Many of us rely on this caffeinated beverage to wake us up in the morning and give us the energy we need to cruise through the day. But few of us probably realize that coffee has a slew of health benefits.
Coffee is rich in riboflavin, aka Vitamin B2, which is not naturally found in many foods and helps the body break down nutrients, Natalie Rizzo, RD, a New York City-based registered dietitian, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
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The average cup of joe is also brimming with polyphenolic antioxidants, which may help protect against illnesses such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases, inflammation, type 2 diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases and metabolic syndrome diseases, according to a November 2015 study in Neural Regeneration Research.
Coffee may also aid in weight loss, according to a June 2019 study in Nature. Drinking the bean brew stimulates body temperature, activating something called "brown fat," which plays a role in how fast we're able to burn calories.
All this is likely music to coffee-lovers' ears. But the bad news? You may be making a few critical missteps in preparing your cup of java that are preventing you from reaping the full health benefits.
Whether you buy it from your favorite corner shop or make it at home, here are 10 mistakes you should avoid when it comes to the healthiest way to drink coffee.
1. The Mistake: Buying Ground Coffee
Coffee beans contain the highest amount of antioxidants when they are whole and fresh. Although it's easier not to have to grind the beans yourself, you may be skimping out on some major health benefits.
The fix: Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, nutrition and wellness expert and author of Eating in Color, recommends buying the beans whole, storing them in an airtight container and grinding just enough for your morning brew. "This is a much better idea than buying ground coffee, which may have been sitting on the store shelf for weeks, losing its antioxidants," she says.
2. The Mistake: Skipping the Filter
If your java fix typically involves French press brew or espresso (aka unfiltered coffee), you may be doing yourself a disservice.
Researchers followed more than a half million people for about 20 years and found that those who drank filtered coffee had lower mortality rates than those who drank unfiltered coffee or did not drink coffee at all. Their findings were published April 2020 in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.
The study authors concluded that unfiltered coffee contains substances that increase blood cholesterol. Using a filter removes these and makes heart attacks and premature death less likely.
The fix: Consider using a filter (think: drip or pour-over coffee) when you brew your beans.
3. The Mistake: Adding Sugar and Artificial Sweeteners
Not only does sugar contribute empty calories to your beverage, but it can also have myriad negative affects on the body, including tooth decay, an increase in inflammation and weight gain, per Harvard Health Publishing.
Though artificial sweeteners can be a better choice for those with diabetes, they come with their own set of health disadvantages, such as unwanted changes to the microbiome (the healthy bacteria in your gut), Largeman-Roth says.
The fix: The healthiest way to drink coffee is to nix the sweeteners altogether.
4. The Mistake: Overloading on Creamer
Most Americans order their cup with a heaping helping of coffee creamer. While a tiny splash won't negate all the benefits coffee can provide, any more than that will turn an innocent cup into a calorie bomb offering little nutritional value, says Christen Cupples Cooper, EdD, RDN, assistant professor and founding director of the Nutrition and Dietetics Program at the College of Health Professions at Pace University.
The fix: Her recommendation? For a healthy coffee, keep accoutrements as simple as possible (think: a splash of low-fat milk or unsweetened almond milk).
5. The Mistake: Treating It Like Dessert
With so many add-ons available at most coffee spots, it's easy to find yourself ordering what sounds eerily similar to an ice cream sundae, complete with syrups, whipped cream and even sprinkles.
"While a plain black coffee has negligible calories, a 'dessert coffee' can easily top 500 calories," warns Roger Adams, PhD, a Houston-based dietitian and founder of EatRightFitness.com. "Any health benefits will be ruined by the added fat, sugar and calories."
The fix: Skip the sugary add-ons and opt instead for a dash of cinnamon or splash of natural vanilla extract.
6. The Mistake: Using Single-Serve Plastic Pods
Research has shown that eating or drinking from any sort of heated plastic, even those that are BPA-free, may be detrimental to your health.
"Even BPA-free plastics can release estrogenic chemicals into liquids that may pose a health risk over time," Adams says. "These estrogenic chemicals may act as an endocrine (or hormone) disruptor if levels build up or exposure is high enough."
The fix: Fire up the coffee pot or try pour-over coffee. And if you're more likely to buy your coffee? You might want to think twice before topping your steamy beverage with a plastic lid.
7. The Mistake: Forgetting to Clean Your Machine
Any household appliance that contains water requires frequent cleaning or you run the risk of mold and bacteria running rampant. This is especially true for coffee makers because the heat and constant moisture in them create the perfect environment for these organisms to flourish, Adams says.
Indeed, the National Science Foundation's International Household Germ Study found that about half of coffee makers had yeast and mold growing in their reservoirs.
"Low levels are no problem for our body's natural defense system, but if the coffee maker is left to grow large amounts, then they can indeed cause problems with our health," Adams says.
The fix: Aim to clean your coffee machine at least once a month. It may help to set a reminder in your smartphone calendar so you don't forget.
8. The Mistake: Drinking It Too Late in the Day
Many of us turn to a cup of joe during that afternoon energy slump, but drinking caffeine late in the day can cause issues with sleep, Largeman-Roth says.
In fact, a September 2015 study in Science Translational Medicine linked late caffeine consumption to a delay in human circadian rhythm, which may contribute to the growing number of sleep issues adults are facing. And poor zzzs can have a negative effect on nearly every part of your body.
The fix: Keep coffee consumption during morning hours. For an afternoon pick-me-up, choose snacks that won't spike your blood sugar.
9. The Mistake: Buying It in Bulk
Although coffee is more shelf-stable than the fresh produce or meat we buy at the grocery store, it shouldn't be stored for several months at a time.
Also, Largeman-Roth recommends against storing your beans in the freezer, which will cause them to lose their moisture and can affect their flavor.
The fix: Buy smaller amounts so that what you're using is fresh and still full of antioxidants.
10. The Mistake: Not Opting for Dark Roast
When coffee beans are roasted, something known as the Maillard reaction occurs, producing melanoidins that affect the beans' overall antioxidant capacity and anti-inflammatory effects, Adams says. So, the longer the beans are roasted (the darker the roast), the higher the amount of antioxidants they contain.
What's more? Sipping on a darker roast may help protect your DNA from damage, according to a November 2018 study in the European Journal of Nutrition.
The fix: Whether you brew your java at home or pick it up via the drive-through, choose a darker roast for an antioxidant boost.
- Neural Regeneration Research: "Polyphenols for the prevention and treatment of dementia diseases"
- Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: "Phthalates and other additives in plastics: human exposure and associated health outcomes"
- National Science Foundation: "NSF International Household Germ Study"
- Nutrients: "Effects of Coffee Extracts with Different Roasting Degrees on Antioxidant and Anti-Inflammatory Systems in Mice"
- European Journal on Nutrition: "Consumption of a dark roast coffee blend reduces DNA damage in humans: results from a 4-week randomised controlled study"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "The Sweet Danger of Sugar"
- European Journal of Preventative Cardiology: "Coffee consumption and mortality from cardiovascular diseases and total mortality: Does the brewing method matter?"
- Nature: "Caffeine exposure induces browning features in adipose tissue in vitro and in vivo"
- Science Translational Medicine: "Effects of caffeine on the human circadian clock in vivo and in vitro"