Is coffee good or bad? The truth lies in between
It is wrong to assume that coffee is bad, as it also has various benefits. The important thing is not to consume excessive quantities, especially of caffeine, which is not just contained in coffee.
- Scientific evidence confirms that the benefits of coffee are greater than its risks. The secret is moderation.
- The amount of caffeine consumed daily should not exceed 400 mg for a healthy adult, the equivalent of about 4 cups of coffee.
- Is coffee bad for you? The answer is not necessarily. If taken in moderation, it can help prevent the onset of various diseases.
- The consumption of coffee is suitable for all ages, even during pregnancy and breastfeeding, albeit with some distinctions.
- From anxiety to insomnia to interference with some medicines: there are also critical issues when coffee intake is excessive.
The effects of coffee: Science speaks for itself
Coffee greets us first thing in the morning. It accompanies us on our breaks from work and studies. It is a tool for socialization, and provides an opportunity for a meet up. Coffee is an inevitable life partner at home and in the office. However, there is a lot of fake news and many falsehoods revolving around coffee. In particular, is coffee bad or good? A recent study summarizes all the main scientific evidence known to date¹. The result that emerges is quite clear: the benefits of coffee are greater than the risks.
The role of caffeine
The main characteristic of coffee is that it contains caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulating alkaloid substance found not only in coffee beans. Among other things, it also appears in cocoa beans, tea leaves, guarana berries and kola nuts.
Caffeine comes into action within 30 minutes of consumption and circulates in the body for an average of 4 hours. The exact duration depends on various factors, including age, weight, pregnancy and medication intake.
Over this period of time, caffeine could have several effects. By blocking the neurotransmitter that causes drowsiness, it improves mood, attention and reaction times.
Is coffee bad for you? Only if you overdo it
As indicated by the Guidelines for healthy eating², the daily caffeine intake of a healthy adult should not exceed 400 mg. All possible sources of caffeine must be considered in the calculation. Therefore, in order to not exceed the dosage, one should not only count how many espressos they had that day, but all the things consumed that contain caffeine. Generally speaking, 4-5 espresso cups cover the maximum daily caffeine recommendation.
It should be emphasized, however, that the concentration of caffeine in a coffee varies according to the variety of beans used, the way these are processed and the method of preparation of the coffee itself. Let's compare some caffeine products:
|Quantity of product|
Source: EFSA (the numbers are approximate; there may be variations from one country to another depending on the quantities considered)³
When coffee intake could be good
It is wrong to say that coffee is bad for you. In fact, coffee is rich in antioxidants and nutrients such as polyphenols, riboflavin, magnesium, potassium and vitamin B3. These substances lower the risk of developing certain types of diseases.
From a cardiovascular point of view, in the short term, caffeine increases blood pressure levels. Over time, however, scientific evidence underline how, thanks to the action of chlorogenic acid, one can build a tolerance that protects against high blood pressure.
Coffee and cholesterol can also get along well, if the recommended quantities are respected and filtered varieties, such as espresso or Moka, are given preference. There is also good news for those who have Parkinson's, the only neurodegenerative disease for which coffee has a protective effect. Last but not least, coffee even seems to diminish the possibility of type 2 diabetes.
Drinking coffee is a good habit at any age
It can therefore be said that coffee is not bad for you and can be consumed at all ages. The important thing, as experts recommend, is not to exceed the recommended quantities. Especially considering what has been said about caffeine. There are, then, specific exceptions:
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women can ingest up to a maximum of 200 mg of caffeine per day, equivalent to two cups of coffee.
- For teenagers, the same doses as for adults can be applied (3 mg per day per kg of body weight). This is because they have the same absorption capacity. It is important, however, to pay attention to the total amount of caffeine consumed.
- Older people are advised not to drink more than 2-3 cups per day. Due to their age, they are more sensitive to caffeine, and can experience an increased psychophysical performance as coffee could help counteract the typical post-lunch drop in blood pressure.
A healthy adult, as already shown, can drink up to 400 mg of coffee per day. However, in the presence of medical conditions, it is always best to follow recommendations from a doctor or nutritionist.
When too much coffee is bad for you
We have seen how many coffees one can drink a day. With a moderate intake and as part of a healthy and balanced diet, coffee does not hurt. What, on the other hand, causes an excess of coffee in the system?
Since it is a stimulating beverage, the central nervous system is the first to be impacted by excessive coffee consumption. There is a risk of creating an addiction to caffeine. Such an addiction could then induce anxiety and insomnia.
Beyond a certain dose, coffee is also bad for pregnant women. Even coffee during breastfeeding should be limited: the stimulants contained in the beverage pass into the mother's milk and, therefore, into the baby's body. Be careful when taking medications such as antidepressants, bronchodilators, antihypertensives and quinolone antibiotics. Caffeine, circulating in the body for a long time, could counteract their effects.
¹ The study, Coffee, Caffeine, and Health, has been published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
² Linee Guida per una sana alimentazione, CREA.