Despite the proliferation of coffee culture, the breakfast brew has gotten a reputation for being unhealthful. Caffeine is a diuretic, may prevent calcium absorption, and can cause insomnia and anxiety. However, recent studies by the Harvard School of Public Health show that regular coffee drinkers have a significantly reduced chance of developing Type 2 diabetes and gallstones. Coffee's high antioxidant level can also prevent cell damage and illness, including Parkinson's disease, and, according to the Archives of Internal Medicine, cirrhosis. In fact, coffee came in second in a report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that ranked beverages according to healthfulness. Still, some experts suggest that pregnant women avoid coffee because of the link between high doses of caffeine and the risk of miscarriage, particularly in the first trimester.
Enjoy your joe in moderation. Despite its jitter-inducing properties, caffeinated coffee is actually better for you than the unleaded version. Decaf has not been shown to yield the same positive results as regular coffee, such as a lowered risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and gallstones. Even worse, the 2005 Coffee and Lipoprotein Metabolism (CALM) study found that drinking three to six cups of decaf per day raises levels of a blood fat associated with "bad" low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, cholesterol. (People who drink regular coffee don't have this problem.) Taking calcium supplements will help counterbalance coffee's calcium-leaching effects. As for how much coffee is safe to drink, doctors recommend having no more than three or four cups a day.
If you love the taste of coffee but can't take the caffeine, try Swiss Water-processed decaf, a proprietary system that uses activated charcoal filters rather than environmentally harmful solvents (such as methylene chloride) to extract the caffeine. Whether brewing decaf or regular, consider using a filtered system. Unfiltered coffee (such as that made in a French press or an espresso machine) has been linked to higher levels of homocysteine in blood, which may jeopardize cardiovascular health. Look for unbleached paper filters or reusable cotton or hemp varieties. Gold filters, which can last for years, have the added advantage of allowing more of the coffee's complex array of oils to reach your cup.
The brew you choose can have a big impact on the world around you. USDA-certified organic coffee is grown without conventional pesticides or synthetic fertilizers, and USDA-accredited certifiers monitor production in foreign countries. fair trade certified coffee is monitored in this country by TransFair USA, and the label indicates that farmers are paid a reasonable price, workers labor under fair conditions, and employees have a hand in deciding how to invest revenues (frequently in community-development programs). Several third-party organizations also certify shade grown coffee, which is cultivated under a tree canopy -- where coffee bushes grow naturally. This method is far less disruptive to bird habitats than plantations that cut down trees to grow coffee in full sun.