Is there such a thing as too much coffee? A nutritionist weighs in

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Are you a regular coffee drinker? Do you sometimes worry that caffeine might be bad for your health? Well, there’s no need to feel guilty about your little coffee habit.  In fact, caffeine has been found to have a lot of positive health benefits and, despite what you may have heard, relatively few drawbacks.

Positive effects of caffeine

People who drink coffee every day have a significantly lower risk of diabetes, Parkinson’s, colon cancer, gallstones, and Alzheimer’s disease. Now, that may not all be due to caffeine. Coffee contains a lot of volatile compounds and antioxidants that may have beneficial effects by themselves, or in combination with caffeine.

 

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For example, drinking tea doesn’t seem to reduce your risk of diabetes, even though tea contains caffeine. On the other hand, people who drink decaffeinated coffee do have a reduced risk, but decaf only seems to work about half as well as caffeinated coffee.

 

It’s definitely the caffeine that protects against Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, though. Not only does caffeine stimulate the brain and central nervous system, but it appears to protect it as well. Caffeine doesn’t make you any smarter, but it does makes you more alert and boosts your ability to concentrate, which can make you a better test taker or a better driver.

 

The benefits of caffeine start kicking in when you consume a cup of coffee or a couple of cups of black tea every day. The positive effects really start piling up when you drink three or four cups of coffee a day or the equivalent. People who drink seven or eight cups a day may get even a little more benefit in terms of neuroprotection, but also have a higher risk of ill effects, such as jitters, agitation, or sleep disruption.

Does caffeine cause or treat headaches?

Caffeine can also relieve headaches. In fact, the popular headache medicine Excedrin contains as much caffeine as a big cup of coffee.  Headaches, especially tension-type headaches, are often accompanied by increased blood flow to the brain. This puts pressure on the nerves and causes pain. Caffeine is a vasoconstrictor, meaning that it constricts blood vessels, and this can relieve headache pain. In fact, adding caffeine to a pain reliever like Tylenol can increase the effectiveness by up to 40%.

 

If you drink coffee, tea, or other caffeinated beverages regularly, stopping suddenly can also bring on a headache. In fact, it’s hypothesized that caffeine withdrawal may contribute to post-operative pain — because patients typically skip their regular morning cup on the day of surgery. And one study even found that adding a bit of caffeine to the IV liquid for patients recovering from surgery made them quite a bit more comfortable! It can also help people shake off the effects of anesthesia more quickly.

Does caffeine make you a better athlete?

Caffeine also enhances athletic performance. In fact, up until recently, caffeine was considered a performance-enhancing drug by the International Olympic Committee and athletes had to keep their intake of caffeinated beverages fairly low to pass their drug screens. Unlike most performance-enhancing drugs, you can safely try this one at home. Have a cup or two of coffee one hour before your workout and you may be able to go a bit faster, stronger, and longer. This effect may be enhanced if you abstain from coffee for a week or two.

Myths about caffeine

Many of the negative things you’ve heard about caffeine are actually myths, several of which I’ve debunked in previous shows. It’s a myth, for example, that caffeine weakens your bones, as I explained in my episode on nutrition for healthy bones.

 

It’s also a myth that caffeine consumption is liked to fibrocystic changes, or benign lumps, in the breast. Trial after trial has found no connection between caffeine or coffee consumption and breast lumps or fibrocystic breast disease.  Women who suffer from breast pain and tenderness are often counseled to give up caffeine. And one small study found that 61% of women who cut out (or cut down on) caffeine had improvement of their symptoms. However, this study included no control group. And other research has found that breast pain tends to resolve on its own after a few months. So, it’s impossible to say whether avoiding caffeine was responsible for the reduction of breast pain.

 

And, as I explained in the dehydration myth episode, caffeinated beverages are not dehydrating. Caffeine is a diuretic, meaning that it makes you pee more. But the fluids in coffee and tea more than replace any fluids that you lose due to the diuretic effect. Not only that, but if you drink coffee regularly, it loses its diuretic effects.

 

Finally, you might have heard that caffeine or coffee is bad for your heart. Some studies have found that drinking unfiltered coffee—such as French press or percolated coffee—elevates cholesterol. It appears to be volatile oils in the coffee rather than caffeine that affect cholesterol, and only in men. But coffee drinkers are no more likely to develop heart disease.

Coffee can also cause a temporary increase in your blood pressure, but this is not thought to be a concern. And although caffeinated coffee can also temporarily increase your heart rate a bit, it does not cause irregular heartbeat. In fact, an as yet unpublished study presented at the 2020 meeting of the Heart Rhythm Society found that coffee consumption is associated with a lower risk of arrythmias.

Negative effects of caffeine

There are some legitimate downsides of caffeine, but they are relatively minor. Some people find that caffeine make them jittery, anxious, or disrupts their sleep. How many cups of coffee it takes to make your hair stand on end, or how late in the day you can drink a cup of coffee without staring at the ceiling all night, are subject to a high degree of individual variation.

 

People who are very sensitive to stimulants are usually better off avoiding caffeine altogether.  For everyone else, moderate consumption of caffeine appears to have a lot of benefits and limited disadvantages. The alert listener will have noted that I have once again invoked the “M” word: Moderation. Here are your parameters for moderate caffeine consumption:

How much caffeine is too much?

National health advisory committees in The U.S., Canada, and Europe agree that 400 mg of caffeine per day is perfectly safe for most healthy people. That’s the amount you’d get in 2-3 cups of brewed coffee. (Some energy drinks have up to 300 mg per can.)

Large amounts of caffeine could negatively affect the growth and development of babies in the womb. Women who are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or breastfeeding are advised to limit their intake to 200 mg per day or less.

Under normal circumstances, it takes about 5 hours for half of the caffeine you consume to be cleared from your system. Because caffeine can negatively affect sleep quality, you’re well advised to avoid drinking caffeinated beverages with 5 to 8 hours of bedtime.

 

There’s really not a lot of data on safe amounts of caffeine for kids or adolescents, which is a concern given the popularity of high-caffeine energy drinks. Some agencies have recommended that kids keep their caffeine intake well under 100 mg per day, which would be the amount in two cans of caffeinated soda. Other experts feel that even that might be unwise.

What is caffeine found in?

Coffee is the primary source of caffeine in the American diet. (Interestingly, it’s also the primary source of antioxidants–by a large margin!)  But varying amounts of caffeine are also found in black and green tea, soda, energy drinks, chocolate, as well as some over-the-counter pain relievers and dietary supplements.

 

This infographic, created by Examine.com, shows the amount of caffeine in many popular beverages.

 

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You won’t believe which city has America’s best coffee (it’s not Seattle)

 

In fact, they love it so much that they drink over 650 million cups of it every single day. It’s our lifeblood: Adults in the U.S. reported drinking more coffee than bottled water in 2021.

The pandemic kept a lot of us out of our favorite coffee shops, but coffee culture is rebounding along with the real estate market. Out-of-home coffee consumption has risen 16% since January 2021, bringing it close to pre-pandemic levels. So it’s as good a time as ever to look at the best coffee cities in America.

new study by Clever Real Estate looked at major U.S. cities and used publicly available data from sources like the U.S. Census, Google Trends, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and the National Coffee Association to analyze their level of coffee-friendliness. The study weighs factors like number of coffee shops per capita and per square mile, the average price of a cappuccino, and the percentage of their income locals are willing to spend on a daily cup of coffee to rank U.S. coffee cities from best to worst.

The study even looks at Google searches for coffee-related terms. It turns out the number of “where is the nearest coffee shop” searches tells you as much about local coffee enthusiasm as the number of “how to find a real estate agent,”“which real estate company has the lowest commission,” or “what is a 3% real estate commission” searches tells you about how hot the local real estate market is.

Here, we’ll touch on each of the 15 best coffee cities in America, what makes them so good, and some of the local coffee shops and roasteries from Food and Wine magazine’s prestigious “Best Coffee Shops in America” list. But first, some big picture facts.

 

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Before we jump into which cities have the best coffee, here are a few interesting facts about coffee in America:

1. The best coffee cities are concentrated on the edges of the US

Six of the top 15 coffee cities are on the West Coast, while nine are in the Northeast or the North.

2. The 15 best coffee cities have more cafes than the average US city

The average American city has 13 coffee shops, while the 15 cities on the “Best Coffee” list have an average of 18.

3. America has ‘coffee deserts’

In Salt Lake City, Oklahoma City, Louisville, Ky., Memphis, Tenn., Birmingham, Ala., and Riverside, Calif., coffee shops are separated by 40 square miles or more.

4. Memphis might be the least coffee-friendly city in America

Tennessee’s second-largest city has only six coffee shops per 100,000 people, a national low.

5. The average cappuccino in the U.S. costs $4.36

That adds up to an annual total of $1,134 if you drink one per weekday, representing nearly 2% of the average annual income of $62,215.

6. In the top 15 coffee cities, a daily cappuccino is slightly cheaper than average

A daily cup will only set you back 1.6% of your annual income in the top coffee cities.

 

Here are the best coffee cities in America based on our study:

 

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Indy boasts super affordable coffee. The average cappuccino here is only $3.80, with a year of weekday cappuccinos only setting a local coffee drinker back $988 a year.

Best of all, Indianapolis has a curated guide to the best coffee shops in the city.

The Indianapolis Coffee Guide highlights new shops, new drinks, as well as old standbys, so you can always find the coffee you need in Naptown.

 

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This Silicon Valley city offers great coffee at a slightly higher-than-average price point, with the average cappuccino here setting you back $4.65. Still, that equates to only 1% of annual income for a daily habit, thanks to San Jose’s strong average income.

One cafe in the San Jose area was named to Food and Wine’s Best Coffee list

Nearby Santa Cruz is home to Cat & Cloud, which F&W crowned as the third-best coffee shop in the country.

 

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Right now, Philly only has 16 cafes per 100,000 residents, though that number is sure to rise as coffee culture takes hold in the city.

Philadelphia has great coffee — but it’s not particularly affordable

The average cappuccino in Philly is $4.38, which is a hair more than the national average. For a year of weekday coffee drinking, that comes to $1,139 total.

One Philadelphia establishment was recognized by Food and Wine’s Best Coffee list

South Philly’s laid-back Herman’s Coffee was called out by F&W as an elite coffee shop.

 

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San Diego is tied with Portland for the second-most coffee-related Google searches, indicating that there’s a ton of enthusiasm for coffee in this beachside city.

San Diego coffee costs around the same as the national average

A cappuccino in sunny San Diego is only 10 cents more expensive than the national average, though a daily habit will cost the average San Diego resident 1.8% of their annual income.

One San Diego-area coffee establishment was recognized by Food and Wine’s Best Coffee list

Ironsmith Coffee, a combination roaster-cafe just blocks from the beach in Encinitas, was singled out by F&W as one of the best in the country.

 

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Riverside boasts the fourth-cheapest cappuccino on this list at only $3.79 a cup. That comes to only $985 a year for a daily drinker.

There aren’t many coffee shops in Riverside

Strangely, this college town only has 9 shops per 100,000 people. But the shops that are there are very high quality!

One Riverside coffee establishment was recognized by Food and Wine’s Best Coffee list

F&W singled out Riverside’s Arcade Coffee, located in a former video store, as the sixth-best coffee shop in America.

 

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This smallish Connecticut city is a coffee powerhouse, with 21 shops per 100,000 people.

Hartford residents are constantly on the hunt for coffee

Residents of Hartford conduct more coffee-related Google searches than 78% of the top 50 coffee cities. These people need their coffee!

Hartford coffee isn’t cheap, though

The average cappuccino here costs $4.50, slightly above the national average.

One Hartford coffee establishment was recognized by Food and Wine’s Best Coffee list

New shop Story & Soil was selected as one of the country’s finest cafes.

 

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This trailblazer in the coffee world has the second-most coffee shops per capita: 27 per 100,000 residents. So why isn’t it ranked higher?

Seattle coffee isn’t all that affordable

The average cappuccino in Seattle is going to set you back $5.06, which is quite a bit more than the national average. Still, a daily coffee habit will only cost the average Seattle resident 1.6% of their annual income thanks to salaries on the higher end.

Three Seattle coffee establishments made Food and Wine’s Best Coffee list

Espresso Vivace (three locations around the city), relative newcomer Milstead & Co., and minimalist bar/cafe Sound and Fog were all recognized for excellence.

 

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The Steel City boasts a super affordable cappuccino, at $3.96 on average, for an annual cost of only $1,030.

People in Pittsburgh conduct a lot of Google searches about coffee

Pittsburgh has around 16 coffee shops per 100,000 residents, and the locals are always hunting them down, as they conduct more coffee-related searches than half the cities on this top 15 list.

Two Pittsburgh coffee shops made Food and Wine’s Best Coffee list

Roastery-slash-cafe Common Place Coffee and Espresso a Mano, in the hip Lawrenceville neighborhood, were both recognized by F&W among America’s finest coffee establishments.

 

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At $3.72 a cup, Cincinnati offers one of the most affordable cappuccinos in America, and is one of the few cities where your daily caffeine habit will cost you less than $1,000 a year.

While there isn’t that much coffee in Cincinnati, what’s there is great

Cincinnati has only 11 cafes per 100,000 people, which is a lot less than most of the cities on this list. Still, it offers high-quality coffee that’s super affordable, which earns the city its spot on this list.

One local Cincinnati coffee shop made Food and Wine’s Best Coffee list

Mom ‘n ‘Em, located on the ground floor of a historic Cincinnati brownstone, was recognized as one of the country’s best cafes. (And in case you get over-caffeinated, they also serve wine!)

 

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It makes sense that coffee would be so popular in the city where they threw tea in the harbor. (Insert your own Dunkin’ Donuts reference here.)

Coffee is fairly affordable in Boston — and there’s a lot of it

A daily cappuccino only sets Bostonians back 1.4% of their annual income, which ranks third-best in the U.S., and has 22 coffee shops per 100,000 residents.

Three Boston-area coffee shops made Food and Wine’s Best Coffee list

Local chain George Howell (five Boston locations), classy roastery-slash-cafe Gracenote Coffee, and Little Wolf of Ipswich were all singled out for praise.

 

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In Providence, the average cappuccino ($4.12) is slightly less expensive than the national average of $4.36, which means a daily habit will only set you back $1,071 a year.

Providence has a ton of coffee shops and roasteries

Providence boasts 23 coffee shops per 100,000 people, or about one shop every 4 square miles.

Providence has its own signature local coffee drink

Coffee milk is the official Rhode Island state beverage, and is made by mixing coffee syrup (created by filtering hot water and sugar through coffee grounds) with milk. It’s sort of a blend of Turkish coffee and chocolate milk, and is extremely popular in Rhode Island, though rarely found outside the state.

 

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Buffalo is famously affordable, and its coffee is no exception: The average cappuccino here costs $3.67, good for second-most affordable on our list. A cup every weekday comes to only $954 a year!

Buffalo has a lot of coffee shops, too

This small upstate NY city has around 20 coffee shops per 100,000 people, one every 7 square miles or so.

New York state boasts an elite coffee culture

While Food and Wine didn’t single out any Buffalo establishments, several shops in New York City received gold stars, including historic Caffe ReggioBox Kite Coffee in Manhattan, and Brooklyn’s Sey Coffee in Bushwick, which captured the top spot on the list. Clearly, some of this excellence is filtering upstate!

 

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Coffee is exceedingly affordable to the average San Franciscan, who only shells out 1% of their annual income on a daily cappuccino. (Of course, this is also a function of San Francisco’s high average income.)

San Francisco has a ton of coffee options

San Francisco has 23 coffee shops per 100,000 residents, and a coffee shop every 2 square miles, making it one of the most coffee-saturated cities in America.

San Francisco had two entries on Food and Wine’s Best Coffee list

SF’s Caffe Trieste was one of the first coffee houses of its kind in America, and is still going strong, while Nob Hill’s The Coffee Movement was singled out for its excellent attention to detail.

 

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Portland boasts the most coffee shops per capita (27 per 100,000 people) — nearly twice the national average — as well as the most enthusiastic coffee drinkers, as evidenced by their U.S.-leading number of coffee-related Google searches.

For a booming city, Portland’s coffee is pretty affordable

Portland’s real estate market and general cost of living has been rising precipitously for the past decade, so it’s remarkable that the average price of a cappuccino here ($4.30) is slightly lower than the national average.

Portland had an impressive three entries on Food and Wine’s Best Coffee list

Good Coffee, in the historic downtown Woodlark Hotel, light-roast pioneer Heart Coffee, and downtown upstart Never Coffee all received recognitions for excellence.

 

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Milwaukee combines great coffee affordability with a vibrant coffee culture. A cappuccino here costs only $3.56 on average — 22% less than the national average.

You can have a cappuccino every weekday of the year in Milwaukee for under $1,000

One of only five cities where the annual cost of one cappuccino each weekday comes in at less than $1,000, Milwaukee coffee drinkers spend only $926.

One of the country’s best coffee shops is just down the road

Ruby Coffee Roasters in Stevens Point, Wis., was named by Food and Wine as one of the best roasters in the country, proving that Wisconsin coffee culture is on the rise.

 

This article originally appeared on Clever and was syndicated by MediaFeed.org.

 

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Featured Image Credit: jacoblund.

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