Like most Americans, I start my day with a steaming cup (or three) of coffee. But is this habit a healthy one? It seems like the headlines go back and forth all the time. Coffee is good for you! Coffee is bad for you! Just kidding, coffee is good for you again! Let’s dig a little deeper and see what’s really going on here.

What Is in a Cup of Coffee?

What are Some Benefits of Drinking Coffee?

  • The caffeine in coffee is a stimulant that reduces tiredness and helps us feel more alert. Caffeine can also boost metabolism and may increase exercise performance.
  • Studies have shown coffee to have a possible protective effect against brain disease, possibly lowering the risk of dementia, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease.
  • Drinking moderate amounts of coffee (even decaf) has been linked to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, liver disease, and heart disease.
  • Adding milk or choosing a latte can provide a healthy amount of calcium and vitamin D.
  • Scientists have recently found that people who drink coffee appear to live longer.

What Are Some of the Risks of Drinking Coffee?

  • Drinking coffee every day builds up a tolerance in your system to the caffeine, making the effects less powerful over time.
  • Caffeine can cause problems for sensitive individuals, and certainly consuming too much coffee can lead to jitteriness, anxiety, heart palpitations, and even panic attacks.
  • Drinking coffee later in the day can disrupt sleep.
  • People who drink coffee every day can experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop drinking it. Symptoms like headaches, tiredness and irritability can last a few days or longer.
  • Fancy coffeehouse drinks often contain extra sugar and calories. (A 24-oz. mocha Frappuccino with whipped cream has almost 500 calories.) Store-bought creamers have added sugars and chemicals. Try adding a splash of coconut milk instead.

How Much Coffee Is Too Much?

Research shows that up to 400mg of caffeine per day is tolerable by most people. That equates to about four 8-oz. cups of coffee. But remember, caffeine is found in other foods and drinks such as tea, chocolate, soda and energy drinks. Also, caffeine content varies wildly depending on where you get your coffee from and how large your cup is. (For example, a grande coffee at Starbucks has about 330 milligrams of caffeine.)

Women who are pregnant, trying to become pregnant or breastfeeding should talk with their doctor before drinking coffee. People with hypertension, anxiety disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, and those taking medications should consult their doctor about caffeine use. Those who have to give up coffee due to gastric disorders or bladder conditions may want to try an herbal alternative.

What’s the Bottom Line?

If you enjoy coffee, you can feel good about continuing to drink it. Just remember to practice moderation and steer clear of the fancy sugar-laden coffeehouse versions.

How to Make a Latte at Home

Pour 1/2 cup milk into a coffee mug and heat in the microwave for 45 seconds. Using a whisk, vigorously whisk the hot milk for 30-60 seconds until frothy. Add coffee and a sprinkle of cinnamon.