The Benefits Of Coffee

Feeling guilty about grabbing that third cup of coffee? Our Health & Fitness Expert explains why it's not such a bad idea.

Q: My business partner and I recently moved from working in our own home offices to sharing a small office in town. While I'm very excited about the move, my partner drinks a lot of coffee. I enjoy a cup now and then, but with him brewing a fresh pot each morning and afternoon, I'm tempted to drink much more than normal. I've heard so much about caffeine, for and against. How does caffeine affect my health?

A: It's one of my favorite beverages. And it's not just the rich, soothing taste-it's the caffeine that I love, too. Most mornings I'm up and working in my home office by 5 am and teaching fitness classes by 8 am. I drink two to three cups of coffee every day, and my experiences with caffeine, along with the research I've done, have been enough to convince me that it's not only safe for healthy people, but it also has some definite perks.

Caffeine is the subject of considerable ongoing research. Year after year, studies report the pros and cons of caffeine consumption. The common theme, revealed by organizations such as The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Medical Association, is that a moderate intake of caffeine doesn't contribute to disease in an otherwise healthy person. It won't cause cancer. It won't cause high blood pressure. But it just might facilitate fat burning and spark your creativity.

Caffeine speeds up our metabolism. (Maybe that's why it's the active ingredient in most diet pills.) It also breaks down fat, freeing fatty acids that can be burned during exercise. Studies have shown that conversion of fat to energy is about 30 percent more efficient when caffeine is consumed prior to exercise.

Does this mean that caffeine burns fat? Not exactly. The caffeine-enhanced fat burning can only occur while we're exercising. So don't expect to drop pounds simply by drinking an extra cup of joe each day.

With fatty acids loose in the bloodstream and more available as a source of energy, glycogen and glucose (blood sugars) are reserved, allowing blood sugar levels to remain higher for longer. Higher glucose levels ward off hunger. This is why coffee is popular among students and think-tankers. The brain functions exclusively on glucose, and higher blood sugar levels facilitate thinking.

Now I'm not advocating everyone should run out and pump themselves with mega doses of caffeine. I'd just like to offer my opinion and some research to show that it doesn't necessarily deserve the bad rep it so often gets. As always, if you have any medical problems, check with your doctor about using caffeine. And, of course, cut down if you're pregnant.

As far as your fear of drinking too much coffee, the latest research says three to four cups of coffee are perfectly safe for a healthy person. But before you reach for the coffee cup, stop to think why. If it's because you get that sluggish feeling in the early afternoon, try a cold glass of water and a brisk walk around the block to get your blood flowing. But if you truly love the taste, an extra cup in the afternoon is not necessarily unhealthy.

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Shannon Entin is the publisher and editor of FitnessLink ( and co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Health and Fitness (Macmillan). An ACE-certified (American Council on Exercise) fitness instructor, Shannon thrives on inspiring people to live healthier lifestyles.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.