14 Legit Ways Coffee Can Boost Your Health

 by Maggie Moon, MS, RD

While many of us drink coffee to perk up, it just so happens that our daily java packs a few additional benefits as well.


If your day just isn't complete without a cup (or two or three) of coffee, then you're in good company. Nearly two-thirds of American adults make it a daily habit, and nutrition research has confirmed that they're onto something good. The science on coffee has evolved over the years, and the good news is most people can safely drink three to five cups of coffee a day (up to 400 milligrams of caffeine). The caveat is that some groups should limit intake or talk to their health professional about how much is safe; this includes young children, caffeine-sensitive adults and pregnant women. For the rest of us, there are compelling reasons to enjoy this ancient tonic — from better workouts to enhanced memory to a healthier gut microbiome. As long as don't undo all the good by dumping cream and sugar into your morning cup, you'll be on the right track to getting these 14 coffee benefits.

1. It Gives Your Workout a Boost

Research shows that caffeine reduces fatigue and boosts athletic performance for cardio lovers and high-intensity strength-training junkies alike. For endurance activities like running, biking and swimming, caffeine improves speed and reduces muscle pain. The research also shows it improves performance for strength training, which is good news for people who enjoy power activities like weightlifting, gymnastics or sprinting. In both cases, caffeine helps the body push itself harder by amping up adrenaline, jump-starting energy production and improving blood flow to the muscles, including the heart. In one study, participants had 30 percent better circulation down to their fingertips after a regular cup of coffee compared to decaf. With increased blood flow to smaller blood vessels, the heart doesn't have to do all the heavy lifting. And don't worry about the old myth that coffee is dehydrating — that one has long been debunked by studies involving athletes and military personnel.

2. Cooking With Leftover Coffee Grounds Can Be Great for Your Gut

If you normally toss your coffee grounds, you're throwing out something seriously golden. A 2016 study published in Food Chemistry found that used-up coffee grounds are rich in the kind of fiber that our gut bacteria loves to convert into inflammation-blocking short-chain fatty acids. Roasting affected how well this worked, with the best effects seen in medium-roast coffee.

Plus, coffee is America's favorite way to get antioxidants — largely in the form of polyphenols — which are digested by gut bacteria to keep its microbiome diverse and healthy. To boost coffee's buggy benefits and to cut down on food waste, try adding a tablespoon of leftover coffee grounds to your favorite recipes such as meat marinades, brownies or your morning smoothie.

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3. It Keeps Your Brain Sharp

Several studies have demonstrated how coffee and caffeine can enhance short-term memory and cognition — you know, the kind you need right before an exam or big presentation. But emerging preliminary studies suggest a long-term coffee habit may protect the brain against cognitive decline and dementia. An animal study from 2009 found that five cups of coffee a day improved performance in problem-solving tasks. What's more, they had lower levels of beta-amyloid plaques in the brain — the hallmark of Alzheimer's disease. Researchers don't fully understand how it works, but they think it could be a combination of coffee's caffeine, magnesium and antioxidant-rich polyphenols.

4. It Can Keep You Strong Beyond Your 30s, 40s and 50s

If you're past your 30s, you understand — and may have firsthand experience with — the reduction in muscle mass and strength that results from aging, also known as sarcopenia. Not only does it make it harder for you to do everyday tasks, but it also comes with an increased risk of mortality. Fortunately, coffee's antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties may help fight the low-grade chronic inflammation that speeds up age-related sarcopenia. In a 2014 animal study published in Experimental Gerontology, coffee lessened the loss of muscle mass and grip strength in aged mice. It also improved the muscles' ability to regenerate.

Read more: 8 Ways You've Been Doing Coffee All Wrong and How to Get It Right

5. It Lowers Your Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

Though it may sound paradoxical, coffee can both raise blood sugar (short-term) and help manage it to reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes (long-term). Caffeine increases adrenaline, which temporarily increases blood sugar (a concern for people with diabetes), but long-term habitual coffee drinkers are up to 50 percent less likely to develop diabetes. Regular coffee drinkers also have higher levels of adiponectin, a protein that regulates blood sugar. Since studies suggest that both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee reduces the risk of diabetes, decaf may be a good choice for anyone worried about the short-term rise in blood sugar. Either way, coffee drinkers will get chlorogenic acid, the major antioxidant in coffee that lowers blood glucose concentrations (as shown in animal studies) and reduces oxidative stress. They'll also benefit from coffee's lignans, which improve how the body processes glucose. Last but not least, coffee is a source of magnesium, an important mineral associated with a lower risk of Type 2 diabetes.

Read more: 9 Tips for Dining Out With Type 2 Diabetes

6. It Can Keep Depression Away

In a 2016 systematic review comparing observational studies on the link between coffee, caffeine or tea and a person's risk of depression, coffee proved to be the most beneficial. The review analyzed 12 studies that included a total of 346,913 people and found that peak protection from depression was linked to regularly drinking two to three cups of coffee (about 13.5 ounces) a day as compared to people who seldom drank coffee. Caffeine and tea had lesser, but suggestive, protective effects.

Another review looked at some of the most promising compounds in coffee thought to be behind the reduced risk of depression, including caffeine and the polyphenols chlorogenic acid, ferulic acid and caffeic acid. In lab and animal models of depression, these bioactive compounds reduced markers of inflammation associated with depression through their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Read more: The 12 Worst Coffee Drinks to Order

7. It Can Help You Lose Weight

While no single food or drink can work like a miracle pill for fat loss, we might be onto something with coffee. In a recent animal study, two coffee compounds — caffeic acid and chlorogenic acid — significantly lowered body weight and dangerous belly fat in mice made obese through a high-fat diet. The two coffee compounds also lowered insulin, triglyceride and cholesterol levels while increasing the oxidation of fatty acids, meaning that people's bodies burned more fat to produce energy. The compounds also blocked the creation of new fat cells in the liver. While this study was done in mice not people, the results suggest that coffee contains compounds that could, theoretically, help improve body weight and how well the body breaks down fat. If you're not convinced about coffee's weight-loss benefits, we know one thing for a fact: It helps you have better workouts, an essential part of any plan to slim down.

8. It Improves Alertness, Focus and Attention

A single cup of coffee may be all it takes to improve alertness, focus and attention for an extended period of time. According to the European Food Safety Authority, there is enough scientific evidence to conclude that 75 milligrams of caffeine — about the amount in a cup of coffee — can do all those things. What's more, a recent study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied found that 200 to 400 milligrams caffeine (what's in about three to five cups of coffee) improved people's performance in a real-world task of proofreading for simple and complex errors. But don't take that to mean you should start chugging more coffee: Higher intakes don't necessarily improve mental alertness and can actually decrease it.

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9. It Protects Your Liver

You might want to put down your glass of rosé for this one: New research findings from 2016 suggest that drinking coffee keeps the liver healthy and protects it from damage normally caused by drinking too much alcohol. Coffee may also reduce the risk of cirrhosis — a liver condition that can cause fatigue, loss of appetite, easy bruising and yellowing of the skin — by up to 44 percent, according to the study. These findings follow a 2015 global report from the American Institute for Cancer Research that found drinking coffee lowers risk for liver cancer, the second leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide. In previous studies done in the U.S., Italy, Japan, Turkey and France, coffee drinkers were less likely to develop liver cancer, cirrhosis or excessive scar tissue (liver fibrosis) from nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, which we're seeing more and more of due to an excess of added sugars in our food. Scientists are still working on the mechanics of how this works, but are guessing it has to do with coffee's anti-inflammatory properties.

10. It Provides Pain Relief

The old adage "take two aspirin and call me in the morning" may need some updating if findings hold true from a recent study. Researchers discovered that a good night's sleep and coffee were actually more effective than morphine or ibuprofen for pain relief. In the study, which utilized healthy mice, moderate daily sleep deprivation (the kind we are all too familiar with) made the mice more sensitive to pain. Caffeine reversed this enhanced sensitivity to pain, where pain meds failed. In a perfect world, we'd be getting enough sleep, enjoying our daily coffee and feeling great. But when you need a little help to get through the day after a long night, coffee may just do the trick.

11. It Can Help You Live Longer

If you could drink something every day to make yourself live longer, would you do it? Well, according to science, you might be able to. A 2015 study published in Circulation found that people who drank about three to five cups a day were less likely to die from several different causes. The benefit was seen whether people drank regular or decaf, suggesting the benefit is not from caffeine alone, but also from other compounds found in coffee. In 2013, a large meta-analysis of 20 studies published in the British Journal of Nutrition also found that coffee drinkers lived longer and were protected against multiple causes of death, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes and respiratory disease — four of the seven leading causes of death in the U.S.

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12. It Provides Hard-to-Get Potassium

Coffee contains a number of micronutrients, including potassium, one of four nutrients called out for being a "nutrient of concern" in the <ahref="https: health.gov="" dietaryguidelines="" 2015="" guidelines="" "=""> </ahref="https:>Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015–2020, because Americans are getting an alarmingly low amount of it in their diets. Getting enough potassium is important for lowering blood pressure and reducing bone loss, and it may even reduce the risk of developing kidney stones. Together with sodium, potassium helps nerves work, muscles contract and heartbeats stay regular, and they help move nutrients in and waste out of cells. It also helps metabolize carbohydrates, build muscle and control the body's pH (acid-base balance).

13. It Protects Against Stroke

Coffee and heart health can be a confusing topic. Studies show moderate coffee intake can protect against stroke, especially in women. In seeming contrast, some studies show coffee raises blood pressure, though the effect is small. And when it comes to cholesterol, unfiltered coffee can raise cholesterol short-term, but filtered (more common in the U.S.) has no impact. Despite these nuances, the research shows that about three cups of coffee per day lowers the risk of death from cardiovascular disease by up to 21 percent. That's pretty big, considering that it's the leading cause of death in America.

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14. It’s America’s No. 1 Source of Antioxidants

Coffee is the primary source of antioxidants in the American diet. And while other foods might contain more antioxidants than coffee (berries, for example), Americans just don't love those foods as much as they do their daily cup. Preliminary studies suggest that the antioxidants in coffee may be responsible for coffee's potential ability to protect against some cancers, reduce the risk of dementia, improve sugar metabolism, protect against heart disease and more.

Coffee skeptics, take note. The main antioxidants in coffee are chlorogenic acids, and java drinkers usually get about 500 to 1,000 milligrams of chlorogenic acid per day, compared to less than 100 milligrams per day for non-coffee drinkers. A single cup can have anywhere from 70 to 350 milligrams, so the general guidance of three to five cups a day is a good rule of thumb here too.

Read more: 9 Easy Coffee Upgrades for the Best Morning Ever

Stick to the Safe Amount

As with anything, remember not to overdo it. Too much coffee can lead to anxiety, poor sleep and heartburn. It's recommended that pregnant women limit their intake <ahref="https: www.acog.org="" resources-and-publications="" committee-opinions="" committee-on-obstetric-practice="" moderate-caffeine-consumption-during-pregnancy"=""> </ahref="https:>to no more than 200 milligrams per day (or according to their physician's recommendations), and the American Academy of Pediatrics discourages caffeine altogether for children. Some individuals are also more sensitive to caffeine than others. For everyone else, reasonable and regular intake may hold some benefits and can be worked into an overall healthy lifestyle.

Brew your own coffee so you can control what goes in it, and while shopping, look for fair-trade, organic options to avoid pesticides. If you're on the go, find a ready-to-drink option with a label that has caffeine levels clearly marked (and one too that is preferably low in sugar!).

For times when you're not sure how much caffeine is inside a cup, a good rule of thumb for moderate consumption comes from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015–2020: Have three to five 8-ounce cups, or up to 400 milligrams of caffeine, per day.

What Do YOU Think?

What's your favorite perk of drinking coffee? How much coffee do you drink every day? Why do you drink it? Have you ever tried cooking with coffee? How do you take your coffee? Share in the comments section!


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