Americans get more antioxidants from coffee than from any other source. But don't brew another cup just yet -- that's not necessarily good news. It likely says more about our poor nutritional choices than it does about the singular power of coffee beans.
Grounds for Claim For a presentation at last week's meeting of the American Chemical Society, University of Scranton chemistry professor Joe Vinson measured the antioxidants -- chemicals that limited evidence suggests may help prevent a variety of diseases -- found in more than 100 foods and beverages. Then, using U.S. Department of Agriculture data on food consumption, he estimated antioxidant intake by source.
Coffee came out number one, supplying the typical American adult, who drinks about a cup and a half of coffee daily, with 1,166 milligrams of various antioxidants. A distant second was tea, at 269 milligrams. Third-ranked bananas supplied only 76.
Coffee "is not the highest in antioxidants" among the foods studied, Vinson said. "It's just the one we consume the most." Tested foods packing the highest concentrations of antioxidants include dark chocolate, prunes, dried dates, beans and cranberries.
Does Counting Count? Much research into antioxidants suggests they have benefits when consumed in foods, though it's not known to what extent the benefits come from the antioxidants themselves or from other compounds in the foods containing them. Studies of antioxidant supplements are inconsistent and inconclusive, with some suggesting they can increase disease risk. "We have evidence of the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables," said Bonnie Liebman, director of nutrition for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "They have antioxidants, but that may not be what matters. . . . Don't give up broccoli for coffee."
Vinson, who eats broccoli, agrees. "Everything has to be in moderation and spread out," he said.
The same goes for coffee, both regular and decaf (which delivers antioxidants without the jitters): "There's a law of diminishing returns. More is not better."
-- Matt McMillen