Coffee identified as a key source of antioxidants

by Keith Nunes
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SCRANTON, PA. — Coffee provides more than just a morning jolt; that steaming cup of java is also the No. 1 source of antioxidants in the U.S. diet, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Scranton. The study was described at the 230th national meeting of the American Chemical Society.

"Americans get more of their antioxidants from coffee than any other dietary source. Nothing else comes close," said study leader Dr. Joe Vinson, a chemistry professor at the university, which is based in Scranton, Pa.

Although fruits and vegetables are promoted as good sources of antioxidants, the new finding is surprising because it represents the first time coffee has been shown to be the primary source from which most Americans get their antioxidants, Dr. Vinson said. Both caffeinated and decaf versions appear to provide similar antioxidant levels.

However, Dr. Vinson cautions that high antioxidant levels in foods and beverages don’t necessarily translate into levels found in the body. The potential health benefits of these antioxidants ultimately depends on how they are absorbed and utilized in the body, a process that is still poorly understood, according to Dr. Vinson, whose study was primarily funded by the American Cocoa Research Institute.

The news follows a growing number of reports touting the potential health benefits of drinking coffee. It also comes at an appropriate time: Coffee consumption is on the rise in the U.S. and over half of Americans drink it everyday, according to the National Coffee Association.

Antioxidants in general have been linked to a number of potential health benefits, including protection against heart disease and cancer. For the current study, Dr. Vinson and his associates analyzed the antioxidant content of more than 100 different food items, including vegetables, fruits, nuts, spices, oils and common beverages. The data was compared to an existing U.S. Department of Agriculture database on the contribution of each type of food item to the average estimated U.S. per capita consumption.

Coffee came out on top, on the combined basis of both antioxidants per serving size and frequency of consumption, Dr. Vinson said. Coffee easily outranked such popular antioxidant sources as tea, milk, chocolate and cranberries, he said. Of all the foods and beverages studied, dates actually have the most antioxidants of all based solely on serving size, he said.

Besides keeping you alert and awake, coffee has been linked to an increasing number of potential health benefits, including protection against liver and colon cancer, type 2 diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease, according to some recently published studies.

But there’s also a downside. Coffee may make a person jittery and cause stomach pains, while some studies have tied it to elevated blood pressure and heart rates. More research is needed, particularly human studies, to firmly establish its health benefits, Dr. Vinson said. FBN

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