Coffee Lovers: Get Your Caffeine Fix Guilt-free

Photo courtesy of Susanne Nilsson, Flickr Creative Commons 

For some people, the distinctive smell and taste are the reasons they pry themselves out of bed each morning. What is it? It’s the eye-opening beverage that is consumed daily by an estimated 100 million Americans, and it comes from one small bean: coffee.

But aside from the caffeinated beverage’s ability to stimulate through its addictive flavor, there are some other lesser-known benefits that health experts have found. In recent years, scientists have studied the effects of black coffee on various aspects of health — brain, skin, body — and the results are surprising.

Drinking black coffee has the potential to improve productivity, provide antioxidants and improve physical performance. It can also offer a multitude of mental health benefits and even reduce the risk of suffering from depression.

Alexandra Bush, a senior at Ramapo College, said she starts every morning with a cup of coffee.

“It sets the tone for my day,” she said. “Even if I feel like I didn’t get much sleep the night before, it helps me stay on track and keep my focus.” 

Coffee doesn’t just help the sleep-deprived. The much-needed burst of energy not only keeps you awake, but also makes you sharper.

According to an article by CNN, scientists from the Medical University in Innsbruck, Austria, found that people who drink a morning cup of joe performed much better on short-term memory tests than those who skip the morning java.

Research psychologist at the Military Nutrition Division of U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, Harris Lieberman, is quoted in the article, saying, “When you're sleep-deprived and you take caffeine, pretty much anything you measure will improve: reaction time, vigilance, attention, logical reasoning — most of the complex functions you associate with intelligence.”

According to a 2005 study by the American Chemical Society, "nothing else comes close" to providing as many antioxidants as coffee. Antioxidants help your body defend its cells against free radicals, which cause infections and diseases. The study also reports that Americans get most of their antioxidants from coffee, more than any dietary source. While fruits and vegetables also have tons of antioxidants, the human body seems to absorb the most from coffee.

There’s a reason caffeine is found in most commercial fat-burning supplements. Caffeine, partly because it stimulates the central nervous system, raises metabolism and increases the oxidation of fatty acids, according to a study by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The New York Times reports, “Scientists and many athletes have known for years, of course, that a cup of coffee before a workout jolts athletic performance, especially in endurance sports like distance running and cycling.”

Caffeine increases the level of fatty acids in the bloodstream, which allows athletes' muscles to absorb and burn those fats for fuel, saving the body's small reserves of carbohydrates for later on in the exercise, according to a report by the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Elizabeth Pennington, a senior at Ramapo College, exercises avidly. She said that instead of fueling up with a carbohydrate-dense meal before working out, she downs a cup of joe.

“Coffee gives me the boost I need to keep going during a long workout, without having any extra weight to carry around in my stomach,” she said. “It’s the perfect energy source for me.”

A report by The American Chemical Society found that coffee drinkers limit their risk of Type 2 Diabetes, while a similar study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that people who drink four or more cups of joe a day reduce their chances of Type 2 Diabetes by more than 50 percent. Then, with every additional cup, the risk is lowered by seven percent.

A different study performed at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School followed women over a 20-year period and found that those who drink three or more cups of coffee a day are less likely to develop skin cancer, when compared to female non-coffee drinkers.

A study by the National Institute of Health found that those who drink four or more cups of coffee were about 10 percent less likely to suffer from depression than those who never drink coffee.

That happy feeling that comes with drinking coffee can be attributed to its antioxidant content.