The Nuance

This Is the Healthiest Way to Drink Coffee

The optimal amount, preparation, and timing — according to the latest research

Markham Heid
Elemental
Published in
4 min readNov 24, 2021

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Photo: John Schnobrich / Unsplash

Gertrude Stein once wrote that coffee “is a lot more than just a drink; it’s something happening.”

The more experts study coffee, the more that “something” seems to be good for us.

Just this month, a large study in the journal PLOS Medicine found evidence that those who drink 1 to 3 cups of coffee a day enjoy a roughly 14% lower risk for stroke and about the same drop in dementia risk compared to people who abstain.

As usual, moderate consumption was associated with the greatest benefit. When people drank four cups or more, their risk for stroke and dementia drifted back toward baseline, the study found.

This same daily dose has appeared again and again in the coffee research, which at this point is robust and mostly positive. “The greatest benefits appear to be [with] about 3 to 5 cups per day,” says Walter Willett, MD, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Willett co-wrote a comprehensive research review on coffee and caffeine, which appeared last year in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). Like the new PLOS Medicine study, his review found that coffee consumption may reduce a drinker’s risk for several major illnesses. The list includes Type 2 diabetes, neurological disorders, liver disease, heart disease, and cancers of the skin, breast, and prostate. Research has also linked coffee to mood and mental health improvements.

“It is unclear at this time whether lighter or darker-roast coffee has more benefits.”

How could coffee do so much for us? A lot of the health benefits may be attributable to caffeine.

Caffeine binds to receptors in the brain — specifically, adenosine receptors — that help govern the release of dopamine, epinephrine, serotonin, and other neurotransmitters. These hormones play a role in our sleep, appetite, energy, memory, and mood. While many of the specifics are murky, the effect caffeine has on adenosine receptors and their related brain…

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Markham Heid
Elemental

I’m a long-time contributor at TIME and other media orgs. I write mostly about health. I grew up in Michigan, but these days I live in southwest Germany.