There’s a significant amount of misinformation online about the healthiness (or lack thereof) of coffee. One day a study will come out suggesting that coffee is healthy, and the next day a conflicting study may come out suggesting the opposite.
Is there a healthiest way to prepare coffee? Does coffee have health benefits proven in medical studies? Is coffee only unhealthy for certain people with pre-existing conditions? And are luxury coffee brands healthier than cheap brands like Folgers or is that just marketing?
In this article we’ll answer all of these questions and more. We’ll start with a research review of proven health benefits of coffee, explain what we consider to be the healthiest way to make coffee, and share an example of an unhealthy coffee product that’s extremely popular to illustrate our points.
Research-Backed Coffee Benefits
Coffee is associated with longevity in medical research. An extensive 2013 medical review analyzed data from clinical trials on coffee and mortality, and concluded that coffee drinkers experienced reduced mortality from all causes and reduced incidence of cardiovascular diseases.
Population studies have also linked coffee consumption to reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The linked study found that coffee consumption modulates levels of gut peptides that regulate insulin levels in a favorable way, and can help feed healthy bacteria in the gut.
Coffee can also improve exercise performance. A meta-study published in the Sports Medicine journal found that caffeine, which is the predominant chemical compound in coffee, improves resistance training and allows athletes to lift more weight.
The potential health benefits of coffee are not limited to physical benefits but also include mental benefits. A study published in the Molecular Nutrition & Food Research journal analyzed data from over 300,000 individuals and found that those with higher coffee intakes were 24% less likely to suffer from depression.
There are clearly a number of potential health benefits associated with the consumption of coffee, from physical to mental health benefits. But can the way it’s prepared be the real difference between healthy and unhealthy coffee? We explore that next.
Why Black Coffee is Healthier
We recommend black coffee, which just means coffee brewed and prepared without additives like preservatives, milk and sugar.
Black coffee contains all of the antioxidants and phenolic compounds that give coffee its health benefits, including chlorogenic acid which is clinically proven to have anti-inflammatory and anti-obesity effects, and polyphenols which may have a neuroprotective effect and reduce the risk of stroke according to a 2020 medical review.
Basically, black coffee contains all of the compounds which give coffee its health benefits, while commercial coffee products contain a number of questionable additive ingredients that may negate the benefits of coffee and make the drink unhealthy overall.
We’ll give an example including an ingredient review in the next section.
Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte Ingredient Review
We would consider highly sweetened coffee beverages like Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte to be bad for you.
This drink contains multiple synthetic preservatives: sulfiting agents and potassium sorbate. The latter preservative has been clinically shown to negatively alter gene expression and contribute to inflammation as we documented in our review of Bang Energy drink (another product containing potassium sorbate).
Citric acid is a flavor enhancer shown to cause whole-body inflammatory reactions in a small subset of patients according to a report in the Toxicology Reports journal.
Natural flavors is an ingredient we recommend avoiding because it fails to describe the specific flavoring agents used, and there are documented toxicity concerns with some food flavoring agents.
Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte is also high in calories, mostly from added sugar. It’s conclusively proven in medical research that excessive added sugar intake contributes to obesity, cardiovascular disease and a wide range of other negative health outcomes, and this coffee drink provides 50 grams (g) of sugar, which is significantly more than a 12 ounce Coke.
We consider coffee drinks with so many questionable additives to be unhealthy, and recommend avoiding them entirely.
Quick Animated Video on Black Coffee Benefits
One of the most popular YouTube videos on the health benefits of black coffee is published by a channel called “The Health Nerd.” The video has over 700,000 views at the time of writing this article, is only 4 minutes long, and shares some more research on the health benefits of black coffee than we covered in this article:
Why Instant Coffee May Be Bad for You
Acrylamide is a chemical compound produced when food products are heated at very high temperatures. Nearly all types of coffee contain acrylamide, but its levels are much higher in instant coffee than in regular roasted coffee.
A 2013 clinical trial documented that instant coffee has acrylamide levels twice as high as regular coffee. The same trial reports that acrylamide is neurotoxic and carcinogenic (cancer-causing) according to animal studies.
The health benefits of coffee likely outweigh the potential downsides of acrylamide intake, even for those consuming instant coffee, but it seems logical to choose regular roasted coffee instead of instant coffee to reduce this risk.
Health Conditions That May Make Coffee a Bad Choice
While coffee appears to be a healthy choice for most people, there are some health conditions that may make its intake a riskier choice.
Caffeine is known to increase blood pressure, and can increase systolic blood pressure by an average of 8.1 mm Hg according to a clinical trial. This may make decaffeinated coffee, or tea, a better choice for individuals with high blood pressure.
Coffee may also be inadvisable for people prone to anxiety. A 2004 medical review found that coffee can cause anxiety symptoms even in patients without anxiety, but especially in those with anxiety disorders. Caffeine is a stimulant that can trigger the “fight or flight” response due to the release of adrenaline, so it may be best for those prone to anxiety to avoid coffee altogether.
We would recommend that individuals with high blood pressure or anxiety speak with their doctor about whether coffee is a good idea for them.
Our Black Coffee Recommendation
The black coffee we recommend is Bulletproof Coffee. It’s ground for convenience, Rainforest Alliance Certified, contains no questionable additives (the only ingredient is ground coffee beans) and is affordable.
The amount of coffee cups you can get from a 12 ounce bag depends on how strong you make your coffee, but at a total cost of $15.99 this coffee costs well under $1 per cup.
Interested consumers can check out Bulletproof Coffee at this link to the product page on Bulletproof’s website.