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If coffee is a stalwart part of your morning routine, you’re far from alone. In 2020, more than 60% of Americans were drinking coffee every day, according to the National Coffee Association. Whether you pour it from a fancy French press, pick up a cup from your local coffee shop or start your day with an elaborate espresso ritual, coffee might just be the key to jump-starting your day.
And your morning cup of joe may do more than just caffeinate you. A new study in The Annals of Internal Medicine found that subjects who drank 1.5 to 3.5 cups of coffee each day were less likely to die during the seven-year study period than those who didn’t drink coffee. That number of cups hits the sweet spot, since the average American coffee drinker typically has just over three cups each day.
The study considered more than 170,000 participants using data from the UK Biobank, a long-term study that has collected genetic and health information from around 500,000 participants in the U.K. The subjects were, on average, around 56 years old, and they did not have heart disease or cancer at the start of the study. Researchers separated participants into four categories: those who drank coffee without sweetener, those who drank coffee with artificial sweetener, those who drank coffee sweetened with sugar and those who did not drink coffee. All kinds of coffee, from decaf to instant, were included in the study.
Those who drank unsweetened coffee or coffee with sugar had a 30% lower risk of dying during the study period than those who didn’t drink coffee. It’s worth noting that the typical amount of sugar added to the coffee was around a teaspoon (about 4 grams), study author Chen Mao, M.D., told MedPage Today.
The findings were “less consistent” for those who drank coffee with artificial sweetener. Some of the popular sugar substitutes you’ll find in the grocery store, like aspartame and saccharin, have been associated with a slightly increased cancer risk, but more research is needed to support these findings. If you can stick to a small amount of sugar in your coffee, it could be worth trading in your pink and blue packets for the real deal. But for people with diabetes or those trying to lower their consumption of sugar, artificial sweeteners can be a good option and are safe to use in moderation.
This study didn’t provide any further insight into understanding why coffee is good for us, but some experts have speculated that it has to do with the antioxidants in your java. Coffee is rich with chlorogenic acid, a polyphenol you’ll also find in berries, apples and eggplant. That particular polyphenol has been linked with maintaining a healthy weight and reducing your risk for diabetes, according to a 2017 review in the European Journal of Nutrition. Plus, caffeinated coffee has been tied to a reduced risk for Parkinson’s disease and liver cirrhosis, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.
If this news has you feeling ready to up your coffee intake, just be sure you’re choosing healthy add-ins rather than picking up a super-sugary macchiato or frappé from your coffee shop of choice. We’ve rounded up some of our favorite, dietitian-approved ways to boost the flavor in your cup of joe, from a sprinkle of cinnamon to a splash of whole milk. And if you’re dead-set on making the healthiest cup of coffee possible, you might want to consider drinking filtered coffee. While espresso machines and French presses don’t use a filter, pour-over makers and drip machines do—and research has tied filtered coffee to added heart-healthy benefits. A 2020 study in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology found that brewing filtered coffee can remove the compounds that some studies have found to raise cholesterol levels.
The Bottom Line
An observational study published in The Annals of Internal Medicine found that moderate daily coffee drinking may lower your mortality risk, but we still need further research to back these findings up. Coffee certainly has some health benefits, and anything that brings you a little joy in the morning is worth drinking—so make sure you’re having the healthiest possible cup by using a coffee maker with a filter and making sugary coffee drinks an occasional treat rather than a daily habit.