up with some great writing.

    That said, Coffee With Sugar, I’m assuming is fairly unhealthy, because our bodies aren’t designed to require so much sugar. So I would assume that the health benefits would be with coffee without sugar, or with Milk?

    Also, since most people drink coffee at a place like, say, Tim Hortons here in Canada…I would assume that’s bad for you…

    So, Question! I don’t use beans, I use instant coffee, Nescafe Rich, instant Coffee, which is supposedly made with 100% natural coffee beans and contains polyphenol antioxidants which are in coffee beans… would you say this is a healthier variety of instant coffee? I ask because a lot of instant Coffee is plain garbage which has been processed to heck.

    good read btw, though I’m also curious about the dementia or what have you and other things you mentioned you weren’t discussing

    Thanks

  18. Hey Jon, thanks for the comment.

    The health benefits definitely apply to coffee without sugar, added sugar may negate the health benefits although it really depends on the amount. I don’t think milk causes any problems, although personally I prefer my coffee black.

    I am not sure about Nescafe Rich, it seems to be fine although filtered coffee is probably best.

    Seems like coffee does reduce risks of dementia but I haven’t done much research on it. Maybe I will some day and write another post on it :)

    • Well, it would seem since we last spoke I became rather addicted and dependent on Coffee. I’m drinking it black whenever I make it now, no sugar, no milk. Just straight hard black coffee. With exams, tests, essays, and books to read for university I’ve been drinking rather excessive quantities of it’s rich goodness. I had no coffee at one point for a while, felt tired, had a head ache, sore eyes… drank a cup of coffee, all better. No headache, wide awake, eye strain seemingly gone. Coffee withdrawal perhaps?

      • Fatigue and headache are classic symptoms of caffeine withdrawal.

        Coffee is definitely addictive, which is the nr.1 negative thing about it in my opinion.

  19. Hi guys,

    I too can testify that I get headaches when cutting coffee out. But I have also found that I get far less of them, less intensely, and they don’t last as long when I gradually cut down. It also helps me if I drink much more water than normal, going from about 4 litres to 6 litres each day.

    I have just been reading ‘The Four Hour Body’ by Tim Ferris and he talks of his experience of going to an MD for a scan to try and deal with persistent sinus infections. The MD can see that he’s a habitual coffee drinker from the buildup of dry matter in his sinus cavity! (Although you easily ask that question of 80% of Americans and get an affirmative….)

    I had been thinking about having a break from drinking coffee for a while and that persuaded me to work toward having a break. But first I had to get my fat burning supps ordered so I could support my fat burning without the aid of caffeine and coffee….

    Cheers
    George Super BootCamps

  20. Great article.

    I believe its very simple why coffee reduces certain types of cancer, as it, quite bluntly causes you to crap.

    The SAD (Standard American Diet) consists mostly of foods that stick to your colon wall. There has been alot of research done on the relationship between many diseases (including cancer) and a putrid colon, so this doesnt surprise me.

    Additionally, the SAD diet tends to slow our adrenals down, which is why we feel bogged down after meals, and require something like coffee to artificially stimulate it.

    In any even, event I believe that coffee is certainly good for you if you plan on making no other dietary changes, however seeing this in a bigger picture is probably better for ya.

    (a hint…more fruits and veggies, less cookies)

    :)

    • I actually don’t find, at least for me, that coffee has the effect of making me “crap” a lot, or even more. This past week I’ve been drinking… far too much coffee. I had exams and such, and so I was drinking like… ehr…10 cups a day? heh…It was instant coffee, the Nescafe stuff. (pretty tasty for instant)

      • FWIW I have a pretty immediate ‘reaction’ to coffee in the morning, but my fiance doesn’t.

        I think the difference can be found in how your Autonomic Nervous System reacts and which side of it is strengthened by coffee. See Metabolic Typing info for a deeper explanation (try the library at healthexcel.com)

        All the best,
        George

  21. A tablespoon of grounds may be healthy enough, but with everything people add, I can’t imagine most coffee is very healthy. I’m almost tempted to swallow some grounds on a spoon in the morning as I find it boring to drink without my half-n-half and sugar.

  22. Was wondering if I should strike coffee from my diet, then decided to google for a final answer. Found your article a reassuring “no.” Thanks for that!

  23. This article was very useful, I have just recently discovered I have diabetes type II and being that I am a frequent coffee drinker I was not sure how it affects my sugar level, it’s nice to know that on the contrary coffee helps reduce diabetes.

  24. phuntsok tashi says:

    i work in dunkin donuts so i can basiclly have many coffee as i want. i hear that coffee is bad for you and stuff, but i also hear that coffee is good because it increases your metabolism or its good to drink it 30 minutes before workout because it opens up your blood vessels or something. is it all truee? when i used to tatse coffee i never liked it, since i hear its good i trried but it was just too bitter, but then despite the bitterness i drank multiple shots of expresso and than coffee just seemed nothing to me! no bitterness at all, so i am thinking if i should start drinking coffe on a regular base if its healthy.

  25. Hello Phuntsok,
    if you’re not already a frequent coffee drinker then I don’t really recommend that you start drinking it, since it does have other annoyances such as addictiveness.

    The point is that there’s no real reason for coffee drinkers to feel guilty about their consumption since coffee doesn’t seem to have many negative effects, and might even have some health benefits.

  26. I never drink coffee when I am home, but I love to indulge when I am out at a coffee shop. I think it is ok, as long as your not drinking cups of it every day.

    • I would think from what I have read and experienced that the worst thing you could do is have a lot sometimes. I doubt you are in this bracket but I would think that benefits are built up over time (be that 1 cup or 5 cups a day or whatever) and to abstain then have a lot could cause things like palpatations, dizziness, sickness etc (and probably dehydration and/or needing to pee a lot). I think it is similar to alcohol and heat from spices like chilli, have some most of the time and the body copes well and your tolerences to the negatives improve, have a big dose from a standing start and you run the risk of burning with the chilli (in and out) and hangover/sickness etc with the alcohol.

  27. I really had very little knowledge of the sypmtoms of coffee. This written article really gave me a great over view of the results of drinking coffee. Thanks!

  28. I’m proud to be a non-coffee drinker and this article is completely biased. Although it shows some of the “possible” harmful effects it’s not reliable information. Coffee is not good for you and if someone is genuinely interested in learning the facts, they should really research the topic instead. No offense to the person who created the blog, but there is only one source cited here.

    • I also pointed out to some possible harmful effects of coffee, including risk for pregnant women, osteoporosis, potential effects on cardiovascular health, addiction, withdrawal, so I’m not really sure what you mean.

      I’ve actually done quite a bit of research on coffee. The article I cited is a review article that examines many other studies, so I’m not just making all these assumptions from a single clinical trial.

      Feel free to share if you have some evidence to the contrary.

      • I am a heavy coffee drinker. I started drinking coffee at age 17 and can’t stop ever since. It is true it is highly addictive and sometimes wish I never had started. It is great news to find out it is beneficial in many ways and not to mention that it is a very powerful anti-oxidant; can prevent cancer.

  29. Like so many things it is a matter of balance. No doubt excessive coffee drinking is bad for you but moderate coffee drinking is not, and may have some benefits. You just have to use a bit of common sense.

  30. People with diabetes should keep in mind that although the coffee does not contain Sugar, the milk added to the coffee does contain sugar, about 12-14 grams in a half a gallon

  31. I can tell you from my personal experience that caffeine has seemingly been part of reducing my blood sugar levels (type II diabetic), preventing gout attacks and my blood pressure has gone from High Normal to Normal. The only change in my lifestyle was increasing caffeine intake, mainly through coffee but also diet cola.
    At work we moved into a “high security” area, as a result they provided us an instant hot water tap, instead of having 1 or 2 cups a day from a machine or the canteen I moved to 4 – 8 cups a day as I could easily make it myself in no time. Prior to the move I was above 8 on my blood sugar scores, suffered gout attacks every couple of months and was high normal on the blood pressure charts. We have been in that area for 2 years now and my blood scores are in the 6-7 range, I have not had a single gout attack for 2 years (Thank whom ever you thank!) and my blood pressure has dropped to 125/77 with a resting pulse of 59 from 135/90 with a resting pulse of 70 (I have not improved my diet/lifestyle in that time). I play football once a week, drink a couple of times a week and have takeaway’s a couple of times a week as well. All in all I have experienced very good things from a reasonable, regular caffeine intake, as per the author though – work out what works for you.

  32. I believe that drinking coffee with any kind of sugar will higher blood pressure.

  33. Keeping your body in the Fight or flight mode doesn’t seem like a good idea
    to me.
    If you want people to take your articles seriously then add sources for your claims.

  34. wingchunlayton says:

    Thanks for sharing Kris! I agree that coffee is both good and bad for you! I used to drink 20+ cups during my earler 20′s when I started working sedentary jobs. Now a days, I’m only at 1-2 cups a day and I’m done for the day!

  35. Great blog. I recently dug into this topic as well. Here are a few interesting references that support some health benefits.

    A few came out since you wrote this.

    I notice a comment above on the “stress inducing” effects of coffee… it appears a common idea that coffee raises stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol but I cannot find anything convincing. Caffeine may do, but coffee is not just caffeine and the effects may therefore be different. Tea for example, which contains caffeine actually lowers cortisol responses under stress.

  36. I am trying to quit. It is just too addictive and I don’t like the fact that I get those horrendous headaches when I lay off. I really enjoyed coffee for years. I only went for great coffee. I was also a grinder and only brewed in great coffeemakers. I just realize now that it is just another drug that I can do without. I bet I will feel so much better when these headaches and withdrawals go away. God bless!

  37. Caffeine is a drug. And a drug our society runs on. The coffee lobby definitely has a good clutch on health research. That being said, it is still a drug. Drugs are used to treat people with problems. And in this society, being tired seems to be disease. Instead of getting enough sleep and eating properly, we jump start our heart with a cup of joe.

    The studies which claim coffee has a beneficial effect on disease prevention are correlative, at best. Considering there are far more people who get cancer and drink coffee than those who don’t drink coffee and get cancer, it is safe to conclude that coffee is NOT a necessary part of life.

    My take? Enjoy a nice cup of coffee once in a while. But don’t make it a habit- otherwise it’s no better than smoking or binge drinking. The amount of caffeine in coffee may not have the extreme effects of some harsher drugs, but it takes mere common sense to conclude that it will take its toll on you over time. Your body will compensate for the caffeine high by slowing itself down later. That is why people experience fatigue, or a “crash” in the middle of the day, when in reality, you should have as much energy then as you did in the morning, if you ate right, slept well, exercised, and took care of yourself.

  38. Sorry Galenus but the after lunch “crash” you mentioned is biologically built in to us. Google circadian rhythm.

  39. Georgios says:

    Professor Walter Veith is a nutritional physiologist. He explains clearly why coffee is NOT scientifically healthy.

    If you want, watch it for your self @ 15:47 minutes
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ca3h7RUDKCk

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