As an avid coffee drinker, there is nothing in the world that can get my day started better than a cup (or two) of freshly brewed “joe,” and according to the National Coffee Association’s Data Trends Report I’m probably not the only person who feels this way.

Every day Americans choose to drink coffee more than any other beverage. An astonishing 646 million cups of coffee are consumed in this country every single day!

More specifically, Americans drink almost two cups a day per capita, and of those who actually drink coffee, that’s more like three cups per day.

But just like anything else in the world that so many hold in high regard, you will nearly always find just as many people with the completely opposite view. Because of this, I think it’s important to look into coffee consumption a bit deeper and gain a little more understanding for how it can affect your health. Even though I love coffee, I will try to be as unbiased as possible.

The negatives

So for starters, let’s begin with the negatives. For many people, the bitter taste of coffee is completely unbearable. For others, it’s a flavor they don’t mind — as long as it’s covered up by all sorts of flavorful products. And I believe this is where most of the unhealthy coffee consumption issues lie: with all of the milk, sugar, creamer and whipped cream additives.

Coffee-Mate French Vanilla liquid coffee creamer, a very popular creamer, has 35 calories per tablespoon, with 1.5 grams of fat and 5 grams of sugar. While 35 calories doesn’t seem too bad, there are many who don’t measure out just one or two tablespoons of the creamer.

Some people pour the creamer straight from the container into their coffee until they are happy with the flavor. Before you know it, your cup of coffee with little to no calories is a calorie-dense drink full of fat and sugar.

As an example, consider the popular Starbucks pumpkin spice latte. The Grande (16-ounce) size of this drink is 380 calories, with 14 grams of fat and 50 grams of sugar! Just one of these drinks per day can drastically increase your weekly caloric intake with empty calories coming entirely from fat and sugar.

The other part of drinking coffee that can negatively affect your health comes from the caffeine. The amount of caffeine in coffee can vary quite a bit, but on average, an 8-ounce cup of brewed coffee consists of about 100 milligrams of caffeine.

Caffeine is known to cause issues including increased blood pressure, rapid heart rate, anxiety, indigestion, headaches, insomnia, frequent urination, fatigue and even more.

On the surface, this list of side effects makes drinking coffee look like a seriously unhealthy choice, but it isn’t as bad as it looks. Up to 400 milligrams of caffeine (four cups of coffee) is safe for most adults. Because each person is different, in terms of tolerance for caffeine and even health conditions, there is no exact amount of caffeine for which these symptoms may be present — if they occur at all. Generally speaking, once you start exceeding 400 milligrams, you potentially put yourself at risk for some of these issues. The key thing to remember, just like any other part of our diet, moderation matters when it comes to coffee.

The positives

The primary reason people drink coffee is obviously because of the pick-me-up it provides, which I will discuss. But first, I want to go over some of the more uncommonly known benefits you may have never heard about.

Coffee contains antioxidants and other active ingredients that may reduce inflammation in the body and actually help protect you against disease. Three of the important bioactive compounds in coffee are chlorogenic acids, diterpenes and trigonelline, and offer potential benefits to our health.

Chlorogenic acids have demonstrated antioxidant activities, Diterpenes have been found to raise serum total and LDL-cholesterol which is bad, but they also are antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and can inhibit cancer formation. Trigonelline has a proven anti-diabetic effect.

And though I shared about the negative aspects of coffee’s caffeine, there are positive ones as well, including increased alertness, improved physical performance during endurance exercise, lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, lower risk of stroke, lower risk of developing kidney stones and many others.

You decide

As you can see, coffee is a pretty interesting drink that can potentially have some very profound effects on our health, whether positive or negative. To enjoy most of the positives while minimizing the negatives it is important to enjoy our coffee with moderation.

You know your body best, and your own reactions. How you choose to drink your coffee, and how much of it you choose to drink, will ultimately be the determining factors in the way it will affect your health.

Joel Stockburger is a fitness consultant at Bradley Wellness Center.

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