What the latest research says about how coffee can improve your chances of a longer life.

It is said the world runs on coffee, and it seems that is no exaggeration: it is estimated that 1.5 billion cups of coffee are consumed daily worldwide. Given its popularity, scientists have been hard at work trying to determine exactly how it affects our health, and the answers are surprising.  Whether you depend on your morning fix to give you that needed jolt or you simply savor the taste and smell of a fresh brew, you’ll want to learn about what goes into your favorite hot beverage, and how it can influence your health in a big way.

What goes into a cup of coffee

Coffee contains a complex mix of over 1,000 plant-derived compounds. Caffeine is the ingredient most widely known for its ability to stimulate the central nervous system for a boost of energy, but many phytochemicals are also added that deliver powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Because coffee is made of plants, which also contain the same health promoting phytochemical compounds, research suggests that coffee may in fact offer the same benefit you’d get from eating fruits and vegetables.

What are the benefits of drinking coffee?

For starters, coffee can help protect your heart. Daily coffee drinking reduces your risk of death from cardiovascular disease and stroke. Coffee can also prevent cancers like prostate cancer, endometrial cancer, leukemia, and melanoma. Coffee is highly protective against many liver diseases and also reduces the risk of neurological conditions like Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Coffee is also shown to improve the ability to metabolize glucose and heighten insulin sensitivity, reducing blood sugar and the risk for type 2 diabetes. The caffeine in coffee can help us keep trim as well, as multiple studies confirm that it can significantly decrease body fat, BMI, and weight. As a natural mood booster, caffeine is also protective against depression.

A note of caution about coffee consumption

Coffee is associated with a number of health claims, but much of the current evidence does not yet prove that coffee causes them. Never rely solely on coffee to guarantee these results. Nutritious eating and regular exercise should always be part of a healthy lifestyle.

Are there any risks to drinking coffee?

Too much caffeine can lead to some serious health consequences. Evidence shows that drinking 28 cups of coffee or more per week can lead to premature death, raising the heart rate and blood pressure, and causing stiffness in the peripheral arteries that pump blood toward the arms, legs, stomach, and head.  Also, due to genetic differences, not everyone metabolizes caffeine the same way.  Those who metabolize caffeine quickly seem to benefit the most from coffee’s health promoting properties, but those who metabolize slowly run the risk of developing high blood pressure. Heavy caffeine ingestion can also induce anxiety, insomnia, heart palpitations, and headache. Coffee can increase the risk of fracture in women as well as the possibility of preterm labor and low birth weight when consumed during pregnancy.

How to drink coffee the healthy way

Þ   Drink the right amount. One 8 oz cup of brewed caffeinated coffee contains 95 mg of caffeine. Research shows that health benefits are maximized when three to four cups of coffee are consumed daily, and caffeine intake should not exceed 400 mg in a day.

Þ   Keep your coffee healthy. Mixing in sugar and cream may be a favorite way to enjoy your coffee but this may diminish any potential benefits for your blood sugar and add empty calories. If you must drink your coffee on the sweeter, creamier side, try some healthier alternatives: sweeten with a small amount of agave, honey, or Stevia, and mix in non-fat milk, soy milk, or almond milk. Mix in nourishing spices like cinnamon and nutmeg for a simple way to add some flavor.