Coffee and Caffeine: Benefits and Risks

The indispensable cup of coffee represents a typically Italian ritual, the result of a habit so deep-rooted that it leads numerous experts from the most varied disciplines to periodically pronounce on the benefits and risks of the beloved drink.

There are those who study its psychological aspects, those who investigate its organoleptic characteristics and those, like us, who study its relationship with human health.

Benefits of Coffee

Among the many nutritional components of coffee, the best known and most studied is undoubtedly caffeine, as it has important properties, such as:

  • the stimulatory effect on gastric and bile secretion (this is why it is believed that a coffee at the end of a meal facilitates digestion);
  • the tonic and stimulatory effect on cardiac and nervous function (this is why many people appreciate its energetic effect, useful among other things to avoid getting stuck after a large meal);
  • the lipolytic effect, i.e. promoting weight loss (caffeine stimulates the use of fats for energy purposes and thermogenesis, increasing the quantity of calories burned by the “man machine”);
  • the anorectic effect (coffee taken in large doses reduces appetite).

In addition to caffeine, coffee contains many substances whose potential beneficial role on the body is still being studied. In particular, several components have been isolated with strong antioxidant, antimutagenic and anti-inflammatory properties, which are however insufficient to compensate for the risk deriving from high coffee consumption.

How much coffee to drink

A reasonable limit is set at 300 milligrams of caffeine per day. Since an espresso provides on average 60 mg of caffeine and a mocha type 85, the calculations are easy to do. However, since caffeine is present in over 60 plant species, including chocolate and tea, the contribution of other foods must also be considered.

On the basis of these considerations, a limit of three cups of espresso per day is generally set – for women and men of slim build – and four cups for men who boast a more robust physical constitution (robust, for the record, is also the kind of coffee – Coffea robusta – richer in caffeine).

During pregnancy it is a good idea to limit coffee consumption as much as possible, as high doses of caffeine are dangerous for the health of the fetus.


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