Is it good? Is it bad? How much is too much? We're breaking down all you need to know about coffee.

By Carolyn Williams, PhD, RD
August 26, 2020
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I can't imagine starting my day without coffee. A warm cup makes getting up early on weekdays a little easier and lazy weekend mornings a little more enjoyable. There are lots of mixed messages about coffee out there though, and coffee is something I regularly get asked about as a dietitian: Is it good? Is it bad? How much is too much?

The good news is a cup of coffee — or even three cups — is typically fine for most people, possibly even beneficial. But it's important to know when you might be close to crossing the line to unhealthy coffee-drinking. Keep reading because I'm breaking down exactly what you need to know about coffee.

Is Coffee Good or Bad?

Coffee lovers, you're in luck because evidence suggests that the benefits of drinking coffee tend to outweigh potential harm. In fact, regularly drinking coffee is associated with a decreased risk for death, heart disease, stroke, certain cancers, type 2 diabetes, liver conditions like cirrhosis, and brain diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

Coffee's health benefits stem from the fact that roasted coffee beans are packed with bioactive compounds, offering antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties comparable to what's found in fruits, vegetables, and tea. Because of this, the majority of research points toward there not only being little harm from drinking coffee, but also health benefits, for most people.

How Much Coffee Is Healthy? How Much Coffee Is Too Much?

If you search one of these questions, you'll likely get the frustratingly vague answer to "consume coffee in moderate amounts." But what exactly does moderate consumption mean, particularly in terms of cups or Starbucks grandes? The answer isn't straight-forward, and here's why: any risk from coffee consumption appears to come from the caffeine in it, not necessarily coffee itself. This means "moderate amounts" are based on one's total daily caffeine intake.

The FDA and the Dietary Guidelines advise not exceeding 400 milligrams of caffeine each day, and most people stay well under this amount. But excessive intake above that amount can cause negative side effects like increased heart rate, restlessness, agitation, insomnia, headache, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.

Coffee tends to be a primary source of caffeine for many, but it's important to also remember other caffeine sources. Teas and chocolate contain small amounts of caffeine, while energy drinks may contain 150 to 300 milligrams.

How Many Cups of Coffee Can I Have?

Not going beyond four to five cups of coffee is generally considered moderate intake. This amount usually keeps total caffeine intake under 400 milligrams and provides a little wiggle room for chocolate or other minor caffeine sources. Keep in mind that this recommendation is based on "one cup" being about one cup or 8 fluid ounces, so this may mean fewer cups if your pour size is significantly bigger. Additionally, the coffee type and brewing style can impact caffeine amounts as you see below.

Coffee (8-ounce serving)

Caffeine Amount

1 K-cup

75 to 150 mg

1 Tbsp coffee grounds, used for brewing a cup

50 to 100 mg

Starbucks, Blonde or Pikes's Place

155 to 160 mg

Starbucks, decaf

12 mg

Other Caffeine Sources

Caffeine Amount

Brewed tea, 8 oz, black or green

30 to 50 mg

Soft drinks, 12 oz

30 to 70mg

Hershey's Kisses, 9 kisses

10 mg

Coffee ice cream, ½ cup

15 to 30 mg

Coffee Consensus

Don't feel guilty or unhealthy if you have more than one cup of coffee. Research suggests it's perfectly fine for most individuals and may even slightly reduce certain health risks. If you do consume two or more cups, keep tabs on your overall caffeine intake that day, or consider making a few decaf. Also, be aware of what you're putting in your coffee like cream, sugar, syrup, or other sweeteners. Caffeine may not be the only thing adding up when you go beyond one cup.

Carolyn Williams, PhD, RD, is author to the new cookbook, Meals That Heal: 100 Everyday Anti-Inflammatory Recipes in 30 Minutes or Less, and a culinary nutrition expert known for ability to simplify food and nutrition information. She received a 2017 James Beard Journalism award, and her work is regularly featured in or on respective websites for Cooking Light, RealSimple, Parents, Health, EatingWell, Allrecipes, My Fitness Pal, eMeals, Rally Health, and the American Heart Association. You can follower on Instagram @realfoodreallife_rd or on carolynwilliamsrd.com.