I started drinking coffee as a teenager to make it through early morning extracurriculars and extra high school courses for college credit. After a stop at 7-Eleven for hazelnut coffee and a roll of Spree candy (don’t judge), I was ready for the day ahead. As a young adult, I made it through tedious tasks like data entry by drinking nearly a pot’s worth of free coffee at work every day.
Now I wake up in the morning hoping that one cup will do the trick to keep me alert until lunchtime, because two quickly becomes three, and there may be no stopping. I’ll drink it any which way if I feel like I need to, but coffee-induced jitters eventually come on. But here’s the thing: Whether you drink your coffee hot even in 100° F weather, you cold brew at home, you opt for instant coffee (it’s come a long way since Nescafé), or prefer yours from McDonald’s, coffee can be good for you.
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The Best Part of Waking Up ☕️Coffee could actually lower your risk of certain liver diseases, endometrial and oral cancers, and type 2 diabetes—and there’s some evidence that it can lower your risk of heart disease, skin cancer, and respiratory disease.
Coffee drinkers may also live longer than non-coffee drinkers, in part because it’s rich in antioxidants called polyphenols. In a 2017 study published in Annals of Internal Medicine, nearly 200,000 people ages 45 to 75 when the study began were followed for an average of 16 years. Those who drank a cup of regular or decaf coffee a day had a 12 percent lower risk of dying from any cause during the study period.
If, like me, you alternate between coffee and tea during the day, that can be good for you, too. In a study published last year in the journal PLOS Medicine, researchers found that people who drank 2 to 3 cups of coffee plus 2 or 3 cups of tea per day had about a 30 percent lower risk of dementia and stroke compared with people who didn’t drink either, possibly thanks to all the antioxidants.
So, next Asian American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander Heritage Month, consider raising a glass or a few of yuanyang, a surprisingly delicious combination of the two.
So Where to Draw the Line? 🙅🏻In general, according to the Food and Drug Administration, the average person can safely consume up to 400 mg of caffeine per day, the amount in three to five 8-ounce cups of coffee.
And drinking more than a cup can be beneficial. A 2009 study published in the journal Circulation, which followed 83,076 women over 24 years, found that women consuming 2 to 3 cups of coffee per day, with an average of 469 mg of caffeine overall, had a nearly 20 percent lower risk of stroke compared with women who drank less than 1 cup per month.
If you have a medical condition or caffeine sensitivity though, check with your doctor. And listen to your body. If your stomach sounds like an angry washing machine, your heart is thumping much faster than usual, and you feel extra shaky and jittery, it’s probably time to lay off. Too much caffeine can even make you feel unhappy, according to the FDA.
How Do You Take It? 🧈While, in general, coffee can be good for you, “it becomes less so when you add cream, sugar, sugary syrups, or whipped cream,” says CR health and food editor Trisha Calvo.
Die-hard fans of adding unsalted butter to their coffee instead of milk consume 102 calories and 12 grams of fat for each tablespoon. Meanwhile, adding 2 ounces of whole milk to each cup, maybe even steamed, frothed, and gently spooned into and atop your brew, gives you 38 calories and 2 grams of fat, according to CR nutritionist Amy Keating. The same amount of unsweetened soy milk gives you considerably less of both: about 20 calories and 1 gram of fat. For every teaspoon of sugar, you’re consuming 16 calories, Keating says.
If frozen coffee drinks are more your style, you might (or might not) want to know that a standard tall 12-ounce Caramel Frappuccino made with whole milk from Starbucks serves up 260 calories. That’s more than what you get eating a glazed donut from Dunkin’.
Can’t Wake Up, Can’t Sleep? 🛌🏻”Caffeine stays in the body a LONG time,” says University Hospitals sleep specialist Samuel Friedlander, MD, who’s based in Solon, Ohio. Friedlander recommends that people avoid caffeine after 2 p.m., that way the majority of the caffeine you’ve consumed has left your body by bedtime.
That’s a generalization though, and when to stop drinking coffee or other caffeinated beverages can vary based on when you go to sleep and when you work. Plus, how the body processes caffeine can vary from person to person, says Sally Ibrahim, MD, a sleep expert and medical director at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center.
Would You Drink Mushroom Coffee?
If you’re cutting caffeine, coffee-like drinks are all the rage—at least based on health food store shelves with numerous options to choose from and ads that pop up all over Instagram and other social media platforms. Before you try any of these alternatives, know that they may not all taste exactly the same as coffee. You can get coffee beans with mushrooms mixed in, there are coffee-like drinks with mushrooms in them and maybe some chicory for a more coffee-like flavor, then there are coffee alternatives with mushrooms that taste nothing like coffee, so be sure to read labels and look for tasting notes you’ll like.
As I learned after trying a few, some of the lower-caffeine and even caffeine-free options are actually passable for coffee, or they’re just tasty, thanks to flavors like ginger and other chai spices, turmeric, and cocoa.
“They often confer a likable robust, often nutty rich flavor that gets better with frequency of use as you become accustomed to it,” says mycologist Paul Stamets, who has published multiple books on mushrooms and health.
The worst part of my own experience was their prices. For example, a 15-serving box of Mud Wtr Mud sachets, containing a blend of masala chai, cacao, and several types of mushrooms, costs $30 vs. the $12 or less I’d spend on a pound of regular coffee.
“Mushrooms inherently taste fairly earthy,” says Gordon Walker, PhD, who runs the Fascinated By Fungi social media channels. He says mushrooms can be roasted or toasted to help them caramelize and brown, enhancing that flavor. “I do think that some brands are being disingenuous when marketing the benefits of mushrooms,” Walker says, noting it’s usually best to eat the mushroom itself. But that doesn’t mean he’s against coffee alternatives that contain mushrooms. “It gives consumers more choices when it comes to their morning beverages and could potentially provide some health benefits,” he says.
Lion’s mane mushrooms in particular are a popular ingredient in coffee alternatives, and on their own. Early research suggests they may have positive effects on your gut and your mood. Other research suggests that corydceps, which you can also find in coffee alternatives, may help increase endurance, Walker says. You may also find chaga, turkey tail, and other mushrooms in these drinks.
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