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Coffee: Good Bean or Bad?

on November 10, 2013

Coffee is bad. Coffee is good. Coffee causes high blood pressure. Coffee enhances athletic performance. Are we ever going to be done with The Great Coffee Debate? For years, coffee has been a hot topic in the world of health, nutrition, and beverages.

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But will we ever get a concrete, yes-or-no answer on whether it’s healthy or not?
Well, maybe not.
There are some things we do know based on years of research about our morning cup o’ Joe and its health benefits and risks.

Let’s start with the negative effects. 

When it comes to the risks of coffee, caffeine is usually accused as the culprit. Too much caffeine may increase the risk for osteoporosis, but how much is too much? According to the National Institute of Health, ten cups of coffee is considered an excessive amount. The good news is that consuming a moderate amount (3-4 cups a day) is not considered dangerous for bone health. Consuming coffee in high amounts may slightly increase blood pressure. Ten cups a day or more could also be related to urinary tract infections, bladder cancer, and a higher risk of miscarriage. As a general precaution, pregnant women are recommended to limit coffee to one cup a day or less.

Now let’s move on to the positive.

Scientific evidence shows a negative relationship between moderate coffee consumption and the occurrence of type 2 diabetes—which means drinking 3-4 cups of coffee a day (a moderate amount) may even have a protective effect against the disease. Coffee may contribute to weight loss which can explain why coffee drinkers are less likely to develop type 2 diabetes, as excess fat tissue increases the risk of the disease.

When it comes to athletes and endurance exercise, consuming up to 5 cups of coffee increases endurance. How? Caffeine releases adrenaline into the blood, which helps the body use fat for energy, spares glycogen stores that are needed later in the activity, and delays fatigue.  Coffee can even improve performance in short-term exercises by interfering with the central nervous system’s perception of effort. In other words, it makes an intense workout seem a little bit easier. Although coffee is a diuretic, evidence suggests that it has no significant dehydration effects in athletes. On the other hand, this does not mean to rehydrate with ten cups of coffee instead of water.

Well, what’s the answer? There may never be a “yes or no” answer, but the best bet is finding a happy medium. While coffee may present health problems if you’re drinking close to ten cups a day, 3-4 cups of regular or decaf is considered safe and may even be beneficial to health. So no need to ditch your morning cup o’ Joe—just be sure to avoid filling it up with sugar and whipped cream!

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References
1. Caffeine and Exercise Performance. American College of Sports and Medicine. http://www.acsm.org/docs/current-comments/caffeineandexercise.pdf.
2. Coffee and its Consumption: Benefits and Risks. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 2011;51:363-373.
3. Healthy Beverage Guidelines. Harvard School of Public Health: The Nutrition Source. http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-drinks-full-story/#level-2.
4. Position of the American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. http://www.eatright.org/About/Content.aspx?id=8365.
5. Tea and coffee consumption in relation to vitamin D and calcium levels in Saudi adolescents. Nutr J. 2012;11:56.

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