Nutritionist Weighs In On the Surprising Benefits of Coffee

Dec 28, 2016

For some of us, it may be hard to be a functional human being without our morning cup of coffee. But in a society that consumes what can be considered the most widely used drug on the planet so often – you have to wonder: is it actually good for us?

Coffee and the caffeine that’s in it have been linked to dehydration, stomach problems, effects on your metabolism, and insomnia, and other conditions – but what does the science say?

Kim Flannery is a local registered and certified dietitian currently serving as the Wisconsin Athletic Club's nutrition director, and she says you really don’t have to quit making and drinking the black gold you so enjoy.

"I was shocked when I was looking into it to find that it's actually the biggest source of antioxidants in the American diet, and that is because of the sheer quantity of coffee that Americans drink," Flannery says.

In fact, she says, there are many surprising benefits to drinking coffee within "moderate limits," such as improved liver health, better athletic performance, lower incidents with Type 2 Diabetes, improved cognitive health, mood and increased energy.

"We used to think that (coffee) was dehydrating just as alcohol is," Flannery says. "The recent information that's come out on that is that possibly it's a little dehydrating, but not like we used to think. Coffee and tea...we can still count that as part of our fluid intake for the day."

Most studies done in regard to coffee consumption and health are based upon participants consuming up to three 8 ounce cups of coffee, she notes. While that seems appropriate for most people, Flannery stresses you should know your body and your limit. "Once you get beyond (three cups) it's probably going to be getting on that edge of where it's really beginning to not be so good for you."

For example, the elderly should be mindful of their coffee intake due to high blood pressure risks, and pregnant women should consume only one eight ounce cup per day, she says.

Another factor in how our bodies handle coffee is our own rates of metabolism. "Size is going to make a difference," Flannery notes. "So just like a 200 pound man is going to handle his alcohol a lot better than someone like me who's 5'3' - same thing with coffee."

Flannery cautions that consuming unfiltered diterpenes, elements that are naturally present in the oil contained in coffee, can increase cholesterol, so brewing methods should be taken into account. Instead of having coffee made by a French press, Turkish brew or even espresso, Flannery suggests "something that's filtered, especially if you have a heart health risk."

Of course, many people take their coffee with various amounts of cream, sugar and flavor shots, but Flannery suggests trying to make your coffee without the extra calories and the extra sugar. "If you're adding're not adding a lot of extra calories. You're adding some extra calcium, Vitamin D, things that your body can use," she notes.

Overall, Flannery says, when coffee is consumed in moderation with little sugar, you can feel free to drink America's favorite beverage guilt-free.

"If you're like me and you really enjoy that ritual of having your morning coffee and you like the taste, you like the way it makes you feel and you don't go overboard with it - you're probably going to be getting some nice health benefits from that too," she says.

*Originally aired August 2016