In many ways coffee is a fascinating drink, because it is so prevalent in society, yet there are a large number of negative connotations associated with it.
After all, high levels of coffee consumption are often associated with other so-called vices, such as poor eating habits or smoking.
However, it is becoming evident that there are some significant health benefits to drinking coffee, particularly when it is consumed in moderation.
One of the key questions underlying this discussion is, does coffee have antioxidants?
What are Antioxidants?
Antioxidants are compounds that are most commonly associated with fruits and vegetables, particularly in foods like blueberries, strawberries and raspberries. Antioxidants are particularly significant because they have the potential to decrease some types of damage that occurs within cells.
In particular, antioxidants target free radicals, which are single electrons formed in some reactions that involve water. Free radicals are highly reactive and have the potential to start chain reactions.
These reactions can often be damaging, such as causing harm to cell membranes and even to DNA.
One of the key reasons that the reactions of free radicals are so concerning is that they have been linked to aging (1). Some research suggests that some of the negative outcomes of aging, such as decreases in energy, may occur as the result of free radicals, indicating that antioxidants may have the potential to extend life.
Likewise, antioxidants are also believed to play a role in the prevention of heart disease and strokes, although research into this area is still ongoing.
The level of antioxidants is higher in fruits and vegetables, but people tend to get high amounts of antioxidants from coffee simply because it is consumed so frequently (2).
After all, people consume coffee on such a regular basis, regardless of their income level, their eating habits or their nutritional awareness.
In comparison, other sources of antioxidants are often consumed only by people who are intentionally looking to include antioxidants in their diet.
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Does Coffee Have Antioxidants?
Antioxidants are actually present in a number of prepared drinks, including tea, coffee and cocoa.
Of all of these beverages, the antioxidant activity is highest for coffee per cup, and the addition of milk does not change the activity of the antioxidants (3).
The level of antioxidant activity was actually found to be higher in green coffee than in traditional roasted coffee. However, this was only the case when the green coffee was unroasted, meaning that this observation is irrelevant to a cup of coffee (4).
It might be surprising to think of coffee as having antioxidants, because it is perceived as unhealthy, but the drink does come from a plant originally, and coffee beans do have significant bioactive compounds.
In fact, research has consistently indicated that the regular consumption of coffee can decrease the likelihood for death (5).
Like many natural products, we simply do not know what it is about coffee that produces all of its health benefits. This isn’t unexpected, because coffee beans contain a large number of biochemical components, and we do not know what all of these are or how they interact with one another or with the human body.
Nutritional Benefits of Coffee
Even though coffee is still considered more as a vice than a virtue, the beverage is actually associated with a number of different health effects.
For example, one review focused on the ability of coffee to affect many of the risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease, including blood pressure, antioxidant activity, inflammation and metabolic syndrome (5).
Additionally, coffee has also been associated with weight loss and improved physical performance as a result of the caffeine in the drink and its impact on the nervous system (6).
Likewise, coffee consumption has been associated with a decrease in risk of depression among females, suggesting that coffee may potentially play a role in preventing depression (7).
However, it is worth noting that there is a limit to how much coffee you can drink and still receive health benefits. For example, if you were drinking eight cups of coffee a day, you might have something to worry about, particularly due to the caffeine in coffee.
After all, excess caffeine can cause some significant and noticeable side effects, including anxiety and the inability to sleep (so, coffee right before bed probably isn’t a good idea).
The way that you consume coffee also has an influence on the health benefits that it offers. While adding sugar, milk or cream do not have a role on the antioxidants in coffee, they are significant in calories.
Most importantly, the calories from the additional components can quickly add up, particularly if you are drinking coffee multiple times in a day. Many people don’t take this into account, and find out that coffee actually promotes weight gain in them because of what they have in it.
This means that as a general rule, the healthiest way to have coffee is simply to have it black.
Even though caffeine does play a role in the health benefits of coffee, it isn’t the full story.
People who choose to drink decaffeinated coffee will still get some of the health benefits associated with coffee, including the antioxidant element of the drink, however they will not receive any of the health benefits that are specifically associated with caffeine.
How much coffee a person should drink per day ranges depending on the individual as well as their personal preferences and requirements.
For example, a person with a low tolerance for caffeine may choose to have fewer cups of coffee per day than a person with high tolerance.
Likewise, younger people often have a greater desire for some of the impacts of coffee and caffeine, particularly people who need energy.
However, some studies suggest that four to five cups of coffee is a good amount (8).
All of this means that coffee is much more than a treat.
It is something that is important for health and even improving life expectancy, which is good news for all coffee drinkers.
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Better health starts in the kitchen, with the food that you eat and the meals you prepare. Getting the best outcomes involves making good choices about the food and the ingredients that you use.
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So, what about you? Do you think that your coffee drinking habits offer some health benefits?