Should You Drink Coffee?

I never was a big coffee drinker. And then I went to college. While I didn’t down 10 cups a day (like some of my friends!), I did start drinking a cup or two every afternoon just to “keep going.” Then I married a man who appreciates a really good cup of joe. He started making me coffee, and suddenly I loved coffee. Again, I don’t think it ever became a true addiction, but it certainly did become a routine part of my day-to-day life.

I’ve never really given it up, although I only have a few cups a week now. If it had more proven, deleterious effects on my health, I’d probably stop altogether. But the truth is, the research on coffee is quite mixed. Some studies are downright positive in their findings.

Want to know whether or not coffee is good for you? So did I.

The Health Benefits of Coffee

From time to time, I’d read about or hear of some way in which coffee is actually *good* for us. Obviously, straight coffee is fairly good at helping flush out your liver. That’s why people drink it when they have a hangover, or why people on detox diets use coffee enemas. But even that benefit seemed minimal when you consider that Starbucks and McDonald’s make their money selling you ramped-up coffee full of sugary syrups, artificial flavors, and non-dairy creamer. Drinking coffee in this “usual way” surely negated these supposed benefits, right?

So, I had to ask myself: What hard science is out there supporting coffee? You might just be surprised. I found numerous studies indicating that coffee consumption confers a lot of health benefits:

  • a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s, Dementia, & Parkinson’s (Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
  • a reduced risk of developing gallstones (source)
  • a reduced risk of developing Diabetes Type II (source)
  • a reduced risk of Gout (source)

It’s also a well-known laxative (which has come in handy during my three pregnancies!).

The Health Risks of Coffee

If it’s so wonderfully good for you, why do organizations like the Weston A. Price Foundation recommend we don’t drink it?

First, coffee irritates and damages the lining of the gastro-intestinal organs. (source) You remember how important the Gut is for good health? How most of our immune and nervous systems are at home in our guts? Given that, it’s easy to see how drinking coffee counteracts all that cultivating of healthy gut linings and intestinal flora that we Real Foodies are supposed to be doing while eating our yogurt, naturally-fermented sauerkraut & pickle relish, or drinking our kombucha, naturally-fermented lemonade, or nourishing bone broth.

Next, coffee has been shown to have adverse effects on the adrenal glands. (Sources: 1, 2) Over stimulation of the adrenals, of course, can lead to adrenal fatigue.

And finally, coffee as a beverage has only been around for 600 years, and wasn’t really widespread until the last century. (source) While that’s somewhat traditional and certainly not what I would call “industrialized” (particularly if you’re drinking *good* shade-grown, fair-traded coffee grown according to traditional principles), it’s still relatively new on the human dietary scene and should give us pause.

So, Should You Drink Coffee?

If you’re suffering from any gastrointestinal problems (IBS, gluten intolerance, etc.), the answer is definitely no. If you’re suffering from adrenal fatigue and trying to recover, the answer is definitely no. If, however, you’re like me and in good health, then I don’t think a cup every now and then will hurt you.

Personally, I’ve been cutting back on my coffee and experimenting with a few alternatives. The first is a tea called Dandy Blend which is based on dandelion root. I really like the flavor of dandelion root tea, and this blends it with chicory and a few other herbs to produce a non-stimulating coffee substitute. The second is something a friend recommended that comes “flavored” like many of those gourmet coffee blends (think: vanilla nut, almond amaretto, hazelnut, and mocha). It’s an organic herbal coffee substitute called Teecino, and it brews up just like coffee in your french press. On top of that, the various flavors are all created naturally. Their ingredient list is very forthcoming, including many organic fruits, nuts, carob pods, and more.

How about you? Where have you drawn the line for coffee in your household? And more importantly, why?

ETA: I wrote this in the comments below, and I thought it may benefit those readers who skip over the comments. I think it’s safe to say that coffee is NOT a health food, even if it may actually confer the benefits that the studies claim it does. That’s because coffee’s not particularly nutrient-dense, and you can get those same positive health effects from other foods which actually are nutrient-dense. Furthermore, if you are using coffee for energy, it’s because your body is nutrient starved. So why not actually feed it the nutrient-dense foods it wants, instead of pumping it full of caffeine to keep going?

(photo by mumbaiphotographer)


    • says

      I think that too. Most of my habit has been about having a warm thing in my hands that’s creamy and mildly sweet. I can satisfy that with tea, so why bother with something that will make me jittery and stress out my adrenals?

  1. Shari says

    Another option for die hard coffee drinkers, ahem, …like me. Cold pressed coffee using a toddy maker cuts waaaay back on harmful oils.

  2. says

    I roast my own. And I make espresso– the quick extraction leaves a lot of the toxic parts out, and makes the final product much more pure. I notice a massive difference from that alone– drip coffee makes me cracked out and crazy, where espresso gives me a nice energy boost with no crazy ‘ants in my veins’ feeling. I notice an even bigger difference from organic coffee too.

    I find that, because I always have freshly roasted coffee around, I no longer react to it like I used to (I didn’t drink it for years because it made me break out and feel disgusting and messed up my digestion to boot). Maybe the oils go rancid after a while? I don’t know. I just know that roasting my own and making espresso instead of drip makes all the difference in the world.

    Oh, and it tastes better than anything I’ve ever had elsewhere.

    I get the beans at Sweet Maria’s, and roast them in an old popcorn maker that I got on ebay for $10. :)
    .-= Rebecca´s last blog post …Sage on the brain =-.

    • says

      Wow. You roast your own. And I thought my husband was getting picky by buying freshly roasted beans in small amounts and then grinding them at home (enough grounds for one cup at a time)!

      It’s interesting how many things affect the healthfulness of coffee. I’ve read numerous studies that show decaffeinated coffee has really bad health effects, probably because of the process they go through to decaffeinate it.

      I’m fascinated by the idea that an espresso is healthier than a drip — that might explain why I like Americanos (essentially espresso plus hot water) more than a cup of dripped coffee.

    • says

      I agree with this too. I use a stovetop espresso maker – just like everyone in Italy, thanks to my Italian mother-in-law who brought me one as a present 2 years ago. I only use organic, fair trade, and small batch roasted. We have a great guy in our community who roasts and sells at the farmers market here.

  3. Kika says

    Two cups of (strong) coffee a day (organic/fair trade; coffee press) are my norm. It is my treat and mellows me. Occasionally there is a period of time where I feel I need to drink one cup only and have more herbal tea – generally if I’m recuperating from an illness. Otherwise, I really enjoy the smell and taste of a great cup of coffee.

  4. says

    I’m so happy you posted this. I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit after your adrenal gland post a few weeks ago.

    I LOVE good dark coffee but like you b/c of the mixed studies have tried to limit my consumption of it. This post makes me feel better about my choice to reduce but not eliminate it. Thank you!!! Now if I could only get my husband to reduce just a little bit and I’d be one very happy girl.
    .-= Jenn´s last blog post …Girl Hero Deb =-.

    • says

      I think it’s safe to say that coffee is NOT a health food, even if it may actually confer the benefits that the studies claim it does. That’s because coffee’s not particularly nutrient-dense, and you can get those same positive health effects from other foods which are.

      That said, I don’t feel bad about the few cups I have per week.

      • says

        Ha!! That’s funny. Don’t worry you didn’t come across as if you thought it was a “health food”. 😉 I’ve just been struggling with months on trying to decide if I was going to stop all together. I think I’ll stick with my 2-3 cups a week though b/c I just really enjoy it and like you I’ll choose to not feel bad about it. :-)
        .-= Jenn´s last blog post …Girl Hero Deb =-.

  5. says

    Wow, according to this, my husband ought not to drink coffee (as he knows, suffering from IBS, which he takes other steps to mitigate), while I should (being from a family that is rampant with Alzheimer’s and gallstones). And yet, I find a cup of coffee in the mornings tends to leave me jittery, even though I love the taste, so I pretty much reserve it for Saturday mornings and any occasions where I know I will need to stay awake late anyway.
    .-= Jenn´s last blog post …Getting Back on Track — and Asking for Help! =-.

    • says

      Jenn — I think if you experience any negative consequences, like feeling jittery, it’s best to avoid. Not only is it an unpleasant feeling, but it demonstrates that your coffee is definitely over stimulating you and messing with your nerves.

  6. says

    I have never been a coffee drinker – well plain coffee that is. I worked at a bagel/coffee shop for 3 years and was a manager for the last full year. This means free food/drinks anytime I wanted…..

    I never got interested in black coffee but I fell in love with sugary espresso drinks. I enjoyed not at all healthy coffee drinks for about a full year then simply stopped when I quit the damn place.

    Today, I have a mug of green tea every morning. Just one, no more. Once in a great while (1-2 times a month) I will enjoy one in the afternoon.

    The rest of my family drinks coffee daily. One of my 3 siblings fortunately drinks green tea too. She used to drink coffee once in a while but is more health conscious then the rest of us (not as much as myself of course).

    I think coffee in moderation is great if you are not using it for energy….. Green Tea is a lot better in my opinion though.
    .-= Primal Toad´s last blog post …Barefoot Sprint Intervals Outside In My Backyard =-.

    • says

      That seems like an important key, r.e. “coffee in moderation is great if you are not using it for energy.”

      If you *are* using it for energy, it’s because your body is nutrient starved. So why not actually feed it the nutrient-dense foods it wants, instead of pumping it full of caffeine to keep going?

  7. Lindsay says

    I’m allergic to the stuff. I don’t know when the allergy developed, but I was working with an avid coffee drinker and I had the only car. So I would go on the daily coffee run and decided one day to buy myself a latte. I used to drink them every so often before having kids. The place I was buying coffee from only roasts a days worth of coffee beans in the morning and grinds the coffee as needed. It was the best tasting coffee I’d ever had. The first day I felt agitated and out of sorts for a couple hours. The second day was the same but also felt weak and my speech was a tad slurred for awhile. The third day I decided to go caffeine free and had all the same symptoms as the two prior days but was also unable walk (my knees gave out a couple times), had trouble breathing and my eyes crossed. My speech when I could talk was severely slurred and not the words I was thinking. It was a very scary experience for me. I don’t know what else to call it but a coffee allergy.

    I avoid most coffee but had tiramisu lately without realizing coffee is used in making it until after it was gone and felt dizzy afterwards. So, I will be avoiding that amazingly delicious dessert as well.
    .-= Lindsay´s last blog post …Is it me? =-.

  8. Natalie says

    I drink one cup of coffee each morning with raw cream and local honey. I recently started using half decaf and half regular fair trade organic coffee that I grind every morning. I also use a French press and do not drink coffee, aside from a very very rare latte. I did notice that you say decaf is bad (why is this?)…

    Once a day, I drink Teeccino and only like it French pressed. I’ve tried it dripped and b/c I like strong, dark coffee, I find using drip method makes it too weak for my taste. I’ve been drinking chocolate flavored. But, recently bought their caffe organic and can’t wait to give that a try. Even my husband likes teeccino. So, maybe I’ll start doing 1/4 teeccino and 3/4 regular (fair trade, organic) coffee in my French press each morning instead of decaf/regular combo…

    • Natalie says

      I just noticed an error in my previous message. I don’t know what I was saying when I said I, “I don’t drink coffee, aside from a rare rare latte.” I drink an occasional latte (once a month or less), but, other than that, I only have my one cup a day and don’t use coffee for caffeine. Though, I certainly think there is something about the warm, dark, bitter richness and creaminess on my tongue that wakes me up. I don’t know that I could do without it. It gets my day started and I look forward to it each morning. It calms me in the rush of the morning. Though, someday, if my Meniere’s disease gets worse (on a bad day, caffeine can make my ringing louder – but, with kids running around, I hardly notice), I’ll have to give it up. Thus, why I cut back on the amount of caffeine I allow in that one cup/day just in case I’m a tad bit addicted and don’t know it.

  9. says

    I was totally dependant on it to get going, but now I don’t drink it any more except for a few times a month as a treat as I LOVE the taste!
    For me it was a choice to stop because of my heath, my thyroid was freaking out and I had to change everything I ate…also I had a thyroid storm which is hard on your heart, so caffeine isn’t the best thing for all that! Not to mention what sugar does to my hormones, etc.!!
    The funny part it that today I blogged about my inner conflict all morning about going to get coffee(I don’t keep any in the house)…my exhaustion won as I really needed to get things done and the kids homeschooled! =) haha!!

  10. Diana says

    I’m new to this real food thing, so I haven’t cut out the coffee yet. I don’t drink the nasty sugary stuff though. Just a nice cup of coffee with a bit of cream in the morning. I do drink herbal teas (sometimes black) the rest of the day when I feel the need for coffee. I’m taking little steps. :)

  11. dana says

    This is embarrassing and weird, but the reason I drink coffee is because it makes me go to the bathroom (# 2) I go 2 weeks without going, and then give in and drink 1 cup of coffee, and finely I get to go. (I am milk protein intolerant based on my own research, no thanks to any doctors, telling them ever since I was like 10, “I only go to the bathroom every 2 weeks”, they just put me on pills.) I finely found out it was the dairy, so I stopped eating it and started going to the bathroom 2 times a day! But then my health started to go, and my chiropractor told me about raw milk, so I completely converted. I drink raw milk, eat raw yogurt, raw kefir, kombucha, raw cheese, take Swedish bitters, fclo with the butter oil, but I don’t go to the bathroom, so then I drink my coffee and it helps. Grant it, if I drink it all the time it doesn’t work the same. Embarrassing, but 15 years of always being constipated…really sucks. Sorry for my ranting, it feels good to tell someone about it. : )

    • Rooni Tunes says

      I was reading through the comments on this page as someone who is working on giving up coffee and came to Dana’s comment about suffering from constipation. Since you wrote this four years ago, I don’t know if you’ll see this reply, but I wanted to let you know about Dr. Schulze’s Intestinal Formula #1 and #2. I can’t vouch for the latter, but Intestinal Formula #1 works GREAT! Read the reviews on I have used it myself with great results and I have friends with chronic constipation problems who have also used it with great results. Dana, with or without coffee, you should be able to have a good bowel movement every day or every other day at the very least — better every day. All the best to your and your digestive tract!

  12. Stacey says

    sometimes the need to drink coffee doesn’t involve nutrient deficiency, but a simple need to get through the day from not sleeping all night when you’ve had a kid awake half the night. That is when I really need it the most, but on most days, I make one shot of espresso with freshly ground organic beans and make myself a warm raw milk mocha. Raw milk, espresso and cocoa powder. It keeps me from going to starbucks and throwing away my money! Plus, it’s much healthier. And the raw milk has a bunch of nutrients :)

  13. thesuperalice says

    I have poor circulation and have been trying to avoid coffee since I heard that high doses of caffeine can have detrimental effects on circulation. As far as I can tell so far, it seems that my circulation is noticeably better when I avoid coffee, and it gets worse after I’ve had a cup or two a day for a few days in a row.

  14. says

    I have to admit that I like the ritual of coffee in the morning. Even in summer, there’s something about starting my day with a warm drink. I also feel fortunate that I’ve never really had any g/i issues (not even heartburn!) or any symptoms of adrenal fatigue. I also put some coconut oil and raw milk in mine and cut out all sweetener (it’s been stevia since 2004) earlier this year.
    Need to read over the comments some more. But black coffee also is recommended for asthma attacks if no other remedy is around. I know traditional foods do cut down on such reactions, but sometimes it still happens. (I will point out I’ve had asthma since age 8 and my root cause was some extreme stresss–my father died a month before my first attack. These days I next to never have trouble. If I do, it’s a minor response.)
    .-= Soli @ I Believe in Butter´s last blog post …Short break =-.

  15. says

    I have been trying to cut down, as I was using it for energy (long story there) – and really don’t like the idea of being addicted to anything – even my beloved coffee.

    I have gotten myself down to 1/2 espresso and 1/2 teeccino. I had really bad withdrawal for about 2 weeks, but now I am doing much better, and am going to go down to 1/4 espresso and 3/4 teeccino next week and see how it goes.

    I really want to get to the point where I am ONLY enjoying it for taste. Which is why I fell in love with it so long ago.
    .-= Jenn AKA The Leftover Queen´s last blog post …How To Cook Real Food : Online Cooking Course! =-.

  16. Cool Beans says

    I’d also like to know more about decaf being bad for you. I typically have one large cup per day, black (the only way to drink coffee!), half regular/half decaf (organic fair-trade beans that I grind at home). Occasionally, my day is too busy and I go without, with no ill effects. Even more rarely, I’ll feel the need for a cup of coffee later in the day to perk me up. But I can count the number of times that happens each year on one hand, so I’m not concerned with it.

    So what’s the deal with the decaf?

    • says

      Mostly it has to do with how it’s processed. There have been many, many studies out there on the health effects of coffee. While some have been quite neutral about regular coffee, and others quite positive, one thing is constant: they all universally show dangers associated with drinking decaf. People think it’s the “healthier” choice because it’s coffee without caffeine. (Seems like it would be healthier, doesn’t it?) But because of the processing, it does something to not only restrict whatever benefits coffee might confer, but to also create adverse effects, too.

  17. says

    Sally Fallon Morell said that quitting coffee was the hardest thing she ever did.

    I’ve been a daily coffee drinker since I was in my teens. I finally quit about a month ago (at age 41) and I feel like a brand new woman.

    I could not have done it without serious amino acid help. I had read Julia Ross’s book “The Mood Cure” and then was encouraged by Elizabeth Walling at The Nourished Life blog when she shared her experience.

    1,000 mg of DLPA at breakfast and another 1,000 at lunch was all I needed to kick the habit. It took a few weeks. Now I find that 1,000 DLPA makes me shaky and jittery, so I’ve cut it out.

    Here’s an interesting thing. Even if I drink half a cup of decaf coffee now, I feel jittery and nervous and shaky and irritable. Even a little dizzy and light-headed. This is amazing to me, because I used to be able to put away 2 grande lattes every morning (those are the BIG ones).

    I do think that if you are craving coffee, there is a nutrient deficiency involved. You’re craving those feel-good chemicals Julia Ross talks about. As long as you are using the drug to fix the chemicals, you won’t know that you are lacking the nutrients.

    It’s kind of like covering up the symptoms of a cold with an over-the-counter medicine.

    Here’s the other thing that amazed me about giving up coffee (clearly I need to write a blog post since I have so much to say about this topic)… My whole life I always thought I was not a “breakfast person”. I was just never hungry in the morning. I’d always skip breakfast and not eat until lunch or even afternoon.

    What I found out is that coffee suppresses your appetite. After I stopped drinking coffee, for the first time in my life, I am famished in the morning! I *must* have my eggs and bacon!

    Interesting, eh?
    .-= Ann Marie @ CHEESESLAVE´s last blog post …Learn How to Cook Real Food with Jenny at Nourished Kitchen =-.

  18. Ron says

    I agree that coffee has an overall negative impact.

    Matt Stone at has great information of caffine and why its is not a good thing.

    One question to all readers who drink coffee on a regular basis – are you overweight, or have you been overweight?

  19. amy says

    I drink one cup sometimes two cups of organic coffee a day. I only use half and half in it. I use to put honey in it but I have cut that out. Since I am 17 weeks pregnant I try to only have one cup a day. I do love it!

  20. says

    When I drink coffee, it’s usually as a flavor addition to milk. (at one time I would only buy an occasional latte whereas now I just bring a jar of raw milk from home :)

    I like the Teecino offerings, but I honestly like best the pretty-much-plain chicory that my family stocks up on in Ukraine when we fly there.
    .-= Psychic Lunch´s last blog post …What’s so "smart" about the TetraPak Brik? =-.

  21. says

    Great Article Kristen. I have a few comments from personal experience. For many years I was caffeine free, and if for some reason I was slipped a cup of plain coffee instead of decaf or had something else caffeinated, I would have SEVERE reactions. I finally reintroduced a small amount of coffee into my diet so that I wouldn’t have these reactions. I felt it was better for me to have a low level and avoid the extremes. Also, while on a very popular coffee substitute, not to name names, I got recurrent bladder infections and had to go off it. If you have a sensitive bladder, I would avoid the substitutes and drink a tea based product instead.
    .-= Alex´s last blog post …Tea time is healthy time at my casa! =-.

  22. says

    Hi, coffee makes me jittery and my stomach gets sore. Also if I have a cup after noon I will be up all night. It does make me go to the bathroom though. The only way I like it is with cream and sugar. Since I am trying to cut out sugar it’s best for me not to have much coffee right now, but I can’t wait to do an experiment based on some of the comments here to see if lattes are a better fit for me. I love the flavor of a latte.

    But what I was going to say was if you’ve ever read “Eat Right for Your Type” by Dr. D’Adamo, he says that people with type A blood thrive on coffee because they generally have alkaline or even overly alkaline digestive systems, and the acid in coffee does well to balance them out. I’m a type O, (I’ve found most of the info to be true in my case), and type O’s tend toward having acidic systems, therefore coffee only exacerbates their system. It’s interesting. He was also right on the money about type O’s doing poorly with grains.
    .-= Kristina´s last blog post …Westward Progress =-.

  23. Kelly R says

    I gave up coffee in the fall as I suspected a link between caffeine and my migraines. Unfortunately I then developed a love for black tea, thinking it would be ok as there’s a lot less caffeine than the “death brew” I was making (as one of my friends named it).

    The migraines flared again, so now in the process of eliminating black tea as well. Sloooowly, like the coffee, to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

    I am now on an herbal and roobios (loved Nourishing Gourmet’s post that it has more antioxidants than green tea!). Went to Teavana a couple days ago and told the clerk that I want 100% caffeine free. They were out of the roobios I wanted and I ended up getting Azteca Fire which she said was warming and spicy, things I like.

    After 1 cup my left eye was twitching and my right ear was ringing. The ingredients weren’t listed anywhere so I went online. First ingredient is cocoa powder and it also contains chocolate pieces (no wonder I liked it!). But, I also gave up chocolate because of caffeine. Arrgghh!

    I’ve never reacted like that in the past – I agree with comments others have made, when you go off something potentially (for some people) harmful and you reintroduce it, you cannot believe the reaction. Mine felt like warning bells.

    Too soon to tell if living a completely caffeine free life will positively affect my migraine, but I’m giving it a shot!

  24. Brittany says

    Mmm…it may be a long time before I can give up coffee! I love having a cup in the morning with breakfast and a cup in the afternoon after I get my kiddos down to nap. It’s mostly a relaxing thing, but I also really like the taste. My husband and I drink the good stuff (organic, single origin) and drink it black. We’re also pretty healthy already and don’t experience any “side effects,” so I don’t feel too bad about it! :)

    I’m curious about the “coffee substitute” drinks. Are they really as good as coffee? I’m pretty picky about my coffee, so I’m always hesitant to try them.

    And Ron–My husband and I have never been overweight. Nor have either of my parents who both drink at least one pot of coffee (apiece) each day–not that that’s good for them, but it doesn’t seem to have any effect on their weight.

  25. says

    GREAT article! For informative and entertaining. I don’t have any of those issues with coffee. I enjoy two to six double espressos throughout the day and really enjoy my coffee savoring every bit of it from the aroma to the ritual of preparing, serving and stirring to the actual sipping of the hot beverage.
    There’s nothing like that first cup in the morning.
    .-= Chef Vanda´s last blog post …I Love My Coffee says Chef Vanda =-.

  26. Sally Jo says

    I’ve discovered brewed cocoa beans. The first day I tried it I didn’t even think about having a cup of coffee (which I’ve been drinking every day since 1977!!)

    I do Dandy Blend and Coco Bru now. They are both delicous with raw heavy cream.

  27. Anna says

    I always enjoyed the smell of coffee. However, unless there was a lot of sugar and milk in it, I didn’t care for the taste. About two years ago I was in Europe. I loved cofee there! I mostly drank cappuccinos with a half teaspoon of sugar, but would also drink straight espresso. I came back home and kept drinking, hoping for that wonderful taste. Even a stove top espresso maker didn’t do the trick. Now that I am pregnant I still enjoy the smell but will only take a few sips and simply not want anymore.
    Anyone know why coffee tastes soooooooooooooooooo much better in Europe?

    • says

      I think it’s the milk in Europe that makes it taste so good. I felt the same way when I was in Europe last year. That coffee was AMAZING! :-) My conclusion was that the milk was so much better. And that the beans were freshly ground.

      That’s just my theory. :-)

  28. Cindy Newman via Facebook says

    It doesn’t matter what the story says. Nothing could make me give up coffee!!

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  30. Janie says

    You mention Teecino as a good coffee substitute, but it has natural flavors in it. I thought ‘natural flavors’ were as questionable a ‘ artificial flavors’ but with a nicer sounding name. Could you comment on that?

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