A few sips into your morning Starbucks order, you can already feel the buzzing effects. You might feel more alert, energetic, and euphoric, and some people even report feeling their heart pitter-pattering faster than usual. Sure, your morning latte feels good, but is that stimulating effect good or bad for your ticker?
As with many things, moderation is key. (It’s cliche for a reason, right?). There’s a big difference between starting your day with a cappuccino and guzzling a cuppa joe an hour during your eight-hour office stint. “Coffee to a point can be okay,” says Satjit Bhusri, MD, a cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital. “Too much coffee can lead to over-activity [or] over-stimulation of your heart, causing it to work harder than it needs to work.”
An espresso with your breakfast can slightly increase your pulse temporarily, but it probably won’t lead to heart disease, according to Paul Knoepflmacher, MD, a clinical instructor in medicine at The Mount Sinai Hospital. “In most cases, coffee doesn’t really raise your blood pressure,” says Knoepflmacher. “Unless you’re drinking massive amounts, a normal amount of coffee [or tea] doesn’t have a negative effect.”
So what’s safe? The American Heart Association suggests that a moderate amount of coffee—one to two cups a day—does not have a negative effect on on your risk of heart disease. (Here are symptoms of heart disease to be aware of.)
This is not a one-size-fits-all recommendation, however. “For some people, they’re more caffeine-sensitive than others and they just feel anxious or [like] they have an elevated heart rate after having caffeine,” says Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, a nutritionist in New York City. Cutting back or switching to decaf coffee may help.
A moderate amount of coffee can even have some benefits. “There have been some studies that show that a modest intake of coffee and caffeine can actually be heart-healthy,” says Dr. Knoepflmacher. A 2015 study of more than 25,000 young and middle-aged adults found that those who drank one to five cups of coffee a day actually had the lowest prevalence of coronary artery calcium buildup, which can be an early sign of heart disease. Those who drank fewer than one cup or more than five cups daily were more likely to have calcium on the walls of their arteries, regardless of age, sex, or whether they smoked or drank alcohol.
One main reason for coffee’s health benefits? Its antioxidants. These nutrients may provide some protection against damage to your body’s cells, and coffee happens to be one of the most potent sources of antioxidants in the average American’s diet, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. (You can also find antioxidants in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts.)
But, truth time: what you add to your coffee also matters. Saturated fat, found in heavy creams and whole milk, can raise levels of bad cholesterol and sneak in extra calories. Stick to low-fat or soy milk (or go milk-free) to keep your drink friendly to your arteries. Sprinkling in multiple sugar packets per cup isn’t doing your heart any favors either. Here are more tips for brewing healthier coffee.
A final word of caution: Because coffee is a mild diuretic, which means it can slightly increase your need to urinate, drinking nothing but coffee all day can put you at risk of dehydration. (Here are symptoms of dehydration to look out for.) “My rule to my patients is, ‘For every cup of coffee you drink, chase that with the same cup of water,’” says Dr. Bhusri.
Not sure if your coffee-drinking habits would get the stamp of approval? Look for these signs of coffee overload.