Everybody wants a good coffee. One reason is that coffee is potentially the biggest source of antioxidant power the world over. The other reason is, well, because good coffee is addictive; in a good way.

Although researchers are still en route to justifying things 100 percent, antioxidant properties in coffee can help in losing weight, prevent diabetes and protect one from some forms of cancer – all of which are major health issues faced by an alarmingly expanding number of people across the globe.

Antioxidants in a Flash

The connecting line among these conditions is that they are all traceable back to high toxin levels in the body. Cancer, heart disease, diabetes, premature ageing, and some forms of cognitive decline disorders linked to inadequate antioxidant levels or function in the body.

Antioxidants are “cleaners” and oxidise free radicals in the body to form harmless substances that can then be flushed out of the bloodstream and body, naturally. In this case, antioxidants can be derived from a drink – and coffee is its name.

Coffee has had a negative health reputation

New research indicates that taking 3-5 cups of coffee on a daily basis can serve up to 60 percent of your daily antioxidant intake requirement. Conversely, coffee has been touted as toxic in itself, primarily due to its stimulant caffeine content.

In fact, a Nestle-backed study in the UK in December of 2010 showed that only about 8 percent of the 2027 respondents considered coffee to be a food type to consider adding to their post-Christmas antioxidants list. In contrast, 35 percent thought tea was an excellent antioxidant. Of the number, 59 percent thought blackcurrants were the boom and 40 percent vouched for dark chocolate.

Despite its controversial reputation as far as health matters, coffee is still a deterrent and wildly popular beverage as ever–more than scotch. Coffee statistics provided by The Specialty Coffee Association of America and National Coffee Association prove the following:

  • 1. About half the population of the US are avid coffee drinkers
  • 2. These 150+ million people average about 3.1 cups of coffee daily
  • 3. The average person drinks 1.6 cups of coffee per day
  • 4. 35 percent prefer black coffee, and 65 percent prefer to add sugar or cream.

In October 2015 alone, worldwide coffee exports topped the 8.74 million bags mark. However, that figure was lower than September’s 8.87 million bags, according to the International Coffee Organisation (ICO).

So, what has changed in just three years? What antioxidants does coffee have that you may not have heard of already? Why coffee?

Antioxidants in Coffee

In 2005, a study that was principally backed financially by the American Cocoa Association, and broadcast to the world by the lead researcher Joe Vinson, indicated that coffee contained more antioxidant properties than previously thought. Unfortunately, at the time, those antioxidant properties he found only showed up after at a particular point in the coffee-roasting process. That means that at a precise point in roasting, the antioxidants benefits in coffee could be captured, or squashed.

How to prepare coffee matters. The processing method significantly affects antioxidant activity. For example, roasted coffee contains more antioxidants than non-roasted coffee does.

In particular, though, a few other studies have established some truths about coffee antioxidants. While most of the known antioxidants come from minerals and coloured fruits and vegetables, some other compounds do contain antioxidant properties—and these are some of the ones found in coffee beverages.

Here are conclusive, and in some cases, ongoing research and findings on things coffee as an antioxidant.

1. Cafestol

Cafestol in coffee beans is still available even after decaffeination. Cafestol acts as a bile acid modulator in the intestine. It is also a potent anti-inflammatory substance in the brain and (decaffeinated) coffee may help improve memory, according to the Science Daily.

2. Trigonelline

This compound is anti-bacterial and may help prevent dental caries. Trigonelline, coffee’s bitter alkaloid, also adds to the unique aroma of coffee.

The compound is 10 times higher in roast coffee that green coffee and is also significantly higher content for Arabica than Robusta coffee. What else to note is how it degrades when roasted. The darker the roast, the lesser the Trigonelline content left. When roast, Trigonelline partially degrades to form nicotinic acid and pyridines.

Nicotinic acid is also known as Vitamin B3 (or niacin), which is a well-known antioxidant. By demethylating Trigonelline at high temperatures of between 160 degree Celsius and 230 degree Celsius, roasters can gain vitamin B3 when 85 percent Trigonelline decomposes. What really matters is the temperature applied as opposed to how long the coffee lasts in the heat.

3. Chlorogenic Acid

Chlorogenic acid (CGA) is abundant in both green and roasted coffee. According to the Journal of Nutrition, CGA stands in for a large number of esterified compounds – it is the ester of caffeic acid, for example.

The phenolic compound is a core player in antioxidant, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory activity in the body. Lactones found in CGA have also shown to enhance insulin function in lab rats. If it worked in humans, CGA might be used to fight diabetes. Green coffee is cited as a primary source of CGA, and tests conducted in rats and humans lead to findings that CGAs helps curb fat accumulation in the body and boost metabolism rate. However, this study used decaffeinated coffee only and no regular coffee at all.

Other Phenols

In particular, Hydroxycinnamic acid contains some of the most active antioxidant properties in a coffee beverage. Hydroxycinnamic acid is cited as a powerful oxidising agent that neutralises free radicals and aids in curbing the adverse effects of oxidative stress. To single out three of the most abundant:

  • 3-Caffeoylquinic acid
  • 4-Caffeoylquinic acid
  • 5-Caffeoylquinic acid

For example, 3-Caffeoylquinic acid is quoted in two studies as consisting of phenolic acid, a compound found abundantly in coloured fruits and vegetables and is the major ingredient behind antioxidant powers in both antioxidants-rich foods.

One of the studies is Mattila P., Kumpulainen J. (2002). Published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry (50: 3660-3667) with diode-array detection, it tested and analysed a 40mg/100ml sample of coffee drink and established that coffee beverages do contain phenolic acid—evidence pointing to the antioxidant activity of coffee.

4. Melanoidins

Did you know that melanoidin is the reason behind that unique aroma when roasting coffee?

More importantly, coffee melanoidin is the brown coloured, nitrogenous compounds in coffee. The high molecular weight compounds are formed during the roasting process and carry anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, as indicated by one study published in the US National Library of Medicine.

5. Quinine

The bitter compound is one of the primary agents in coffee that give the latter some of its antioxidant properties. Quinine is derived from the bark of a tropical evergreen plant known as Cinchona tree—mainly used in Malaria treatment.

The bitterness in some coffee beans can be connected to elevated quinine content. Quinine and coffee belong to the same Rubiaceae family. But more importantly, quinine as an antioxidant becomes more potent after coffee is roasted significantly.Coffee beverages contain tiny amounts of quinine substance, though. Quinine is, in fact, harmful in larger quantities, and some people have allergic reactions to it. But the tiny amounts that have shown up in coffee sample tests are pretty little and approved by the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA).

6. Caffeine

Caffeine itself is an antioxidant, according to a study published in the Journal of Physical Chemistry B by ACS. Caffeinated drinks can help cure headaches, in losing weight and preventing diabetes. Recent comprehensive analysis of caffeine brought up interesting results that showed caffeine is structurally similar to uric acid—an established antioxidant.

Furthermore, caffeine can help men suffering from flushing, redness, as well as help in “depuffing” the skin, according to Jeffrey Benabio, M.D.

However, research is still ongoing into how, exactly, caffeine works as an antioxidant. What’s beyond doubt, though, is caffeine is most abundant in coffee—more than twice the amount found in tea. If caffeine indeed turned out to be a healthy antioxidant, the new information could revolutionise how caffeine is viewed the world over.

Coffee has more antioxidants than both green and black teas

Another study’s results presented by an Italian group of scientists, labels espresso coffee as having a FRAP of 129. Decaffeinated coffee ranks in with 93. The FRAP test stands for Ferric Reducing Antioxidant Power. It measures what chemical changes happen and how well those changes occur when a substance has interacted with various foods.

The same scale indicates both green and black teas to have a FRAP ranking of 18 and 10 respectively. That would mean that coffee does, in fact, have more antioxidant benefits than both types of tea.

FRAP is yet to review what exactly contributes to coffee’s antioxidant power, or exactly what chemicals or chemical compounds in coffee can be singled out as the chief antioxidant agents.

Coffee has more antioxidants than red wine

According to the research done for Nestle by polling organisation, YouGov, while 40 percent of the 2027 respondents thought red wine as a better solution as an antioxidant than coffee, this could not be further from the truth.

According to a 2010 study led by researcher Perez Jemenez.J, for every serving of 200 ml of soluble coffee, there is about 387 mg of antioxidants’ benefits. The findings, Identification of the 100 richest dietary sources of Polyphenols, established that red wine, on the other hand, served about 269 mg of the same benefits per 125ml serving. The difference may be little when the two are served in equal portions but a difference nevertheless.

Coffee: The world’s largest source of antioxidants

In the US for example, only about 21 percent of Americans intake their antioxidants from other food sources other than coffee. On a global scale, coffee is up top with oil as far as the most traded commodities in the world stack up. Also, the fact that new research also indicates coffee to comprise more antioxidants than the likes of tea and dark chocolate means that coffee is indeed up there with blueberries as a potent antioxidant.

Health Benefits of Coffee

To top this list of coffee antioxidants, here are some ways coffee is beneficial to your health.

1. Reduces risk of cancer

Coffee’s antioxidant properties have been linked in multiple studies to help flush out toxins that may lead to protein and DNA damage by free radicals. According to Dr. David Troup of Monash University, and one of the first scientists to discover that coffee has free radicals, coffee can react with harmful free radicals and help curb their adverse effects.Decaffeinated coffee drinkers are 15 percent less likely to develop colon cancer for up to 10 years compared with non-drinkers, according to another study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The same survey indicates that coffee intake can help curb rectal cancer as opposed to coffee consumption, which had no effect at all.

2. Curb premature ageing

In addition to preventing cancerous effects, antioxidants in coffee can help alleviate the danger that ultra-violet rays pose to the skin. As such, drinking coffee may help prevent skin cancer.

3. Prevent Cognitive Decline

Coffee consumption can help prevent mental disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and other forms of dementia. In one study, coffee consumption is shown to help women deal with stress, avoid depression and suicidal thoughts.

Health Risks of Coffee

Coffee is not without a couple of health issues. In fact, excessive consumption of coffee can lead to addiction and, ultimately, loss of life. Drinking more than 8 cups of coffee per day can lead to increased levels of bad cholesterol in the blood, result in excessive weight gain and diabetes.

Additionally, caffeine consumption can cause men with enlarged prostates to witness increased symptoms. Some compounds of coffee, such as melanoidin formed after roasting coffee, can trigger allergic reactions in some people. Pregnant women are also advised not to over-indulge in drinking coffee as it can lead to a miscarriage.

Bottom line

New research indicates that coffee antioxidants do make coffee a healthier antioxidant solution compared to other well known antioxidant compounds. Coffee’s primary source of antioxidant power reigns from its polyphenols, caffeine and CGAs components. But almost every study that credits coffee as a super antioxidant also highlights caffeine as a major health alarm to watch out for.

Apart from the fact that caffeine can easily be an addictive stimulant, it can also lead to a flurry of health issues such as increased levels of LDL (bad cholesterol), heart disease as well as muscular tremors. The latter could happen as a result of the inadequacy of magnesium in the body, an essential mineral that the body needs to regulate physiological processes such as cell energy absorption. It is, therefore, wise to take coffee in moderation. The benefits mentioned above result only from a moderate coffee intake.

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