The science is in: coffee is good for you.
You might know that drinking a plain black cup of coffee is healthier than a sugary confection, but you might not have a holistic picture of how to maximize the health benefits of your daily coffee routine.
Let's talk all the science you need to sip smarter and brew healthier.
Coffee is loaded with natural antioxidants that lower our risks for diseases. It seems like a new article comes out every few weeks telling us that coffee is better than we thought, permitting us to consume it in greater and greater amounts. Great news for the 90% of American adults who consume some amount of caffeine, every single day (source).
We know that we probably shouldn’t pump sugar-infused specialty drinks from drive-thru coffee shops into our bodies. At least, we know we shouldn’t do it very often. But a healthy coffee routine is about more than just skipping the calorie and sugar loaded drinkable desserts that bombard us from the brightly colored menu boards of major chain coffee shops. A holistic coffee routine considers more than just sugar and dairy--it considers the way coffee fits into our lifestyle as a whole, from the time we drink it to the way we drink it.
In our active, multitask heavy lives, coffee can become a simple drug that we need to function and don’t take time to appreciate. We find ourselves pushing buttons to get smaller and stronger cups of coffee that we gulp down on our dash out the door, or drink in huge swigs as we fight through traffic to reach the office.
If coffee is a major part of our lives (it is for me), then we should learn to appreciate and meditate on its role. When was the last time that coffee wasn’t just background aesthetics for a book, conversation, breakfast, or work day? Try making a careful cup of coffee and savoring it for what it is. Meditate on coffee’s role in your life as a consistent, rich beverage.
An added mindfulness to our coffee routine helps restore our grounding in our own lives, preventing us from becoming passive consumers moved by our habits.
Our body has natural cortisol rhythms that fluctuate throughout the day to keep us awake and energized. Of course, cortisol is also associated with stress and anxiety. Putting a caffeine boost into our system when our cortisol levels are trending upward can deliver additional hits of stress and anxiety.
If you wake up around 6:30am, your cortisol levels will naturally peak around 8-9am. If you drink a cup of coffee when you wake up, you’ll artificially drive those levels higher, resulting in possible headaches, anxiety, and shakiness, or replacing the natural cortisol production with artificial variants (source). Moving your coffee consumption to 9:30am can give you a nice boost after your cortisol levels are coming down, helping you maintain energy levels without inducing additional stress (source).
Sure, black coffee is better for you than caramel macchiatos made with whole milk. That much is obvious.
But the type of roast affects more than just the amount of caffeine and the overall flavor of the coffee. A medium roast, not a dark roast, maximizes the antioxidants in your coffee (source). Roasting the beans past the medium level actually causes the antioxidants to begin to break down.
Don’t buy coffee grounds. Buy whole beans and grind them right before roasting. Once ground, beans also begin to lose antioxidants (source).
Add cinnamon or other healthy spices for flavor and added benefits. Coffee is a great way to deliver additional supplements, like collagen powder.
Don’t be afraid of paper filters. You might love the pour-over lifestyle, but paper filters actually remove a couple of harmful compounds from coffee that raise bad cholesterol levels (source).
One of the problems of widely available information about the health benefits of various foods, exercises, and supplements is our failure to get a holistic picture. Every single health choice that we make with our time and calories is also the choice to notconsume or do something else. While yoga might be great for your body and mind, choosing to do yoga is also choosing not to run or lift weights.
While coffee certainly has an impressive resume of health benefits, qualifying it for a position in your lifestyle, choosing coffee may interfere with another human practice that is incredibly valuable for health and lifestyle: sleep. If coffee is interfering with your sleep cycles, it probably is an unhealthy choice.
A study found that drinking coffee up to 6 hours before bed can negatively impact sleep cycles, even if participants were unable to “feel” the coffee in their system (source). Having coffee in the afternoon or evening can cancel out the health benefits by depriving us of one of our healthiest practices and disrupting deeper sleeps.
One medical review of the literature found that the “net benefit” of caffeine for daytime productivity does outweigh minor interference with sleep and cortisol levels, so regular consumption shouldn’t deprive you of the major health benefits of sleep and rest (source).
Many of us use coffee to compensate after a poor night of sleep, assuming that we’ll simply up our intake during the day and then get a good night’s sleep later and we’ll be back to normal levels. One study showed that compensating for sleep loss with caffeine restores certain attention functions to normal levels, but doesn’t affect our inhibitory controls (source). Inhibitory controls allow us to resist natural impulses and make rational decisions against our bodies and habits. When we compensate with coffee, we are more alert and awake, but probably have less willpower.
There’s nothing I personally love more than waking up at the crack of dawn, grinding some fresh beans, and making a hot cup of coffee (even though I’ve had to roll back the time that I sip to allow my natural cortisol to kick in…).
Drinking coffee on an empty stomach may cause jitters and anxiety-adjacent feelings, but it can also damage your stomach lining (source). The acidity of coffee, when dropped like an anchor into an empty stomach, can eat away at the lining and cause digestive problems.
If you’re following our advice and drinking coffee around 10am anyway, you’ve probably had some food. But you should never drink coffee on an empty stomach. First thing in the morning, our bodies have cleared most of the food from the previous day out of our stomachs, and dumping a bitter brew on top of them is like pouring a low-level acid down our throats. Eating some bread, like toast or a bagel, with that morning cup will mitigate these effects and help your digestive system stay happy and healthy.