As the morning sun rises over the city, the aroma of freshly brewed coffee wakes up the weary. For many, this is the start of a daily ritual—a comforting cup of joe to awaken their senses and lift their spirits, a warm smile from the barista to make them feel welcome, and the promise of the day ahead. Well, that morning cup of coffee is not just a pick-me-up, and may have some unexpected health benefits.
Studies have shown that regular coffee consumption is associated with lower risk of stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer due to the presence of a number of bioactive compounds (chemicals that support several bodily functions).
“Coffee beans are packed with several antioxidants such as chlorogenic acid, melanoidins, and phenylalanine,” says Janani GV, consultant nutritionist from HealthifyMe. However, she recommends drinking light roasted coffee that retains most of the nutrients.
Sports nutritionists often recommend this brew as a pre-workout drink. Svasti Upadhyaya, a sports nutritionist from Hyderabad, advises her athletes to take black coffee (without sugar) as a pre- workout drink. “It stimulates the central nervous system and reduces fatigue during workout when taken 30-60 minutes before a workout session,” adds Janani.
A closer look at the health benefits
It is a rich source of antioxidants and polyphenols, which are compounds that can provide a wide range of benefits. Various studies have shown that coffee consumption is associated with a reduced risk of several diseases, including type 2 diabetes and liver conditions, improved cognitive function and reduced risk of depression. Janani says that consumption of caffeine reduces the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease and delay its progression.
For years, coffee has been the subject of research by virtue of its many bio-active compounds. A 2018 study published in the journal of Integrative Medicine Research, assessed 14,413 university graduates, and found that those who consumed at least four cups of coffee per day had a lower risk of depression than those who drank less than one cup.
Scheduling your coffee breaks right
Feeling drowsy during those afternoon meetings? Blame it on a neurotransmitter (chemicals that power information exchange among neurons) called adenosine, which builds up during the day and makes us feel sleepy.
Coffee comes to the rescue by blocking the action of adenosine. By competing with adenosine receptors, the caffeine in coffee can increase the firing of neurons in the brain. It also affects alertness by increasing the levels of certain neurotransmitters such as dopamine and acetylcholine in the brain.
Since caffeine increases alertness and delays melatonin production (aka the sleep hormone), it is best to avoid coffee 5-6 hours before sleeping, says Janani. The best time to have coffee is between 9.30am and 11.30am or an hour after waking up and not immediately, she says.
“Since coffee is acidic in nature, having it on an empty stomach might cause symptoms of acidity in some. Taking it a few minutes after a meal is ideal,” she adds.
Coffee and heart health: Is there a link?
Coffee consumption has long been linked to reduced risk of heart conditions. A 2022 study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology found that 2-3 cups of decaffeinated, ground, and instant coffee per day significantly reduces cardiovascular incidents such as coronary heart disease, cardiac failure, and ischaemic stroke.
Experts note that caffeinated instant coffee is associated with reduced arrhythmia (irregular beating of the heart). However, a person’s tolerance level determines its effect on health, according to Upadhyaya.
Coffee and diabetes: the possible connection
Most of coffee’s beneficial effects can be attributed to the presence of antioxidants like trigonelline and cafestol, says Janani. “Trigonelline has a hypoglycaemic effect (decreasing blood glucose) that helps counter diabetes, while cafestol improves insulin production,” she adds.
Can too much be harmful to health?
Benefits aside, it is important to note that excessive caffeine intake can have negative effects on health, such as raising blood pressure and causing insomnia. It is important to consult your doctor or an expert before making any dietary changes.
“Although the safe levels of consumption are 3 to 4 cups of coffee a day, one should not get dependent to this beverage to carry on their daily activities,” cautions Upadhyaya.
“In addition, it is advisable to avoid taking coffee with food. The anti-nutrients such as tannins in them might hinder the absorption of nutrients from food. Moreover, pregnant women are advised to strictly restrict themselves from consuming coffee as it may hamper the child’s health,” she adds.
“The downside of taking coffee with too much added sugar might outweigh the benefits above. Therefore, coffee should be taken with little or no sugar for best outcomes,” concludes Janani.