Should You or Shouldn't You?

That wonderful cup of coffee in the morning, the flavor, the aroma! And the next cup and the next and the next . . . Is all that coffee good for you?

Caffeine, one of many substances found in coffee, is the major ingredient of concern. Caffeine is also found in cola, tea, chocolate, cocoa, and in several brands of sodas and fruit drinks. After many years of research to determine if caffeine is harmful to your health, results continue to be negative in some studies and vague in others.

A connection between coffee, coronary artery disease (CAD), and ischemic heart disease (also called transient ischemic attack or TIA) remains unclear. Heavy coffee drinking, more than eight cups a day, has shown a positive correlation to ischemic heart disease, however, many heavy coffee drinkers also tend to be heavy smokers, as was the case in these studies. Other risk factors related to lifestyle like excessive consumption of alcohol, poor diet, stress, and lack of exercise were also present. Elevated blood triglyceride levels has been found in Europeans who consume boiled coffee, but has not been found in the U.S. where mostly filtered coffee is used.

If you have elevated blood cholesterol levels, it may be helpful to decrease your intake of coffee to three cups a day. Coffee causes a slight increase in total cholesterol, 10 mg/dl, with eight cups or more and an increase in LDL levels, the bad cholesterol. Will it help to switch to decaffeinated coffee? Sorry, the decaf version also causes an increase in serum cholesterol. This tells us there must be another chemical in coffee, other than caffeine, that's producing these results. If you have normal cholesterol levels, there's no need to restrict coffee intake.

Does coffee cause cancer? Many years of studies clearly demonstrate that coffee does not cause cancer. The exception is among obese coffee-drinking women who may have an increased risk of developing breast cancer, but women of normal weight do not. Because we know that obesity itself increases the risk of breast cancer, it's not clear if the combination of coffee plus obesity may be a contributing factor. Interestingly, some studies have shown that caffeine may help prevent colon cancer.

Caffeine may contribute to osteoporosis and loss of bone mass. The daily recommended amount of calcium is 800 mg. for pre-menopausal women and 1500 mg. for post-menopausal women. Studies show that women who drink coffee maintain normal bone density with an intake of 800 mg. of calcium a day, although loss of bone does occur when intake of calcium is less than 400 mg. a day. So, it appears that coffee consumption does not contribute to osteoporosis as long as you're getting adequate calcium in your diet.

Some evidence exists, although questionable, that women who drink coffee heavily might have difficulty conceiving. If you're pregnant or breast feeding, coffee should not be consumed because caffeine is passed along through the placenta to the fetus and in breast milk to the infant.

Is caffeine addictive? It appears that when regular coffee drinkers decrease or eliminate completely their daily dose of coffee, they experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, such as headache, insomnia, mood swings, and nausea. If you've accidentally done your own unscientific study in the office, like I did one morning by making decaffeinated coffee in the regular coffee pot, you found that withdrawal symptoms don't take long to overcome your coworkers. I decided that withdrawal symptoms may be more dangerous than continuing to drink coffee!

So what does all this mean? Should you or shouldn't you drink coffee?

If you enjoy drinking coffee, there probably isn't much reason to stop unless you've been advised to do so by your doctor, or you're overly sensitive to caffeine and experience unpleasant symptoms like heart palpitations, nervousness, and sleeplessness. It's recommended, however, that if you drink more than eight cups of coffee a day, to cut this in half since some studies showed harmful effects only with heavy coffee intake. Below is a list of some common foods with caffeine content:

 Caffeine (mg.)

Coffee, 1 cup  







Cola, 12 fl oz


Chocolate Milk, 8 oz


Chocolate, 1 oz


Tea, 1 cup


-Have you noticed as you get older, caffeine seems to bother you more? The reason is due to the body's decreased ability with age to dispose of caffeine.

-How much caffeine does it take to feel the effects? About 200 mgs. but varies with each person.

-Do you have an allergy to coffee? An allergic reaction could be caused by a bacteria called Aspergillus that grows on the coffee bean. During the processing of the bean, the bacteria is not completely washed off.

Where do you get your nutrition information? Most states now have licensure laws for Dietitians and Nutritionists. Be sure your nutrition advisor is "Licensed" by the State as a Licensed Dietitian (LD) or Licensed Nutritionist (LN), or in states that don't have licensure laws, a Registered Dietitian.


CarboH, Inc.
Barbara Herondorf, L.D.