Is Coffee Bad for You? Dietitians Weigh In
Over the years, a ton of health myths have sprung up around coffee and the amount of caffeine contained in every cup. Some believe that in addition to helping you feel energized in the morning, this particular beverage can dehydrate you, stunt your growth, and even cause insomnia. So, do the health benefits of this beverage outweigh the negatives or is coffee bad for you? To better understand coffee's effects on the body and learn whether or not it's actually safe to drink, we spoke to dietitians to get their expert take.
"Coffee is a controversial beverage when it comes to short- and long-term health effects," says Trista Best, MPH, RD, LD, a consultant at Balance One. "There is research and arguments on both sides to its health implications, but two things are true on both sides—quality and quantity matter."
How to capitalize on the potential health benefits
Finding a solid cup of coffee that presents the fewest health risks starts with choosing the right coffee bean.
"Coffee can be produced by either organic or non-organic means—Meaning the amount of fertilizer, pesticides, and chemical compounds used in its growth process," Best continues. "Coffee beans are one of the most highly chemically treated crops. These chemicals are then absorbed and transferred to the consumer. Therefore, organic coffee is best to consume for short- and long-term health."
Once you make sure you selected the right pesticide-free coffee brand, you then need to closely monitor your intake.
"The amount of coffee consumed based on the caffeine count is another important factor to consider," Best advises. "The FDA recommends healthy adults to stay ator preferably under 400 mg of caffeine a day. This equates to about four or five cups of coffee. This number is based on their research that over 400 mg of caffeine can begin to have negative health outcomes."
"Caffeine should be more limited during pregnancy and in children," Sara Chatfield, RDN, at Health Canal tells Eat This, Not That! "Too much caffeine can cause side effects, especially in people who are sensitive. Side effects of too much caffeine can include headaches, or worsening of migraines, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping."
Furthermore, some folks just don't do well with coffee, and shouldn't feel pressured to drink a cup or two for health benefits.
"If you're sensitive to caffeine, consider switching to decaf coffee or tea," Chatfield explains.
So, is coffee bad for your health?
The general consensus seems to be that, as long as you drink the right amount of coffee and aren't sensitive to caffeine, you shouldn't expect to see any health problems.
Scientists have debunked a handful of myths centered on coffee that have popped up over the years. One study published in PLos ONE found that regular coffee drinking didn't contribute to dehydration. Additionally, a study retrieved from the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that a regular morning cup of coffee might not cause insomnia, but 400 mg of caffeine given to participants up to six hours before bed definitely disrupted sleep cycles. Harvard Medical School also officially stated that coffee can't stunt growth, and the myth stems from the false belief that coffee consumption leads to osteoporosis.
Nutrition experts also believe drinking coffee is safe and can even be advantageous for your health in some cases—as long as you don't overdo it.
"Drinking coffee isn't typically dangerous and may even provide health benefits," says Chatfield. "Coffee provides many plant compounds, like polyphenols, with antioxidant activity, so consuming it can reduce free radical damage in the body."
"Drinking coffee has been associated with lower risks of multiple chronic diseases, including heart disease, some types of cancer, diabetes, and neurodegenerative diseases, as well as depression, and even a lower risk of death," Chatfield continues. "A moderate amount of coffee daily isn't dangerous for most people, and over the long term, regular coffee drinking may even protect against chronic diseases."