Is coffee actually good or bad for you?
The effects of caffeine on the body have been widely researched, so what’s the verdict? This article looks at both sides of the debate.
Coffee lovers tend to be passionate about their caffeine fix and can be reluctant to give it up. The good news is that while consuming too much caffeine can carry health risks, there’s little problem with enjoying it in moderation. And, if you are trying to cut back, there are some great, healthy, tasty alternatives available.
“For adults consuming moderate amounts of coffee, there is little evidence of health risks and some evidence of health benefits,” says Rosalyn D'Angelo, an Accredited Practising Dietitian at Bupa.
Coffee can improve sports performance when used correctly, and contains antioxidants. However, D’Angelo notes that the best way to get antioxidants into your diet is to consume two serves of fruit and at least five serves of vegetables each day, as part of a healthy balanced diet.
“Simply put, I wouldn’t start drinking coffee for health reasons, but in moderate amounts, it doesn’t seem to do you any harm.”
The downside of too much coffee
Too much caffeine may lead to irritability, dizziness, anxiety, dehydration, headache, increased heart rate and stomach pains. Caffeine is a stimulant drug that acts on the brain and nervous system. Because of this, you can build up a tolerance to it, where you need more to derive the same effect. It is possible to become dependent on caffeine and experience withdrawal symptoms if you stop drinking it. These symptoms may include headaches, sweating, anxiety and muscle pain.
Caffeine toxicity is more often seen with the use of caffeinated energy drinks, with the most commonly reported symptoms including heart palpitations, a racing heart, tremors, shaking, agitation and restlessness.
“Interestingly, some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others, and we think it might be an inherited trait,” D’Angelo adds.
Healthy consumption guidelines
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It's recommended that you have no more than three or four cups of coffee a day, which will provide you with 300–400mg of caffeine.
The Sleep Health Foundation of Australia recommends avoiding caffeine for at least three hours before bedtime so that it doesn’t affect your sleep. Some people will need longer, some people less – your body weight, age and health status can all affect how you react to caffeine.
Consuming high amounts of caffeine when pregnant may increase your risk of miscarriage or low birth weight. Limit your caffeine intake to 300mg per day or less, stay away from caffeinated energy drinks, or avoid caffeine-containing items altogether.
Some groups of people, such as children, people with high blood pressure and older people, may be more vulnerable to the negative effects of caffeine. However, for most of us there is nothing wrong with enjoying coffee or tea in moderation, alongside plenty of water.