Over the centuries, very few beverages have been debated as much as coffee. With multiple studies contradicting its benefits and drawbacks, confusion is to be expected by your everyday coffee drinker.
Is drinking coffee good for your health? If yes, how much should you drink? What does an average cup contain? What are the differences between different kinds?
I will go through every single one of these questions, but before that, we have to clarify one small detail.
Coffee is much more than a vehicle for caffeine.
That said, we have to explain what caffeinated coffee does and what restrictions it brings to the table, so without further ado, let’s get started!
How does caffeine work?
In the process of making energy, your body releases a neuromodulator called adenosine, which has specific receptors in the central nervous system. When it binds to its receptors, it slows neurons down, and this is why, by the end of a full day, we feel tired and sleepy.
Simply put, it’s the exhaustion chemical.
Caffeine is an adenosine antagonist, meaning that it has a similar molecular structure and binds to the same receptors without slowing your nervous system down. It also blocks adenosine from accumulating throughout the day as there are no open spots left for it to occupy.
It should be noted that our body gets used to having its natural receptors occupied by the wrong substance, and as a result, it creates more. This is the reason why, with time, you may need more cups to get the same effect.
Scientists suggest that 400 mg of caffeine per day (around 4 cups) is a safe intake for most adults. Of course, personal sensitivity should be taken into account, but in most cases, an estimate of 400 mg or below is harmless for your health.
Differences between the kinds of Coffee
Depending on the bean’s roast, grind, and brewing method, we end up with several different kinds of coffee for all tastes. We have espresso, Drip, Instant, and many more, all of which come with their own special traits.
No matter which kind you prefer, coffee is a rich source of vitamins, tannins, proteins, antioxidants, and fixed oils. Magnesium and Vitamin B2 are the most prevalent. To learn the exact amount of each, you have to look into the specific nutritional table of the coffee you prefer.
Also, decaffeinated coffee loses a small portion of its antioxidants through the decaffeination process (around 15%), but the rest of the micronutrients stay unaffected.
Keep in mind that to get as many of the antioxidants as possible, hot brewing is the best choice, as it takes high heat to extract them.
Experts agree that the healthiest coffee is a dark-roasted Arabica that is hot-brewed and served black.
Coffee is often credited only for its caffeine-vehicle properties; however, as we mentioned above, it is so much more than that.
Each of the micronutrients we spoke of has a positive impact on your health, ranging from blood sugar control to longevity.
According to recent Harvard studies, taking into account as many lifestyle factors as possible, it was deduced that three to five cups a day might even have a very positive effect against several chronic diseases.
Some of these are type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, several types of cancer, Parkinson's disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.
This is true regardless of caffeine.
Milk and Sugar
We can’t afford to mention that if you enjoy your coffee with additives like milk and sugar, that too plays a part in the amount of daily intake advised. The reason is that it throws off the entire dietary balance when not taken into account.
For those who like adding milk, experts encourage the use of non-whole dairy milk, which has a high concentration of carbs and high allergy potential. One of the best alternatives is plant-based, preferably a calcium-fortified one with a low carbohydrate count.
For those who prefer their coffee sweeter, avoiding sugar is an absolute must. Other substitute sweeteners can be found almost everywhere, such as stevia, and they are far less harmful to your system than sugar.
Keep in mind that a cup of black coffee has almost no calories, but a 16-ounce Starbucks Mocha Frappuccino with whipped cream has around 400 calories. That’s a whole meal right there with almost no benefits for your health!
Special Groups and their Restrictions
Of course, there are exceptions regarding your optimal daily intake as defined by your own personal situation.
If, for example, you have anxiety issues, arrhythmias, and/or sleep disorders, avoiding caffeine in general is solid advice.
Pregnant women and teenagers also belong in that category; however, there is a small allowance for both groups.
For pregnant women, as caffeine can pass through the placenta but can’t be metabolized by the embryo, a smaller amount of around 200mg maximum or less (preferably 0) is a wise choice.
For teenagers, studies generally agree that up to 100mg a day should be safe for the young person’s health and development.
For all groups mentioned above, it should be noted that there are no restrictions regarding decaffeinated coffee, as the problems are caused by caffeine.
Too much means…
In general, "too much" is defined by your own personal sensitivity to caffeinated coffee.
Short-term symptoms caused by excess intake in a short period are restlessness, anxiety, irritability, tremors, headaches, and an upset stomach.
If a person consumes an X amount of coffee and that amount causes one of the symptoms above, lowering the dosage or switching to decaf could resolve the issue.
Having said that, if you can bypass the symptoms of the central nervous system by avoiding caffeine, many cups of decaf in a short period of time will still impact your stomach.
To summarize everything, the question of "How much is okay?", is dictated by your own tolerance and personal preferences.
Even if you take caffeine out of the equation, experts advise that around 4-5 cups a day are ideal.
That should offer you all the valuable nutrients you need without any unwanted side effects.
Of course, if your caffeine tolerance is low, you can go for a mix of the two (normal and decaf). Maybe start with normal coffee and, after two cups, switch to decaf.
You wouldn’t want to ruin all the benefits of a healthy diet by overdoing it, would you?
Other than daily consumption, there are several intriguing details about coffee that are not related to today’s topic, but for whoever is interested in learning more…. Care to join me for a cup?