Coffee – Grounds for Concern?

A client recently asked, “Are there health risks to drinking coffee?”

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

The question comes up often. Nearly 2/3 of Americans (64%) have at least one cup of coffee daily according to 2015 Gallup research (1). 

Does it cause dehydration? No, the slight diuretic effect is offset by the fluids.  Ulcers?  Coffee doesn’t cause ulcers although it could aggravate one. Nor does recent research indicate coffee is associated with fibrocystic breasts (11).

There are about a thousand compounds in coffee, including the nutrients riboflavin, niacin, magnesium and potassium along with antioxidant phytochemicals, chlorogenic acid and quinic acid. Roasting coffee beans produces n-methylpyridinium that makes the antioxidants more potent. The actions of these compounds may explain why moderate coffee consumption, 1 to 5 cups of filtered coffee daily, is associated with health benefits such as lower rates of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.

Coffee may protect against depression (in women), certain cancers, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and liver diseases, too. Decaffeinated coffee is likely to be as beneficial as caffeinated however instant coffee may be less so (3,4, 5).

The boost in mental and physical performance from caffeine, the most-consumed psychoactive drug in the world, is likely what drives coffee consumption. While caffeine stimulates various parts of the brain, a key effect is to block adenosine which slows brain activity and is associated with sleep.  Athletes like the fact that it improves muscle contractions and offsets the effects of exertion (4).

You can get too much of a good thing. Negative effects of caffeine include interfering with sleep, jitteriness, anxiety, an upset stomach and high blood pressure (4,5). People metabolize caffeine differently so sensitivity varies. And the effects may change as one habituates to it.

While the data on caffeine and miscarriage is inconclusive, the March of Dimes recommends that pregnant women limit caffeine to 200 milligrams daily as caffeine crosses directly into the placenta to the baby.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that breastfeeding moms limit coffee intake to 2 to 3 cups a day as some caffeine gets into breast milk (6).

The amount of caffeine in a cup of coffee varies according to the type of beans and how it is roasted and brewed.  Reference 7 lists the caffeine content of coffee and other sources such as energy drinks and other beverages, foods and medications. 

My morning starts with French press coffee with foamy steamed milk which is savored for its full flavor and body. If you drink French press, Turkish or other unfiltered coffee, you are ingesting the diterpenes cafestol and kahweol found in the oily part of the beans. They may have a protective role against some cancers but can cause elevated LDL cholesterol levels when 5 to 8 cups are consumed daily (7).

Perhaps the most negative health effect of coffee consumption comes from what is put in it – added sugar and calories in the form of syrups, cream and creamers. 

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

In the kitchen, coffee perks up sweet and savory recipes.  Coffee’s bitterness balances sweetness in desserts and baked goods, adding an especially rich depth of flavor to chocolate desserts such as my recipe for Double Chocolate Almond Cookies .


  1. 1.


3. American Institute of Cancer Research – Foods That Fight Cancer

4. – What is it About Coffee? 

5. – Pressed Coffee Going Mainstream





10. American Institute of Cancer Research

© Lorelle Del Matto 2016



lorelle About lorelle

Crazy about cooking, eating and sharing good food – my work and leisure revolve around the kitchen. As a culinary dietitian my professional life encompasses nutrition counseling and education, recipe development, product development, food and nutrition writing, marketing communications, corporate test kitchen and consumer affairs management, food styling and work as a product spokesperson.

Speak Your Mind