The average American consumes 1-2 cups of coffee a day, and it is not going out of style anytime soon. Coffee has become part of the standard American diet due to its energy boosting effects, which is much needed in our sleep-deprived society (including graduate school). Yet, we sometimes wonder, is coffee good for us?
The answer is a surprising, yes, but:
Coffee, much like chocolate, is actually loaded with antioxidants. In fact, it has the highest concentration of antioxidants of any food in the "standard" American diet (e.g. sugary cereal, bagel, eggs with bacon, donuts, you get the idea).
The "but" part is due to a few reasons. First, the more processing coffee goes through, the fewer antioxidants it retains. Regular coffee was actually shown to reduce the risk of certain diseases such as Dementia and Alzheimer's. But how many people drink regular coffee when triple-chocolate and caramel lattes are available? Besides the added calories, these drinks have lost a significant portion of their antioxidant effects.
The other reasons for the "but" are due to caffeine sensitivity in some people. Even small amounts of caffeine can cause gastrointestinal discomfort for sensitive stomachs, and coffee is contraindicated for those with GI problems. Others might not get a GI reaction, but the effects of caffeine might be so strong that they interferes with sleep. How much coffee is too much? It turns out that the beneficial effects of caffeine have their limits.
In a scientific study volunteers were asked to consume caffeine corresponding to 0, 2, and 4 cups of regular coffee. While those who consumed 2 cups of coffee performed better on cognitive tests than those who consumed none, 4 cups of coffee actually weakened cognitive abilities compared to placebo (Kaplan et al. J Clin Pharmacol. 1997 Aug;37(8):693-703). The lesson? If coffee helps you to stay awake (but does not interfere with your stomach or sleep) you can now feel better about drinking it. But it is important to pace yourself and not drink too much, else your judgment could be impaired.
To read more about the benefits of coffee and other brain foods, visit:
Wishing you the best,
Dora Farkas, PhD, Founder, PhDNet