Study after study extols the merits of three to five cups of black coffee a day
How you brew coffee also contributes to the health factor
It’s one of the age-old medical flip-flops: First coffee’s good for you, then it’s not, then it is – you get the picture.
A massive review of the scientific literature on coffee published in the British Medical Journal found that drinking three to fours cups of black coffee a day provides the most health benefits overall. Prior studies have found similar benefits reducing risk for such issues as melanoma, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, type 2 diabetes, liver disease, prostate cancer, Alzheimer’s, computer-related back pain and more.
But the study also found two areas of concern. High levels of coffee consumption (more than four cups) during pregnancy was associated with low birth weight, pre-term birth and stillbirths. For women with a higher likelihood of bone fractures, coffee raised that risk; the same was not true for men.
To stay completely healthy with your coffee consumption, you’ll want to avoid packing it with calorie-laden creams, sugars and flavors. And be aware that a cup of coffee in these studies is only 8 ounces; the standard “grande” cup at the coffee shop is double that at 16 ounces.
How you brew it also has health consequences. Unlike filter coffee makers, a French press, Turkish coffee or the boiled coffee popular in Scandinavian countries fails to catch a compound called cafestol in the oily part of coffee that can increase your bad cholesterol or LDL.
A visual health history of coffee
As you know, the news on coffee has not always been positive; in fact, the argument over the merits of your daily cup of joe dates back centuries. Let’s take a look at the timeline.
1500s headline: Coffee leads to illegal sex
Legend has it that coffee was discovered by Kaldi, an Ethiopian goatherd, after he caught his suddenly frisky goats eating glossy green leaves and red berries and then tried it for himself. But it was the Arabs who first started coffeehouses, and that’s where coffee got its first black mark.
Patrons of coffeehouses were said to be more likely to gamble and engage in “criminally unorthodox sexual situations,” according to author Ralph Hattox. By 1511, the mayor of Mecca shut them down. He cited medical and religious reasons, saying coffee was an intoxicant and thus prohibited by Islamic law, even though scholars like Mark Pendergrast believe it was more likely a reaction to the unpopular comments about his leadership. The ban didn’t last long, Pendergrast says, adding that coffee became so important in Turkey that “a lack of sufficient coffee provided grounds for a woman to seek a divorce.”
1600s headline: Coffee cures alcoholism but causes impotence
As the popularity of coffee grew and spread across the continent, the medical community began to extol its benefits. It was especially popular in England as a cure for alcoholism, one of the biggest medical problems of the time; after all, water wasn’t always safe to drink, so most men, women and even children drank the hard stuff.