Another Coffee Perk: Antioxidants

It's America's top source for the compounds, new research finds

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By Janice Billingsley
HealthDay Reporter

SUNDAY, Aug. 28, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Americans' love affair with coffee means they get more antioxidants from this drink than from any other source in their diet, a new study reports.

By measuring the amount of antioxidants contained in the most common foods and beverages, and comparing them to U.S. government data on food consumption, researchers found that coffee far outpaced any other beverage or food as the main source of antioxidants in the American diet.

"When you look at the quantity of antioxidants in coffee and how much is consumed, it really shines either way," said Joe Vinson, a chemist at the University of Scranton. He presented the results of his analysis Sunday at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society, in Washington, D.C.

More than half of Americans drink coffee every day, making it the most popular beverage in the country, Vinson said.

Antioxidants are vitamins and minerals that help prevent oxidation, a process that can cause damage to cells and may contribute to aging. The compounds may help boost immune function and possibly cut your risk of infection, heart disease and cancer, according to the American Dietetic Association.

For his study, which was partially funded by the American Cocoa Research Institute, Vinson and his colleagues analyzed the antioxidant content of more than 100 different food items, including vegetables, fruits, nuts, spices, oils and common beverages. The analysis included tracking antioxidants that are hidden in sugar molecules, which increased the number of antioxidants measured, Vinson said.

In coffee, most of the antioxidants are hidden in sugar molecules, he said.

The antioxidant data was then compared to a U.S. Department of Agriculture database to measure the estimated U.S. per capita consumption of each food.

The results showed that the average American received more than four times the amount of antioxidants from coffee daily than from black tea, which was second on the list. Bananas, dry beans and corn were the top three foods on the list.

Vinson said that other foods, particularly dates, cranberries and red grapes, contain more antioxidants than coffee, but those foods aren't consumed in anywhere near the quantities as coffee.

He added that high antioxidant levels don't necessarily translate into levels found in the body -- the health benefits ultimately depend on how the compounds are absorbed and utilized in the body, a process that is poorly understood.

Vinson said his study isn't a recommendation to begin drinking a lot of coffee -- "I'm not a coffee advocate, but a tea advocate" -- but it does provide more positive information about coffee than has been reported.

"Researchers have ignored coffee because of negative news linking it to increased risk of cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure, but this might stimulate more positive research into coffee," he added.

A number of recent studies have linked coffee to health benefits, including protection against liver and colon disease, type 2 diabetes and Parkinson's disease, according to Vinson.

Catherine Jen, a nutrition professor and chairwoman of Wayne State University's Department of Nutrition and Food Science in Detroit, said previous research has shown that about one-third of people's antioxidants come from coffee, because it's such a popular drink.

"It's true about coffee, but it's better to get antioxidants from fruit and vegetables because you are not only getting antioxidants but other nutrients like dietary fiber and B vitamins like folate," she said.

More information

To learn more about antioxidants, visit the National Library of Medicine.

SOURCES: Joe A. Vinson, Ph.D., professor of chemistry, University of Scranton, Penn.; Catherine Jen, Ph.D., professor of nutrition and chairwoman, Department of Nutrition and Food Science, Wayne State University, Detroit; Aug. 28, 2005, presentation, American Chemical Society, annual meeting, Washington, D.C.

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