All too often, we don’t give a second thought to the food and drinks we put into our bodies. An extra cup of coffee here or a soda there shouldn’t hurt too much, right?
Unfortunately, according to current research, what we drink has a significant impact on our health. In this article, we’ll focus on one portion of the body that is affected by our drink choices: the cardiovascular system. Specifically, we will investigate how three popular beverages —coffee, alcohol, and soda —affect your blood pressure.
How does caffeine affect your heart?
According to the 2020 statistics gathered by The National Coffee Association, nearly 70% of Americans drink at least one cup of coffee a week. That is a staggering statistic that demonstrates just how ubiquitous coffee drinking has become in our society.
But just because we accept coffee as a standard part of our diet, doesn’t mean it’s without detriment to the health of our cardiovascular system. The effect that coffee has on blood pressure is primarily due to its caffeine content. For our purposes here, assume any mention of coffee refers to the average 8 oz cup of coffee, which contains 95 mg of caffeine.
Also, it’s crucial to keep in mind that the FDA recommends limiting daily caffeine intake to less than 400 mg.
Short-term effects of coffee on blood pressure
There is general agreement that coffee tends to increase short-term blood pressure slightly. The caffeine in coffee falls under the umbrella of “stimulants” (substances that excite the systems throughout our body). When we ingest caffeine, we tend to experience an increase in “excitement”—especially in our cardiovascular system.
For most healthy individuals, this excitement causes our heart rate and blood pressure to rise and then lower back down to baseline levels. Therefore, moderate coffee consumption is considered safe for individuals who don’t have any pre-existing cardiovascular conditions.
Long-term effects of coffee on blood pressure
When we look at the long-term effects coffee has on blood pressure, things get a bit more complicated, and scientific studies have not found a consistent answer.
Because coffee contains substances other than caffeine, there are additional factors to consider besides the stimulant effect. Coffee contains polyphenols, fibers, and vitamins, such as potassium. These substances may actually lower blood pressure over time. Studies have attempted to determine the optimum amount of coffee a person should drink each day to balance health benefits with potential health consequences. Unfortunately, these recommendations can vary significantly.
So, while the jury may still be out on whether coffee is detrimental to our health in the long term, the FDA recommendation is 400 milligrams per day, which is equivalent to four to five cups of coffee—depending on the brew. Those who already have higher than average blood pressure (>120/80 mm Hg) should limit their caffeine consumption. You should also avoid vigorous activity shortly after consuming coffee due to the compounded effect that caffeine and exercise have on raising blood pressure.
Those who do not already have high blood pressure should limit themselves to less than 5 cups of coffee a day to stay under the 400 mg/day recommendation from the FDA.
How does alcohol affect your heart?
Much like coffee, alcohol is a significant part of life for many. According to the CDC, over 5% of adults in the U.S. drink heavily. Adult men drink 14 or more alcoholic beverages each week, and females drink 7 or more alcoholic beverages each week. Let’s take a look at how drinking alcohol may impact our blood pressure.
Short-term effects of alcohol on blood pressure
According to the Mayo Clinic, consuming more than three alcoholic drinks in one sitting results in temporarily elevated blood pressure. Additionally, foods often served with alcohol tend to be high in salt content—which may also raise blood pressure.
With that said, a few of your favorite alcoholic beverages on a night out won’t hurt, but heavy or binge drinking can lead to short-term spikes in blood pressure that may cause significant cardiac health consequences.
Long-term effects of alcohol on blood pressure
There’s little debate in the scientific field: long-term, heavy alcohol consumption may lead to long term health risks such as:
- Heart disease
- Liver disease
- Digestive issues
While some studies have shown that moderate alcohol consumption can provide cardiovascular benefits, many doctors question this assertion. It’s suggested that people take up exercise and/or institute healthy dietary changes instead of increasing their daily alcohol intake to improve their heart health.
How does soda affect your heart health?
You would be hard-pressed to make a case for soda as a healthy drink option. The beverage contains shockingly high levels of sugar and has almost no other nutrient content.
We could talk about the many health consequences resulting from regular soda intake, but we will instead focus specifically on how soda affects blood pressure.
Short-term effects of soda on blood pressure
Studies have found conflicting evidence regarding the effect sugar has on blood pressure. This meta-analysis (a study of many studies) determined that ingesting sugar can indeed lead to increased blood pressure. Because of the caffeine and high quantities of sugar in soft drinks, these bubbly beverages may lead to short-term increases in blood pressure.
Long-term effects of soda on blood pressure
A 2010 study published by Circulation, an American Heart Association Journal, found that reduced sugar-sweetened beverages intake “is positively associated with blood pressure independently of weight change and other risk factors for blood pressure.”
This study sought to evaluate the effects of sugar-sweetened beverages, including soda, among adults in the United States by determining the relationship between increased sugar beverage consumption and changes in blood pressure.
Whether your goal is to lose weight, keep your heart healthy, or just feel better, it’s a good idea to avoid soda. These sugary drinks can lead to several health issues and are almost never considered a good, health-conscious choice.
The Takeaway: Beverages Impact Our Heart Health
Just as we analyze the food we eat, we should ensure our drinks don’t harm our bodies.
While the saying “moderation is best in all things” may prove true in this case, it’s important to pay attention to what and how much we put into our bodies. Prioritizing our diet and nutrition is the foundation to achieving optimal health and wellbeing.
Hydration is one of the most important components of the overall functionality of our bodies, so take the time to read labels and choose your beverages carefully.