How Much Coffee Is Too Much?

How Much Coffee Is Too Much?

How much coffee is too much coffee, and what types of coffee should you consciously avoid?

“(800 AD) Goats will eat anything. Just ask Kaldi the legendary Ethiopian goatherd. Kaldi, the story goes, noticed his herd dancing from one coffee shrub to another, grazing on the cherry-red berries containing the beans. He copped a few himself and was soon frolicking with his flock. Witnessing Kaldi’s goatly gambol, a monk plucked berries for his brothers. That night they were uncannily alert to divine inspiration” - via National Geographic.

Voilà! Coffee is born. And now over 400 billion cups of coffee are consumed every year. Want to know a ridiculous fact? Well I’m going to tell you anyway. Americans get more antioxidants from COFFEE than from any other food or beverage.

What are antioxidants? They're the heart-disease protecting, cancer-fighting, immune-boosting stuff in fruits and veggies and nuts and spices. And research shows that a cup or two of joe a day may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, Alzheimers, and cirrhosis, Parkinson's, colon cancer and liver cancer.

Great, right? But of course, as with everything, it’s a double edged sword cause research also shows that consumption of more than 2-3 cups of coffee a day may lead to problems like osteoporosis and high blood pressure. This is largely due to the caffeine content.

So what’s the dilly-o with caffeine? Research says that consuming around 300mg/day is safe. Caffeine isn't only found in coffee, though. It's also found in tea, chocolate, soda and diet soda, energy drinks, and over the counter meds. And ice cream!

FYI: 1 2oz shot Espresso has about 100mg caffeine. So, dang, drinking 2 grande coffees from Starbucks is more than doubling the "safe" amount. (Don’t judge, for some of us that mayyy be realistic)

What are the down sides of too much caffeine? Well it’s a stimulant, so side effects include insomnia, restlessness, irritability, fast/irregular heartbeat, headaches and anxiety. And this doesn’t only effect you coffee consumers- it also goes for you Redbull, Monster, soda, Jack3d, and 5-hour energy drinkers.

Unfortunately it’s not just the caffeine we want to be careful about. We also have to watch it with the additives. While coffee is pretty much zero-calorie, it doesn't take much for those calories from milk, cream and sugar to add up to more than a meal or dessert. And I don't know about you, but I usually prefer to eat my dessert, not drink it.

If you're not a typical calorie-conscious consumer, here's a little breakdown of some popular Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts coffee drinks: 


Ok, conclusion? WAY too much of our limited incomes/student loans end up in Mr.& Mrs. Starbucks and The Dunkin Donuts familys’ wallets.

Nutrition conclusion? Unless you're considering coffee a dessert or a meal -which will in no way keep you satiated- definitely try to keep the beverage under 200 calories once a day. If you need more than that, I would recommend to switch it back to good ol’ fashion cup-o-joe and add milk.

Helpful hints: Nix the whipped cream, which can be as bad as sour cream, and say thanks but no thanks to the sugary syrups in lattes and caramel-y extras on the frapps (although they do make it look pretty). Go for low-fat or skim milk instead of whole, half and half or cream. Aside from the decreased calorie content, low-fat and skim are far lower in saturated fat (the bad, artery-clogging, cholesterol raising stuff).

As for the sugar-free syrups and “skinny lattes”? A pump or two of sugar free hazelnut or vanilla, etc., is not likely going to be detrimental to your health. But are you then adding even more calorie-free sweeteners? Without getting too crazy on the subject, we don’t know the long term effects of all of these man-made sugar replacements. Don't go overboard with ‘em. Instead use coffee time as an opportunity to try other spices like cinnamon or nutmeg.

Guidance on number of cups per day? Try to keep your upper limit to 2-3 cups. If you're just into the taste, substitute one or more of those cups for decaf. And there ya have it dudes, your coffee talk for the year.

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Carolyn Brown's picture

About the Author

Carolyn is a Nutritionist/Registered Dietitian and has her masters in Clinical Nutrition from NYU. She went to Tulane in New Orleans for undergrad, spent 3 months traveling around the world on Semester at Sea and then swung through Boulder, CO before landing in her current home of NYC. Carolyn has a blog called One Smart Brownie (www.onesmartbrownie.com) to simplify healthy eating for those who don’t spend their lives studying nutrition. Her favorite hobbies include getting new stamps on her passport and telling yo mama jokes, and she says that if she were to have a crush on a food it would be chocolate biscotti, no questions asked.