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Black Coffee: Why Something So Good Is Also Good For You
This article has been written by experts and fact-checked by experts, including licensed nutritionists, dietitians or medical professionals. The information in the article is based on scientific studies and research.
It is designed to be honest, unbiased and objective, and opinions from both sides of an argument are presented wherever there is disagreement.
The scientific references in this article (marked by 1, 2, 3, etc.) are clickable links to peer-reviewed research material on the subject being discussed.
Several types of people drink black coffee regularly.
- Those who want to fully appreciate the taste of a good coffee.
- Those who have trouble waking up in the morning, or staying away during the day.
- Those who overindulge in other beverages at night and want to sober up.
- Those who think drinking black coffee makes some sort of statement.
- Those who are trying to lose weight.
- Smart people.
No explanation is needed for most of those reasons to drink black coffee. The first is the sign of a true coffee aficionado, and the next two groups are clearly looking to maximize their caffeine intake. We’ll leave it up to you whether you think black coffee makes any sort of “statement,” and we’ll have more to say about coffee and weight loss a bit later in this article.
“Smart people?” We’ll have more to say about that too, but in a nutshell: drinking coffee black can maximize some pretty impressive health and wellness benefits.
Of course, black coffee drinkers can fall into several of those categories. For example, lots of smart people have trouble waking up – and that gives them two good reasons to drink it black when they stumble to their kitchen for their first cup of coffee.
Let’s learn more about the reasons you might consider skipping the cream, milk, or other artificial “creamers” from big food companies.
Black Coffee: The History
Coffee was largely unknown in Europe until the 15th century, and when it arrived, it was black. In fact, one of the first Western recorded descriptions of coffee was “a beverage as black as ink.”
The actual origins of the beverage we know as coffee aren’t clear. There are stories claiming that the stimulant effects of the coffee plant were first discovered by a goatherd in 9th century Ethiopia (in a region conveniently named “Kaffa”), or by an exiled sheik in Yemen. Both seem possible.
The earliest-known evidence of coffee drinking comes from Yemen, where Islamic Sufi mystics are said to have roasted coffee beans to create the coffee that kept them awake during religious rituals. There are other written accounts of a Sufi scribe bringing coffee back to Yemen from the Horn of Africa. And it’s been fairly well-documented that Somali merchants regularly exported coffee from Ethiopia to Yemen.
Coffee made it to the rest of the Middle East, Turkey and Persia in the 1500s, and by 1600, it was in Italy. From there, it wasn’t long before coffee was being drunk in Indonesia, Europe and the Americas. (The American colonies weren’t big on coffee at first, but after the 1773 Boston Tea Party, drinking coffee instead of tea became something of a “patriotic duty.”)
There’s one thing that Ethiopian, Yemeni, Middle Eastern, Turkish, Indonesian, European and American coffee all had in common throughout those centuries: it was always taken black.
It’s believed that the first person to try adding milk to coffee was a Dutch ambassador to China, Johan Nieuhof, in 1660. When served coffee there, Nieuhof is said to have mimicked the Chinese elite who regularly added milk to their tea, by pouring milk into his coffee.
In Europe, meanwhile, a Vienna café owner is credited with being the innovator. In the late 1600s, Jerzy Franciszek Kulcycki was making black coffee from Turkish coffee beans, the way the Turks made it – but his European customers hated it, so he tried sweetening it with milk and honey. The honey was later replaced with sugar, a time-honored custom was born, and black coffee became simply an option instead of the universal way to enjoy the beverage.
It’s an awfully good option, though.
Black Coffee and Caffeine
Most people believe that drinking black coffee will sober them up, or get them moving faster in the morning, than coffee with milk or cream. That’s basically a myth.
If you stop to think about it, the truth is obvious: a cup of coffee has the same amount of caffeine, whether or not milk has been added to it. There’s only one reason why black coffee might be more potent: if you add a lot of milk to the cup, you may end up drinking less coffee – thereby consuming less caffeine.
But there’s another question you may be asking: does it matter how black the coffee is?
Here’s where we can dispel more myths. Many coffee drinkers think that when it comes to caffeine, the blacker, the better. On the other hand, coffee aficionados will insist (with perhaps a little condescension in their voice) that a light roast actually contains more caffeine than a dark roast.
They’re all somewhat wrong. A preliminary but comprehensive study shows that coffee beans all contain about the same amount of caffeine.
Here’s the catch. Dark-roasted beans are less dense than light-roasted ones, so you need to use more dark-roasted beans to make an equivalent amount of coffee – and more beans means more caffeine.
In other words, conventional wisdom is almost right, since a cup of dark coffee will contain a little more caffeine. However, it’s important to emphasize “a little more.” In reality, research shows the caffeine difference between the lightest and darkest roast – by the time the beans were roasted, ground and turned into coffee – to be only about 9%.
A regular cup of coffee contains about 95 milligrams of caffeine, so a 9% difference would be just 9 milligrams. That’s not going to be the difference between drunk and sober, or awake and asleep.
If you like your coffee as dark as possible, there’s nothing wrong with that. Just don’t expect it to work more miracles than a lighter brew.
Let’s get to the more important question: is black coffee good for you?
The Health Benefits of Black Coffee
A quick cautionary word: “may.” Research on the benefits of black coffee – and coffee in general – is still being done. Most of the benefits we’ll be listing appear to be real. But until the medical world is in full agreement that coffee can provide a specific medicinal benefit, we’ll be using words like “may” or “appear” a lot. The overall evidence is overwhelming, though, that drinking black coffee, in moderation, is good for you.
One more quick clarification: Most of the studies we cite have been done to discover the effects of coffee in general, not black coffee specifically. However, researchers commonly use black coffee for this work, and there’s generally no reason that adding milk or cream would be better for your health than drinking your coffee black.
Here we go.
It’s Better for You than Most Other Beverages
Black coffee contains no fat. It contains no calories. It contains no carbohydrates. It contains no cholesterol. But unlike water, it does contain vitamins and minerals that the body needs, including potassium, magnesium, manganese, and vitamins B-2, B-3 and B-5. That doesn’t mean that black coffee is a nutritional powerhouse; it simply means that it’s better for you than soda, juice or even milk.
There’s a way to add even more nutritional value to black coffee: turning it into keto coffee by adding MCT coconut oil, and ghee or grass-fed butter. Even easier: ready-to-drink Super Coffee, which has the MCT oil and extra protein already added.
It May Help You Lose Weight
This isn’t the most “proven” benefit of black coffee, but it’s the one that people ask about the most.
A meta-analysis of twelve different studies on coffee consumption and obesity concluded that a higher coffee intake was associated with lower body mass index and waist circumference. That would make sense, because coffee contains chlorogenic acid, magnesium, caffeine and trigonelline, all of which have been linked to anti-obesity benefits. There appears to be a related benefit, too; we’ll discuss that next.
It Can Speed Up Your Metabolism
Coffee drinking speeds up the body’s metabolism, and a higher metabolism can lead to greater weight loss. That’s not the only positive effect of a higher metabolism; when your energy levels are high, you tend to be less hungry and eat less.
It Lowers Diabetes Risk
Numerous studies have shown that drinking black coffee can reduce the risk of contracting type 2 diabetes, apparently because of coffee’s antioxidant properties and some of the minerals it contains. In one of the largest research projects, participants who increased their daily coffee consumption by more than one cup lowered their diabetes risk by 11%. Conversely, the risk increased by 17% for those who cut their consumption by more than a cup per day. The results of one other study were also particularly noteworthy: the effect is the same for people who regularly drink either caffeinated or decaffeinated coffee.
It May Improve Your Cardiovascular Health
Black coffee appears to be very good for your heart. A summary of 21 different research studies has found that moderate consumption of coffee is associated with a significantly lower risk of cardiovascular disease. The evidence isn’t conclusive for heavy coffee drinkers, but a meta-analysis of 36 different studies seems to imply that there’s no greater risk of heart disease among healthy people who drink more than five cups of black coffee per day. There’s more good news, too: at least one study shows that coffee may actually lower chances of suffering a stroke.
It Contains High Levels of Important Antioxidants
The heading of this section actually undersells this point. Believe it or not, coffee is said to be the most important source of antioxidants in adults’ diets, and drinking it black maximizes their benefit. High levels of antioxidants prevent oxidative stress and damage it can cause in the body. Oxidative stress is believed to be responsible for heart disease (as just discussed), diabetes and some forms of cancer, among many other possible negative health outcomes.
It Can Protect the Liver
Liver disease is one of the serious conditions that can be prevented by high levels of antioxidants in the body. But coffee is good for the liver in other ways as well, because studies have found that black coffee boosts the performance of important liver enzymes. The research shows that drinking two or more cups of coffee every day seems to prevent fibrosis and alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver. It may also prevent cases of hepatitis and other types of liver damage, including liver cancer, from getting worse.
It Improves Brain Function
You’re not imagining things if it seems that you think more clearly after a cup of coffee. Studies have shown that overall cognition, memory and attention span all increased after participants had a freshly-brewed cup.
Caffeine is largely credited for those effects, because it’s a stimulant. But it’s not just the caffeine; research shows that decaf has nearly the same effect. The answer may be linked to the same reason why black coffee is believed to protect against neurological diseases like Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia: phenylindanes.
Those are compounds formed when coffee beans are roasted, and they apparently inhibit the action of toxic proteins that can build up in the brain and cause neurological damage or disease. One other interesting fact: the longer the beans roast, the more phenylindanes that are produced. Experts believe that means dark roast coffee may actually protect the brain better than a lighter roast.
Other Potential Benefits of Black Coffee
As the man says in the infomercial, “But wait! There’s more!”
There’s research showing that drinking black coffee can help with even more medical and health issues.
- Depression: When people call coffee a “pick-me-up,” it’s not just a figure of speech. Research shows that drinking at least four cups of coffee per day can lower the risk of depression by 20%.
- Stress: This one may seem odd, since coffee’s more likely to get you amped up than relaxed. However, there’s evidence that low amounts of caffeine can actually help reduce some people’s anxiety levels. As you certainly know, though, too much coffee can give you the jitters; studies have also shown that it can produce spikes in blood pressure. There’s a bit of good news there, however; long-term coffee drinkers don’t experience that same effect on their blood pressure.
- Cleansing the system: Alternative medicine practitioners may recommend coffee enemas to “detox” the body, but there’s no medical evidence supporting that practice and it could be dangerous. That doesn’t mean black coffee can’t help in a more palatable way; large amounts of coffee can act as a diuretic that spurs urination. Diuretics are often helpful for the treatment of high blood pressure, and some believe (without evidence) they can cleanse the body of toxins as well.
- Cancer: We’ve already mentioned the possibility that black coffee can help fight liver cancer. There are also promising indications that it has more general anti-cancer properties.
It certainly sounds like the news about black coffee is all good. To be fair, we have to at least consider the other side of the story.
Can Black Coffee Be Bad for You?
When consumed in moderate amounts, it’s unlikely that drinking black coffee can do you any harm. Naturally, the caffeine can make you wired, which is not exactly what you want before bedtime. “Moderation” is the key word, though, since more than four cups a day can lead to side effects like headache and anxiety in those who aren’t used to mainlining coffee
Other than that, however, a few cups a day shouldn’t do you any harm unless you already suffer from acid reflux. In that case, coffee’s acidity can make things worse.
What about those stories you hear that coffee can trigger heart issues? It’s true that those who already have multiple cardiovascular risks, but don’t usually drink coffee, might be slightly more likely to have a heart attack within an hour. But that’s extremely rare, and people without heart issues or who drink more than an occasional cup don’t have to worry about it. The only concern that’s apparently worth considering is that those with heart disease who have more than five cups a day could be at greater risk.
However, the average American only drinks about three cups of coffee a day. If you fall into that category and don’t have the health risks we’ve just mentioned, don’t be worried when you sit down with your morning coffee, or stop at your local coffee shop to pick up a cup of black coffee or espresso on your way to work. You’ll be just fine – and you’ll probably be enjoying your coffee more than someone who loads it down with cream and sugar.