Is Coffee Good for You?

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The Comforting Cup

If you’re one of the 150 million Americans who reach for a cup of coffee on a daily basis, you likely know that pain that can come with skipping your morning cup of joe. From headaches to anxiety to difficulty concentrating, coffee is a hard habit to kick. There is a true comfort that comes from grabbing that warm, dark drink in the morning. But how can something that gives you withdrawal symptoms the first day you put it down be okay to drink every day? Doesn’t that count as an addition, and aren’t addictions bad?

Woman Drinking Coffee

In Michaels Pollan’s new book “How Caffeine Created the Modern World”, available only as an audiobook on Audible, he explores some of these ideas as he takes the steps to experience a break from caffeine. You may be familiar with Pollan from his other work centered around food, perhaps most famously his book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”. After a thorough exploration of the topic, which included research into the nuances of craving coffee versus the consequences of caffeine intake, and meeting with experts and scientists in the fields of sleep and the biological effects of coffee, Pollan concludes, perhaps like most of us, that coffee isn’t the best thing for you. It can really impact your quality of sleep, even if you don’t lose sleep. But it is good; he enjoys it. Good enough that he will keep drinking it.

But it's an antioxidant!

I admit that I was a bit surprised to hear that coffee can affect your quality of sleep so dramatically even six or seven hours after your last cup, or that the daily consumption of coffee is more about staving off the withdrawal symptoms than it is about getting an extra boost. After all, I feel like I’ve been bombarded with articles over the last decade that claim that coffee, in moderation, is great for your health. Isn’t it correlated with a longer life? A quick Internet search shows articles claiming that coffee can protect you from Alzheimer’s disease, protect your liver, lower your risk of Parkinson’s disease, lower your risk for certain cancers, fight depression, lower your risk of stroke, burn fat, and lower your risk of Type 2 Diabetes. So, which is it, a superfood packed with antioxidants or a legal drug addiction?

Oddly, I feel like I’ve been through this before with that other dark vice: chocolate. According to what you read, chocolate is at once an obesity-causing confection and an ancient, antioxidant-packed superfood that lowers your risk for heart disease. I really like chocolate and I just don’t think I could walk away from it and I have never experienced withdrawal symptoms from chocolate. So how can we ever be expected to take a break from coffee? And do we need to?

Cup of Coffee

Volume Matters

One thing that seems clear is that volume matters. Drinking one cup of coffee a day is much different than drinking more than four cups a day. According to the Mayo Clinic, more than four cups of coffee in a day can cause symptoms such as headache, insomnia, fast heartbeat, and muscle tremors. The truth is, though, that I think more than four cups of coffee a day is an exception. Most people just don’t consume that much.

It seems that the best answer to the question about coffee depends on your personal priorities. In my view, coffee just isn’t bad enough for me to give it up. There is a cost to coffee, a transaction that is made. You give up some of your sleep quality for the daily comfort of the cup. The benefits of the daily habit exist, they are documented in one study after another. But so are the negative consequences. When we have so much information available to us, I think sometimes we lose sight of the benefit of enjoyment, and that we need to enjoy our lives. So really, in the end, the choice is yours. Think about how much you drink on a daily basis, about what is important to you, and about the price you are comfortable paying for a cup and enjoy at your own risk.

Sources: Gunnars, Kris. “13 Health Benefits of Coffee, Based on Science.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 20 Sept. 2018, www.healthline.com/nutrition/top-13-evidence-based-health-benefits-of-coffee#section13.
King, Rachel. “Book Review: Michael Pollan and 'How Caffeine Created the Modern World'.” Fortune, Fortune, 4 Feb. 2020, fortune.com/2020/02/10/book-review-michael-pollan-caffeine/.
Kubala, Jillian. “8 Symptoms of Caffeine Withdrawal.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 24 Apr. 2018, www.healthline.com/nutrition/caffeine-withdrawal-symptoms.
Gunnars, Kris. “7 Proven Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 25 June 2018, www.healthline.com/nutrition/7-health-benefits-dark-chocolate.

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