Sometimes it seems like we’re all a lot more health-conscious these days than we used to be.
While we might not manage to eat a super-healthy diet on a daily basis, we all know we should all be making sure we stay hydrated, drinking plenty of water, or rather, the right amount. We understand that some of the healthiest proteins we can eat are the really lean ones. We’re all pretty much aware we need to eat some healthy fats and that too much refined sugar is not a good idea.
Some of us are also realizing we need to make sure we get plenty of antioxidants to stay as healthy as we can. While most of us are pretty well informed now about the fact fresh fruit and vegetables are one source of antioxidants, they’re not the only option. So it’s worth considering other sources, like – wait for it – coffee.
Yep, you heard right – your morning cup of Joe can actually help with your antioxidant intake.
What Are Antioxidants?
Antioxidants can be natural or manufactured. They help preserve foods in between their being harvested and making it onto our plates. These stable substances help maintain nutrients in food as well as the color, texture and aroma. Antioxidants may delay or even prevent some cell damage. You probably know at least some of them as vitamins or trace minerals – vitamins A, C and E, and selenium, for instance.
We can’t really talk much about antioxidants without mentioning free radicals. These molecules, which are notoriously unstable, are a natural consequence of being alive. They form when we exercise, and when our bodies turn food into energy via natural processes. Environmental factors like pollution, sunlight and cigarette smoke can also have an effect on the free radicals in our bodies.
All of these factors can result in what’s known as “oxidative stress”, a type of stress which is now thought to be a factor in many diseases, from Alzheimer’s to Parkinson’s.
What Do Antioxidants Do?
When you’re looking to find out if a food or beverage has antioxidant properties, what are you looking for? Well, some of the most common antioxidants you’ll hear about are beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene, selenium, vitamins A, C and E. Beta-carotene is found in orange-colored vegetables and fruits and our bodies turn it into vitamin A. Lutein is essential for good eye health and is found in green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale.
Selenium is thought to be particularly good at working to help the body battle some serious health conditions, and there’s also some evidence for the health effects of lycopene, which gives plants like tomatoes their red shade. (Did you know that tomatoes are technically fruits, by the way, even though we mainly use them as vegetables?)
Moving on to the vitamins, Vitamin A is known to be vital for bone growth, cell functions, the immune system, reproductive health, and vision. You might also know Vitamin C as ascorbic acid. This vitamin is required for healthy bones, connective tissue and skin. It’s also good at boosting healing processes and helps us absorb iron more easily. Vitamin E also helps boost our immune systems and metabolisms.
It might surprise you, but coffee is the number one source of antioxidants in the diet for many folks, especially in America. Of course, that’s partly because coffee is such a popular drink stateside – pretty much only Finland has a higher per capita intake. It’s not the only reason, though – coffee actually does have natural antioxidants. Polyphenols are found in plants and other vegetables; they’re the type of antioxidants found in coffee as well as in drinks like tea, fruit juice and red wine. The scientific evidence base is still a little scanty overall though, partly because polyphenols are so complex.
As well as helping your body combat cell damage, antioxidants can also boost your overall immunity. While you can take antioxidant supplements, many doctors agree that you’re better off getting the antioxidants you need from your diet.
While you wouldn’t necessarily want coffee to be your only dietary source of antioxidants, like so many of the things we eat and drink on a daily basis, coffee is just fine, in moderation. In fact, just one cup of coffee a day is thought to help with your antioxidant intake.
Most of the research into health benefits has been carried out on black coffee, however. Once you start adding cream and sugar in liberal amounts, the health benefits of everyone’s favorite beverage might not be quite so clear cut as you have to take into account the contrary effects of the fat and sugar.
Are All Antioxidants Created Equal?
While the term “antioxidants” is used as an umbrella term for this class of substances, scientists have discovered that not all antioxidants are, in fact, the same. Some studies showed some antioxidants having an effect on the heart and the lungs, while in others antioxidants seemed to be beneficial for some eye conditions.
What foods and drinks have antioxidants?
There are dozens of great food and drink or herb and spice choices when it comes to getting antioxidants into your diet. Berries, beans and some root vegetables are known to be extremely high in antioxidants, for instance. Don’t get too worried, though – you don’t have to give up your favorite cup of Joe and live on nothing but berries; quite the opposite, in fact.
Prunes, raisins, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, cherries and plums are some of the best fruits to eat for that antioxidant hit. Some of them work pretty well as a snack to bring out the more subtle mix of flavors in your coffee.
Not sure if you believe us? Seriously, eat a serving or so of your favorite fruit from that list, select a coffee to go with it, sit down and relax, and then enjoy the contrasting taste of the fruit with your best coffee blend. It’s actually not unlike finding the most appropriate wine to go with the right main course or dessert – it’s all about the chemistry.
If your tastes run to the somewhat more savory, kale, spinach, alfalfa and Brussels sprouts, beets, peppers, onions, corn and eggplants are some of the foods you might want to look at next time you load up your shopping cart. We’re not quite sure if some of those will go with coffee quite as well as the fruits, but it’s definitely worth a try.
Gently roasted kale with a little olive oil is a pretty cool snack anyway and tastes much more decadent and unhealthy than it is. That’s before we even start thinking about roast vegetables or corn on the cob and the best coffee blend to accompany them.
Does Coffee Have Antioxidants?
Believe it or not, there are antioxidants in coffee. Yep, that’s right – your daily cup or two of Joe can help you with your antioxidant intake – coffee antioxidants are an actual thing. In fact, many health benefits of coffee have been pretty well documented in recent years.
The evidence strongly suggests that coffee can help with several health conditions, at least in part. Some of these conditions include some types of diabetes, some heart conditions, and even some aspects of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. The discovery that coffee is pretty high in antioxidants under certain conditions, however, is fairly recent, following a lengthy study at Monash University and other academic research.
Does How You Take Your Coffee Make A Difference?
It’s been established already, under lab conditions, using an array of scientific tests, that there are antioxidants in coffee. But that statement is maybe a little too simplistic.
Are all coffee drinks the same? Does it make any difference how you take your coffee? Well, actually, yes, the way you choose to drink your coffee has an effect on the antioxidants. It turns out, for example, that hot coffee is probably higher in antioxidants than cold coffee.
Even the coffee blend you choose can make a difference to the level of antioxidants you’re taking in. For the maximum hit, give a little consideration to coffees of the Maragogype variety like Maragogype Guatemalan. Many Brazilian and Columbian blends have also scored pretty highly.
That’s not to say you won’t feel the benefit of the antioxidants in coffee if your palate tends more towards the Sumatran or Costa Rican blends, though; they’re just not quite as high in antioxidants. You might also find it kind of useful to know that more coffees made from the Robusta been tested higher in antioxidant levels than those made from Arabica.
If you prefer to drink your coffee without caffeine, however, you can rest assured that you will still get your fix of antioxidants. There are times when a serving or two of decaffeinated coffee might actually be recommended over caffeine – healthcare professionals would usually suggest this approach for an expectant mom, for instance. Caffeine isn’t usually recommended for minors and even teens, either, so decaffeinated may be a better choice.
So Is Coffee Really Good For Me?
As long as you stay within the sensible limits suggested by the FDA and others, yes, coffee really does appear to be good for you – not only boosting cognition and potentially helping with some long term conditions but even helping with your antioxidant intake.
So bottoms up, and here’s to our next cup of coffee!
Hi my name is Larry, a coffee aficionado from the US. I have already visited Colombia, Sumatra, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Ethiopia and Jamaica in my pursuit of finding the best-tasting coffee beans. I currently write from Bali and enjoy the relaxed life that you can find only in Indonesia. Welcome to my coffee world!