The Surprising Health Benefits of Coffee
From reducing inflammation to enhancing focus, registered dietitians and nutritionists discuss the evidence.
Here’s good news for coffee drinkers everywhere: Having a daily coffee habit may actually be a good thing.
Yes, coffee once had a reputation for being bad for you, and it was even classified as a possible carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer in the early ’90s. “However, the past 25 years have yielded better-quality data and expanded our understanding of coffee’s impact on health,” says Shahzadi Devje, RD, a certified diabetes educator in Toronto. “And the case for coffee is stronger than ever.”
One thing to keep in mind, though, is we’re purely talking about coffee itself. “The benefits studied are generally from the coffee,” says Ginger Hultin, RD, a Seattle-based spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “So if you drink coffee with added sugar or high-fat cream products, those additions may negate the health benefits.”
Of course, dietary habits are all about balance and moderation. So if you’re adding just a sprinkle of sugar and that’s your only source of added sugar for the day, you may be OK. But you might also find that a dash of cinnamon in your java is all the sweetness you need.
Now, let’s get into those health benefits.
Regular and decaf coffee contains antioxidants
“Coffee is one of the most plentiful and consistent sources of cell-protecting antioxidants, since many people consume it daily,” says Dana Angelo White, RD, a certified athletic trainer in Fairfield, Connecticut. Indeed, coffee is one of the main sources of antioxidants in the Western diet, per a 2014 study in Antioxidants.
What about decaf? When it comes to antioxidants, “both regular and decaf coffee have similar amounts,” explains Melissa Nieves, RD, who is based in San Juan, Puerto Rico. “However, it seems that the caffeine extraction process may somewhat reduce the amounts of phenolic acids and antioxidant capacity in decaf coffee.” In a nutshell: Regular coffee may offer more health benefits than decaf, but you’ll still get health perks from decaf coffee. (Add these antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables to your grocery list, too!)
Coffee may help reduce inflammation
A major benefit of consuming antioxidants on the daily: Doing so may help reduce inflammation. “Most of the reported health benefits of coffee bank on the premise that coffee may have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that, over time, may reduce inflammation,” says Devje. Wondering what reducing inflammation accomplishes? It may ultimately decrease your risk of chronic disease, per a 2017 review study in Annual Review of Nutrition that found that coffee intake was associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes and Parkinson’s disease, among other conditions.
Coffee may help prevent cancer
“Observational studies have linked coffee consumption with a probable decreased risk of breast, colorectal, colon, endometrial, and prostate cancers,” says Devje, referring to the previously mentioned Annual Review of Nutrition study. Drinking four- to five cups of coffee a day was associated with lower risk of developing some cancers, but “keep in mind that the data is observational in nature, and we cannot assume a cause and effect relationship,” Devje cautions.
Coffee is linked to a lower risk of depression
Yup, some research suggests that drinking java is linked to a lower risk of this mood disorder. “A large longitudinal Harvard study with more than 50,000 women found that women drinking moderate amounts [of coffee] had a lowered risk of depression,” notes Jeni Hollifield, RDN at Healthy Grocery Girl in Colorado Springs, Colorado. In the study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, women who drank two to three cups of coffee a day had a lower risk of depression than women who drank one or fewer cups per week. Drinking decaf coffee wasn’t connected with a lowered risk of depression in the study.