top of page
Image by Annie Spratt


Food Fabulous

Notes from midlife

The (surprising) health benefits of coffee

glass of espresso coffee

It took me a long time to fall in love with coffee. 46 years, to be precise. But, a handful of years ago, I accepted a wee cup of espresso from my cousin. It was like little drops of nectar from heaven. Why did I not know this before? I had long loved the smell of coffee but, for some reason, just didn't fancy actually drinking it. And now, I'm sold!

Coffee is a much-maligned drink, with the downside more frequently talked about than the many positives. In this article, you’ll find all the ammunition you need to drink coffee without the guilt. It really CAN be a good thing but, like all good things, you need to know when to stop. Here you’ll also find info on how much is safe to drink and why it’s not a good thing if you’re trying to get pregnant.

1) Coffee burns fat

Caffeine is found in almost every fat loss supplement because it’s one of a very small number of substances proven to help with fat burning. Research shows that it can boost your metabolic rate by up to 11%, and raise the amount of fat you burn by between 10% in overweight people and 29% in lean people. The downside is that the effects are likely to diminish with time in regular coffee drinkers.

2) The caffeine boosts your physical performance

Caffeine stimulates the production of adrenaline. This is one of the stress hormones, but primes you for physical activity. A cup of coffee can improve physical performance by up to 12%. Caffeine also stimulates the nervous system, telling it to break down the fat stored in fat cells and making the energy more available to be used as fuel.

3) Coffee contains important nutrients

A cup of coffee is so much more than just hot black water. A cup of coffee contains…

  • Riboflavin(Vitamin B2

  • Pantothenic Acid(Vitamin B5

  • Manganeseand Potassium

  • Magnesiumand Niacin(B3)

Coffee is also packed with antioxidants.

4) Coffee makes you smarter

Caffeine blocks one type of neurotransmitter that can hold you back and increases noradrenaline and dopamine, leading to enhanced firing of neurons. In short, a cup of coffee can boost your brain function.

5) Coffee lowers your risk of developing type II diabetes

A number of observational studies show that coffee drinkers have as much as a 62% lower risk of developing this disease; one of the biggest health problems of our time, which is characterised by raised blood sugar and the inability to secrete insulin to lower blood sugar levels. A daily cup can typically lower your risk by 7%.

6) Coffee lowers your risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease

Possibly the disease that frightens the most people and one without a cure…While healthy eating and exercising have been demonstrated to help prevent the disease, it’s worth knowing that drinking coffee could also make a difference. Several studies show coffee drinkers are as much as 65% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s as non-coffee drinkers.

7) Coffee lowers your risk of developing Parkinson’s Disease

Due to its effect on the dopamine-generating neurons in the brain, coffee drinkers are up to 60% less likely to develop this degenerative condition. It seems here it’s the caffeine at work as decaff drinkers did not see the same effect.

8) Coffee makes you happier

A Harvard study showed that women who drank 4 cups a day had a 20% lower risk of depression, while further research demonstrated those who drank 4 or more cups were 53% less likely to commit suicide.

9) Coffee cuts the risk of stroke and heart disease

While it’s true that coffee does have a small impact on blood pressure (so take care if your levels are raised), research shows that women who drank coffee had a reduced risk of heart disease. Some studies show that stroke risk is reduced by up to 20%.

10) Coffee makes you live longer

Given coffee drinkers have a reduced risk of some of today’s most common or debilitating diseases, this makes perfect sense. A couple of very large observational studies point to a 26% lower risk of death in women who drink coffee.

coffee beans in white cup

The best way to enjoy coffee

  1. No coffee after 2pm. It is, after all, a stimulant and, if you drink it too late in the day, it can interfere with the quality of your sleep (or your ability to get to sleep in the first place).

  2. Ditch the sugar. A sure-fire way to undo all the good a cup of coffee can do is to add a few spoons of the white stuff. The downside to sugar is now pretty well documented. In a nutshell, it increases inflammation in the body and can lead to obesity and diabetes. If not having sugar gives you palpitations, consider switching to xylitol (brand name in the UK, Total Sweet) instead. It’s a sugar alcohol that doesn’t have the same impact on your blood sugar levels and is even good for gut health.

  3. Go organic. Coffee is routinely heavily sprayed with pesticides, which are essentially synthetic hormones mixed with other horrid stuff not fit for human consumption.

How much coffee can I safely drink?

The amount of caffeine in a single cup of coffee varies enormously. A small home-brewed cup (unless you have an amazing coffee machine) is likely to contain around 50mg per cup, while a large one from a coffee shop might have over 400mg. You’d expect the average cup to have around 100mg. A number of studies suggest up to 400mg a day (that’s about 4 cups) is safe for most people but many people are able to enjoy more without any ill effects.

Do bear in mind that tea, chocolate and some soft drinks and prescription drugs also contain caffeine, so you need to view your coffee intake in light of other things you are eating and drinking.

coffee beans in cup with woman's bag

Coffee & fertility

There is plenty of evidence suggest that caffeine (especially coffee) might play a role in decreasing fertility, though exactly why or how this happens is a little unclear.

One study found women who drank less than one cup of coffee were twice as likely to become pregnant as moderate coffee drinkers, and the risk of not becoming pregnant increased with the number of cups of coffee they drank each day.

There are implications for men, too. Another study found that sperm problems (sperm count, motility and abnormalities) increase with the number of cups of coffee drank each day.

It is, however, worth noting that all of the studies were carried out on the general populous rather than specifically on women and men who were having difficulty conceiving. On top of that, the results of the many studies carried out have sometimes been conflicting.

So what does this mean for you on a practical level? The NHS recommends women trying to get pregnant limit their caffeine intake to two cups a day, however, to err on the side of caution, I would recommend cutting out all caffeine-containing food and drinks three or four months before trying for a baby.


bottom of page