A lot of people think coffee is a guilty pleasure. Indeed, a popular New Year’s resolution is to cut back on caffeine.
However, coffee lovers can rejoice because, in moderation, coffee is actually full of health benefits. Not only that but there are a variety of ways to enhance the health benefits of coffee while reducing some of the health downsides of our favorite brew.
In this post, I’ll discuss the research-backed health benefits of coffee, some of coffee’s health downsides, and the easy adjustments we can make to our morning cup of coffee to make it even better for us.
About the Author: Christine
Hi, my name is Christine. I am a runner, climber, writer, personal finance nerd, and Doctor of Sociology. I am passionate about providing people with fun, informative information that can transform their lives for the better. You can find my writing on health, wealth, and self-care on my blog Department of Adulting. You can also follow me on Pinterest or Instagram.
A Note from Christine on Nutrition Research
Before I dive in, I want to note that I am not a nutritionist or health professional. Before making any changes to your diet, speak with a healthcare professional.
The research on nutrition and health foods is notoriously complicated. Our health is influenced by so many things that attributing health benefits to a single food is super hard. To make matters even more difficult, our diets hopefully have a lot of variety in them and vary considerably from one person to another.
Consequently, you can do a study where each person is told to drink a cup of coffee a day, but it’s virtually impossible to account for all of the differences in each person’s diet and lifestyle. This is why it’s so important to be cautious about any claims about miracle foods. Those claims rarely hold up to rigorous research.
Health Benefits of Coffee
Surprisingly, however, coffee is one of the few foods or drinks for which there has been tons of research and that research has consistently backed up its numerous health benefits. So what are the benefits of your morning cup of joe?
The most obvious health benefit of coffee is that it boosts your energy levels. The caffeine in coffee blocks the signals in our body that make us feel sleepy while boosting the signals in our body that make us feel awake and happy. Tons of studies have shown that this energy boost is helpful for everyone from athletes to people with high-stress jobs.
Coffee has less obvious health benefits as well. For example, coffee can reduce inflammation in our bodies. This is, in part, because coffee is filled with antioxidants. Move over blueberries and acai! Plus, studies have shown that coffee seems to increase chemicals in our body that reduce inflammation while decreasing chemicals that spur inflammation.
Chronic inflammation in our bodies can affect everything from our risk of diabetes to cancer. It can also lead to cell damage (also called oxidative stress) and, as a result, decrease our longevity. Indeed, coffee drinkers have a lower risk of diabetes, liver disease, heart failure, depression, colon cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Coffee’s anti-inflammatory properties likely play an important role in these lowered risks.
In addition, coffee makes our bodies more sensitive to insulin, which helps decrease our risk of getting Type 2 diabetes and colon cancer even more.
The Health Downsides of Coffee
While coffee has lots of potential benefits, doctors recommend consuming it in moderation. This is because it also comes with some health risks. One of the biggest is coffee’s impact on sleep.
Caffeine has a half-life of about 5 hours. That means after 5 hours, half of the caffeine you originally consumed is still in your body. After 10 hours, 1/4 is left. This is why it’s so helpful to reserve your daily coffee for the morning. Afternoon coffee drinkers are much more likely to have caffeine in their system and so struggle to fall asleep. While coffee may improve our health in many ways, sleep is far more important for health.
The other downsides of coffee largely come from drinking lots of coffee. The caffeine in coffee can make us jittery, increase our blood pressure, and give us headaches. Some people find that they get these symptoms after a few cups, while others find they get these symptoms after more than 5 cups of coffee. If you’re a coffee lover, you should aim to limit your coffee to whatever number of cups doesn’t trigger these symptoms for you.
Some people also find that coffee can make acid reflux worse. Surprisingly, there’s not a lot of scientific evidence to show that coffee impacts acid reflux. However, it may increase acidity in your stomach and relax your intestines in ways that increase your risk of acid reflux. Consequently, if you have acid reflux, you’ll want to talk to a doctor and gauge your response to caffeine. Luckily, some of the tips below can also lower the acidity of coffee as well!
How to Improve the Taste and Health Benefits of Coffee
As noted above, the two most important ways you can enhance the health benefits of coffee are by consuming it in moderation and limiting your coffee intake to the morning.
It’s also a good idea to limit your cream and sugar intake when you make your coffee.
If you’re like me and don’t love black coffee, consider adding lower-fat dairy or alternative milk options. You can also use some of the ideas below to augment coffee’s health benefits. On top of that, some of these tips can improve the taste of coffee by reducing the bitter flavors we may notice while drinking it.
The Role of Salt in Coffee
The first step we can take is to add a small pinch of salt to our daily coffee. That may sound shocking and potentially shockingly gross. What’s the benefit of adding a little salt to our morning coffee?
Surprisingly, the addition of salt in coffee can substantially decrease its bitterness.
Salt helps block the receptors on our tongue that detect bitterness. At the same time, salt can amplify our perception of sweet flavors and decrease the stale water taste we might get if we pre-fill the tank of our coffee maker.
Consequently, a bit of salt can substantially improve the bitter taste of coffee without having to rely on sugar, cream, or other additives.
Salt affects more than just our taste buds, it can also improve our health, at least when taken in moderation. Salt in coffee can also help reduce the overall acidity.
It is also an important electrolyte and can decrease the risk of muscle cramps, headaches, and other symptoms of electrolyte deficiency. This is especially helpful because many of us are familiar with coffee’s impact on our bladder. Salt can help replenish the electrolytes that we *ahem* expel after our post-coffee trip to the bathroom.
That being said, those with high blood pressure, an elevated risk of heart disease, or other heart-related health conditions may want to forego this trick as salt does increase blood pressure. It’s always best to talk to your doctor before making major changes to your diet.
How to Add Salt to Your Coffee
Alton Brown (who popularized the salt in coffee trick), recommends adding a quarter teaspoon of salt to 12 tablespoons of ground coffee before you start the brewing process.
Alternatively, you can add a small amount of salt to an already-brewed cup. But, less is more with this trick. The last thing you want is overly salty coffee. You can experiment to figure out how much salt fits your personal preference.
So what kind of salt should you use for the best results?
You’ll experience similar health benefits regardless of the type of salt you use. Unrefined salts like Himalayan and sea salt may have more trace minerals than conventional table salt. But the differences are very small. So go with whatever best fits your personal preferences.
The Added Health Benefits of Coffee and Cinnamon
Another easy way of improving the health benefits of coffee is by adding a little spice. In particular, a dash of cinnamon can boost the flavor and the sweet taste of coffee with far fewer calories than adding sugar.
Plus, coffee and cinnamon have tons of health benefits. Like coffee, cinnamon has high antioxidant content, decreases inflammation, and may lower our risk of diabetes. Indeed, cinnamon decreases insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes. On top of that, cinnamon can help manage blood sugar levels, which can also help with weight loss. Consequently, the health benefits of cinnamon can amplify the benefits of coffee.
Cinnamon comes with its own unique health benefits too. For one thing, it seems to aid our immune system. Cinnamon is antibacterial and antifungal, so it may help prevent the growth of bacteria like E. coli, staph, and more that can lead to infection. Some studies have even suggested that cinnamon might help prevent viruses like flu and HIV.
If you’d like to consume coffee and cinnamon you have a variety of options.
For example, you can add a cinnamon stick on top of ground coffee beans. You can also add ground cinnamon to your ground coffee.
You might even consider grinding cinnamon with your coffee beans to thoroughly mix the cinnamon into your coffee. Finally, you can even add a little cinnamon or cinnamon oil to your cup of coffee.
Health Risks of Coffee and Cinnamon
Alas, there is such a thing as too much cinnamon. Over-consumption of cinnamon comes with some health risks, especially if you consume Cassia cinnamon.
There are two types of cinnamon, Ceylon cinnamon (also called true cinnamon) and Cassia cinnamon. Cassia cinnamon is more widely available and cheaper. However, it has higher coumarin content. Coumarin can lead to liver damage and even an increased risk of cancer.
Depending on the brand, a teaspoon of cassia cinnamon can put us over the daily recommended limit of coumarin. Switching to Ceylon cinnamon, which is available in many health stores and on Amazon, can dramatically reduce those risks, as can limiting yourself to a sprinkle of cinnamon rather than a full teaspoon.
If you have low blood sugar or take medications, cinnamon could also increase your risk of complications. So talk to your doctor before adding cinnamon regularly to your diet if you have any health concerns.
Eating lots of cinnamon in one sitting can also lead to a sore throat. That being said, you’d have to go pretty hard on the cinnamon to get to that point.
The Health Benefits of Coffee and Collagen
Another great way of adding some extra health benefits to your coffee is stirring in a couple of spoonfuls of collagen powder. Collagen powder has become super popular recently and for good reason. For one thing, it’s high in protein, which can increase our feeling of fullness and so reduce weight gain.
Collagen is also part of what makes up our muscles, joints, skin, hair, and even the lining protecting our internal organs.
Consequently, consuming collagen may help improve our skin, hair, nails, muscles, and more.
Keep in mind, however, that your body uses collagen where it’s most needed. You may not notice an improvement in skin or nails, for example, if your body uses it in other ways.
Collagen is most easily absorbed when we consume it with Vitamin C. So your best option is to get a collagen mix that includes Vitamin C or consume collagen with Vitamin C supplements or foods containing Vitamin C like citrus fruits. I personally use Vital Proteins collagen powder with Vitamin C and hyaluronic acid.
Final Thoughts on the Health Benefits of Coffee
If you’re a coffee lover, you don’t have to feel guilty about enjoying your morning cup of joe. Coffee may lead to better health by improving insulin sensitivity and heart health, decreasing inflammation, and combatting cellular decay with its antioxidant properties, to name just a few health benefits.
The best way to enjoy the health benefits of coffee without bringing on the health risks is to limit your intake to the morning and consume it in moderation.
You can also add a touch of cinnamon, a little salt, or other health-boosting additives like collagen to further increase coffee’s health benefits. You can check out another recent article on adding flaxseed to boost the health benefits of coffee as well!
So you can sit back and relax with a steaming cup of coffee, knowing that it’s helping you feel good both inside and out.