Health Benefits of Black Coffee

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on December 14, 2022
7 min read

Black coffee is simply coffeewith nothing added – no cream, no milk, no sweetener. When you leave out those extra ingredients, you leave out the calories, fat, and sugar that come with them. That allows you to enjoy the health benefits of coffee without additives that aren’t as good for you. 

Consider this: An 8-ounce Starbucks Caramel Macchiato has 120 calories, 15 grams of sugar, and 4 grams of fat. The same amount of brewed black coffee has 2 calories, no sugar, and no fat.

There’s another possible, though minor, health benefit of black coffee. When you don’t dilute your coffee, you get the antioxidants and caffeine it contains at full strength. These components are thought to be responsible for most of coffee’s health benefits. But you’d have to add a lot of cream or sugar to weaken your coffee enough to make much difference.   

And what about coffee that looks blacker because it’s made of dark-roasted beans? It might seem logical that the darker the black coffee, the more health benefits it would have. Dark roast coffee has a darker appearance and fuller-bodied flavor than light or blonde roasts. However, the jury’s out on whether it’s better for you. For now, at least, it comes down to personal preference.   

Few studies have looked specifically at black coffee or compared it to coffee with cream, milk, or sugar. But a fair amount of research shows that you could get health benefits from drinking moderate amounts of coffee in general. While we need more and bigger studies to confirm coffee’s potential benefits, they include: 

Alzheimer’s disease prevention. More than one study has linked regular coffee intake to a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. How strong this effect was found to be varied from study to study. In one, for example, middle-aged people who drank three to four daily cups of coffee had a 65% lower risk of developing dementia when they got older. On the other hand, another study found that people who drank more than six cups of coffee a day had a 53% higher risk of dementia.

Parkinson’s disease prevention. Several studies have shown that the more coffee you drink, the less likely you are to develop Parkinson’s disease. If you already have Parkinson’s, it can help you gain better control over your movements. Scientists think caffeine is responsible for these benefits. 

Reduced risk of cancer. Studies have found that coffee may help lower the risk for some forms of cancer, including breast, colorectal, and liver cancers. Scientists believe this may be due to coffee’s antioxidants, substances that protect your cells against harmful molecules called free radicals. However, coffee may also contain very small amounts of a chemical called acrylamide, considered a possible carcinogen.

Reduced risk of cirrhosis. Research shows that drinking coffee can reduce your risk of the late-stage liver disease cirrhosis, especially when the damage comes from alcohol. One large study found that drinking four or more cups a day could reduce your risk of alcoholic cirrhosis by as much as 80%. Drinking the same amount may reduce your risk of non-alcoholic cirrhosis by up to 30%. 

Improved mood. Because caffeine is a stimulant, coffee is a known mood-booster.  Studies have shown that coffee may even help reduce your risk of depression, especially if you drink four or more cups per day.

Diabetes management. People who drink coffee regularly have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. With this condition, your body can’t use insulin to get glucose (sugar) into cells, so sugar builds up in your blood.

Multiple studies show that drinking coffee can reduce your chances of getting type 2 diabetes. One large study showed that for every extra cup of coffee a person drank each day, their diabetes risk dropped by 11%. Drinking one less cup of coffee per day increased the risk by 17%. But there’s a twist. If you already have type 2 diabetes, coffee can raise both blood sugar and insulin levels.

Weight management. It’s not a strong connection, but there’s some evidence that the caffeine in coffee could help with weight control. One study found that people who drank more caffeinated drinks were slightly less likely to gain weight than those who cut down on coffee and tea. Another showed that people who drank caffeinated beverages 30 minutes to 4 hours before meals tended to eat less.

Of course, drinking coffee with lots of high-calorie cream and sugar is likely to outweigh any weight-control benefits of caffeine.

Coffee beans are picked when they’re green, then roasted to bring out their flavor. How long they’re roasted, and at how high a temperature, affects how they taste. And their taste can help determine whether you like drinking them without creamer or sweetener. 

You can buy coffee that is:

  • Blonde or light roasted
  • Medium roasted
  • Dark roasted 

Darker roasts are roasted at a higher temperature, and for a longer time, than lighter roasts. The darker the roast, the stronger and more bitter the taste of the coffee. 

But it’s a myth that darker roasts have more caffeine. In truth, light-roasted coffee is slightly higher in caffeine

There hasn’t been a lot of research into whether dark-roast coffee has more or fewer health benefits than lighter roasts. And among the studies that do exist, results are mixed. Researchers have looked at:

Antioxidant levels. Light roasted coffee has been found to contain higher levels of the antioxidants polyphenol and chlorogenic acid than darker roasts. These compounds may be damaged during the longer, hotter roasting process for dark coffees. However, research has also shown that dark coffee may have higher total antioxidant activity.

Cholesterol-raising compound. A study that looked at coffee brewed without a filter (such as French press) found that dark roast coffee contained slightly less of a substance called cafestol than lighter roasts. Cafestol is thought to increase cholesterol levels. 

Digestive symptoms. One small study from 2004 concluded that the level of roasting made no difference in whether people who drank coffee got digestive symptoms like heartburn and stomachaches afterward. A newer but even smaller study found that people who drank dark roast produced less stomach acid than those who drank a medium roast. 

Weight control. Another small study found that overweight people who drank about 2 cups of dark roasted coffee a day lost slightly more weight during the 4-week study period than those who had the same amount of light roast coffee.

Blood sugar control. Eleven healthy volunteers had their blood sugar levels tested after drinking about 1 1/4 cups of either light roast or dark roast coffee. The researchers concluded that the roast made no difference in blood sugar control.

Coffee is rich in several types of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that reduce your risk of serious health conditions like cancer and heart disease by fighting cell damage. In fact, coffee is the biggest single source of antioxidants in most people’s diets. Coffee also contains moderate amounts of vitamin B2 and magnesium

Nutrients per serving. One 8-ounce serving of black coffee contains:

  • Calories: 2
  • Protein: 0 grams
  • Fat: 0 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 0 grams
  • Fiber: 0 grams
  • Sugar: 0 grams
  • Sodium: 5 milligrams

A single serving of black coffee is considered to be 8 ounces, much less than you might get in some cups you buy at a coffee shop or convenience store. 

The FDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans define a moderate amount of coffee as three to five cups a day, or about 400 milligrams of caffeine. But if you’re sensitive to caffeine, you might need to drink less than that. Keep in mind that some other drinks, such as teas and colas, contain caffeine, too.

Too much caffeine can cause jittery feelings, anxiety, insomnia, and a fast heart rate. It can also lead to digestive problems like an upset stomach and nausea. Coffee gives some people heartburn.

If you’re pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or breastfeeding, ask your doctor whether you should limit how much coffee you drink. 

You can buy coffee in any stage of readiness, from raw beans to brewed coffee from your local coffee shop. The taste of your coffee depends not only on the roast and the way you prepare it, but the type of bean used and where it comes from. 

If you want to try switching to black coffee, choose fresh, high-quality coffee. It will be more flavorful, making it easier to forgo milk and sugar. Freshly ground beans also tend to taste better, so you might want to invest in a small coffee grinder.

After that point, the way you prepare your coffee also affects its flavor. Try some of these ways of brewing black coffee, all of which have their fans:

  • An auto-drip coffee maker
  • The pour-over method
  • A French press
  • An AeroPress
  • The cold brew method

If you just can’t develop a taste for black coffee, try lower-fat, lower-calorie substitutions for cream and sugar. Use skim milk or unsweetened soy milk instead of cream or creamer. Try a small amount of artificial sweetener instead of sugar. Or just cut down on how much cream and sugar you use.   

Here are some ways you can include coffee in your diet besides drinking a morning cup  to wake up:

  • Try iced coffee in the summertime
  • Freeze coffee into cubes to make iced coffee without watering it down
  • Add coffee to marinades
  • Pour coffee over vanilla ice cream for an Italian dessert