Coffee is an everyday staple for many Americans – in fact, more Americans (66% of adults) drink coffee each day than any other beverage. NCA conducts the longest-running study of consumer coffee habits in the United States, and our most recent data show that not only is coffee maintaining its popularity overall, but it’s also more popular than ever with younger generations. In September 2022, 51% of 18 to 24-year-olds drank coffee each day, surpassing the previous record of 50% from September 2020.
Whether as fuel for our mornings, an afternoon boost, or just for the flavor and aroma – Americans love coffee. And during March – National Nutrition Month – there is even more reason to celebrate coffee’s unique benefits!
For Nutrition Month, let’s start with the basics. Coffee is a calorie-free food, as defined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). That is, the USDA Nutrient Database reports the calorie content of 8 ounces of coffee (without sweeteners, creamers, or other additives) as 2.37 calories. With less than 5 calories per serving, coffee qualifies as a “calorie-free” food. While it doesn’t have calories, coffee does contain more than 1000 natural compounds that may be related to its health impact. For example, coffee is a major source of antioxidants in U.S. diets.
The 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans include coffee as a beverage that can be part of healthy dietary patterns. When it comes to coffee’s place in healthy diets, it’s reasonable to wonder about the impact of ingredients commonly added to coffee – for example, dairy (or dairy alternatives) and sweeteners. Our data show that 35% of past-day coffee drinkers take their coffee without any milk or creamers and 54% take it without sugar or sweetener. Just 29% use dairy or dairy alternatives and 27% use sugar. Importantly, if those who enjoy coffee with a bit of sugar (1-2 tsp per cup) have 3 cups of coffee a day, they will have consumed just an additional 48-96 calories. A 2022 analysis from the UK Biobank Study, one of the best-designed prospective cohort studies in the world, associates greater longevity with coffee drinking. This association with higher longevity was even found among those who consume sugar-sweetened coffee.
So, what are the specific health benefits of coffee? Decades of independent scientific evidence show that drinking coffee is associated with living longer, healthier, happy lives. Prospective studies, published in peer-reviewed journals, including the New England Journal of Medicine and Circulation, encompassing hundreds of thousands of people in the United States, United Kingdom, other European countries, South Korea, and elsewhere show increased longevity in coffee drinkers. In fact, a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that compared with nonconsumers, participants with the highest level of coffee consumption had a statistically significant lower all-cause mortality. Moreover, among women, there was a statistically significant inverse association of coffee drinking with circulatory disease mortality and cerebrovascular disease mortality.
In a blog post last month, we discussed in detail coffee’s positive impact on heart health. In addition to being associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease (the leading cause of death for Americans), drinking coffee is associated with a reduced risk of multiple cancers. The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) recommends drinking coffee “regularly” and the American Cancer Society (ACS) has concluded that coffee reduces the risk of multiple cancers including liver cancer, endometrial cancer, cancers of the mouth, pharynx, and larynx, as well as basal cell skin cancer and melanoma.
These statements are backed up by dozens of high-quality studies. One study found that coffee is the only antioxidant food associated with reduced risk of the most common type of skin cancer, cutaneous melanoma. According to the ACS, skin cancer is “by far the most common type of cancer.” In fact, one in every five Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70.
Coffee consumption is also associated with maintaining a healthy body weight and reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes, another leading cause of ill health for Americans. A study published in The Journal of Nutrition in 2020 found that higher coffee consumption (both caffeinated and decaffeinated) was associated with “significantly lower total body fat percentage and trunk body fat” in women.
Evidence indicates that moderate coffee consumption is associated with a significantly reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes. According to Diabetes UK, research has indicated a “notably lower risk” of type 2 diabetes for coffee drinkers, about 40% reduced risk for those who drink 3 cups/day. The organization says decaffeinated coffee may have particular benefits for people living with diabetes. Specific studies have supported this finding. For example, a study published in Nutrition Reviews found that coffee consumption is inversely associated with the risk of Type 2 Diabetes; this may be due to coffee’s antioxidative and anti-inflammatory effects, among other benefits.
As if that weren’t good news enough, drinking coffee is also associated with mental health benefits. Meta-analyses of studies including more than 300,000 individuals found that each cup of coffee reduced the risk of depression by about 8%, with the greatest benefits from four cups per day.
We could go on (and we have – for example, in our recent comment to FDA regarding its draft rule on products eligible to be labeled as “healthy”). The evidence is clear: coffee makes unique contributions as part of healthy dietary patterns that support good nutrition and health.
One recent column published in The Atlantic went so far as to call coffee “a miracle.” That particular claim isn’t scientific, but we tend to agree with the sentiment! This month and every month, we hope the evidence on coffee and health gives you an extra reason to enjoy your favorite brew.