Coffee and diabetes: helpful or harmful?

I didn’t drink coffee until I was thirty-seven years old, when my youngest just wouldn’t sleep through the night and I was desperate for a pick-me-up first thing in the morning. Coffee and diabetes weren’t top of mind for me back then, I was just trying to make it through the day without falling asleep at my desk. Thankfully, those sleepless nights are over, but I developed a love for coffee during my son’s early years. It may seem too good to be true that coffee can be good for you. So, is coffee a guilty pleasure or a natural superfood?

You’ll be glad to know that there is a science to support the idea that coffee is good for you, but as with most things, quality matters.

Choose a healthy coffee

A heaping spoonful of low-quality instant coffee (or the coffee you might buy at most gas stations) is likely made from cheap, low-quality coffee beans. These beans may contain more defects (such as insect damage, over-fermentation, and oxidization) and they may also contain higher levels of mold. Many of the benefits of the coffee compounds will still be present, but so will some harmful components.

I’ve recently started drinking Purity Coffee, which is tested to be free of contaminants. Purity Coffee is the only coffee I’ve been able to find that is produced with health as the top consideration. This coffee comes from organically grown plants and is packed in nitrogen-flushed bags. Not only is Purity Coffee free of contaminants, but it is also roasted to have the highest concentration of antioxidants and the lowest risk of carcinogenic compounds.

Health benefits of coffee


Coffee contains a group of antioxidants known as chlorogenic acids or CGAs. These components protect you from damaging free radicals. Chemically speaking, free radicals are unbalanced molecules in search of an extra electron. The need for completion makes them volatile and likely to cause damage to other molecules in the area. CGAs (antioxidants) eliminate these oxidizing molecules in the body. That’s why they’re called “antioxidants.”

Coffee is actually the richest source of antioxidants in the western diet. It has more antioxidants than “superfoods’” like blueberries and kale.

Coffee and type 2 diabetes

This 2014 study showed that participants who increased their coffee consumption by more than 1 cup per day over a 4 year period had an 11% lower risk of type 2 diabetes in the subsequent 4 years compared with those who made no changes in their coffee consumption. Participants who decreased their coffee intake by more than 1 cup per day had a 17% higher risk for type 2 diabetes.

Coffee and liver disease

This meta-analysis (an analysis of numerous research projects) suggests a 40% reduced risk of liver cancer in coffee drinkers. Research also suggests that coffee consumption is associated with a lower risk of other liver conditions as well.

Coffee and heart health

This recent study suggests a lower risk of atrial fibrillation among men who consume 1-3 cups of coffee per day. Atrial fibrillation is a type of irregular heartbeat that can lead to further complications, like blood clots.

Coffee and cancer

Coffee is valued for its high antioxidant value and phytochemicals (beneficial components of plants), so it is no surprise that coffee has been linked to a lower risk for certain types of cancers. It also may promote longevity. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, “coffee drinkers may live longer than non-coffee drinkers, having a lower risk of dying from many cancers – as well as other chronic diseases.”

Coffee and Athletic Performance

Athletes who took in caffeine before exercise burned 15% more calories for three hours after exercise than those who didn’t.

A little caffeine post-workout may have benefits too. Compared to consuming carbohydrates alone, a caffeine/carb combo was shown to increase muscle glycogen (fuel stored in the muscle) by 66% after intense exercise, allowing athletes to exercise harder and longer next time.

A word of caution about caffeine

Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing! If you are sensitive to caffeine or if you have high blood pressure or heart disease, consult your physician before adding regular (caffeinated) coffee to your diet for health reasons. More than 2-4 cups of coffee per day are potentially unsafe.

Start cooking with coffee…

Drink it hot or pour yourself a nice glass of cold-brewed coffee…

Because coffee acids are better extracted at high temperatures, cold brew can be up to 60% less acidic than hot brewed coffee. Many people love the smoother, sweeter flavor of cold brew. Since fewer acids are extracted than from a typical heated brewing process, it doesn’t have the same bitter bite to it that can be off-putting for some.

Coffee isn’t just for drinking, try cooking with it! Here are a few delicious coffee recipes for you to try.

Ultimate Energy Bites

  • 1  1/2 cup pecans, raw

  • 4 Medjool dates, pitted

  • 1 Tbs chia seeds

  • 1 tsp coffee beans, ground

  • 1 tsp cocoa powder

  • 2 Tbs coconut oil, unsweetened

  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

  • salt to taste


  1. Add pecans to the food processor and pulse until finely ground.

  2. Add rest of ingredients and process until combined.

  3. Roll into 12 bites [serving size = 1 bite].

  4. Refrigerate until firm then dust with cocoa powder if desired.

Salted Caramel Latte Smoothie

  • 1 banana, frozen

  • 1 cup coffee, brewed, chilled, or frozen into ice cubes (see notes)

  • 1 cup almond milk, unsweetened

  • 1 Tbsp cocoa powder, unsweetened

  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

  • 3 Medjool dates, pitted

  • 1/8 tsp salt

  • 1 Tbsp ground flaxseed


  1. Brew coffee and chill or place in ice cube trays and freeze.

  2. Place all ingredients in blender and process until smooth and creamy. Add ice cubes as desired.

Vegan Coffee Bean Cashew Butter

  • 2 cup cashews, raw, soaked

  • 1 Tbsp coffee beans, ground

  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

  • salt, to taste

  • 1 Tbsp maple syrup


  1. Place cashews in a bowl and cover with hot water. Let stand for at least 1 hour or overnight.

  2. Add all ingredients to the food processor and process until smooth and creamy.

  3. Enjoy with sliced apple

The bottom line about coffee and diabetes

Yes, coffee can be beneficial for people with diabetes. Just be careful about how much caffeine you take in — 2 to 4 cups a day is the limit for most people. Wondering what to put in that coffee? Find out all you need to know about sugar vs. artificial sweeteners.

Disclosure: Some of the links provided here reflect my partnership with a brand I trust.

Julie Cunningham has been a Registered Dietitian since 1997. An expert in diabetes care, she believes food good is the foundation of good health. When not talking about food, writing about food, or eating delicious food, she can be found in the the mountains of western NC, where she lives with her family and four legged friends.

Julie Cunningham

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