We asked Sarasota Memorial Hospital dietitian Emily Harren to assess the health risks of moderate caffeine consumption—defined as three 8-ounce cups and/or less than 400 mg. of caffeine per day. Her answer: Not only is that amount safe for most adults, it might have some benefits.
“Multiple studies show that people who drink coffee regularly may have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Type II diabetes, liver cancer and cirrhosis of the liver,” she says. “And the cons of coffee aren’t terrible—everybody seems to have an individual tolerance as to how much caffeine they can handle. Studies have also found that people who drink coffee have a lower risk of becoming depressed.”
But, Harren warns, adding sugary syrups to your drinks can negate those benefits. And if you’re making French press or Turkish coffee, watch out for a compound called cafestrol—especially if you have high cholesterol, as it can increase cholesterol levels.
“Cafestrol [occurs in] unfiltered [coffee]—and it doesn’t matter if it’s decaf or regular,” she explains. “A filter removes the cafestrol. If you have high cholesterol, make French press coffee as a treat; don’t have it every day.”
She notes that caffeine stays in our bodies for six or seven hours, so if you want to keep your 3 p.m. coffee fix, pair it with a snack containing a protein and a good carbohydrate, like string cheese or an apple with peanut butter. If you’re switching to decaf in the afternoon, remember that it’s not caffeine-free—if you’re sensitive to caffeine, decaf may have an effect.
Long story short? “Coffee is pretty good for you, as long as you’re not adding sugary syrups or drinking it all day long,” Harren says.