Java Joy: Study Touts Coffee's Benefits
RANDOLPH E. SCHMID
WASHINGTON -- When the Ink Spots sang "I love the java jive and
it loves me" in 1940, they could not have known how right they
were. Coffee not only helps clear the mind and perk up the energy, it
also provides more healthful antioxidants than any other food or beverage
in the American diet, according to a study released Sunday.
Of course, too much coffee can make people jittery and even raise cholesterol
levels, so food experts stress moderation.
The findings by Joe A. Vinson, a chemistry professor at the University
of Scranton, in Pennsylvania, give a healthy boost to the warming beverage.
"The point is, people are getting the most antioxidants from beverages,
as opposed to what you might think," Vinson said in a telephone
Antioxidants, which are thought to help battle cancer and provide other
health benefits, are abundant in grains, tomatoes and many other fruits
Vinson said he was researching tea and cocoa and other foods and decided
to study coffee, too.
His team analyzed the antioxidant content of more than 100 different
food items, including vegetables, fruits, nuts, spices, oils and common
beverages. They then used Agriculture Department data on typical food
consumption patterns to calculate how much antioxidant each food contributes
to a person's diet.
They concluded that the average adult consumes 1,299 milligrams of antioxidants
daily from coffee. The closest competitor was tea at 294 milligrams.
Rounding out the top five sources were bananas, 76 milligrams; dry beans,
72 milligrams; and corn, 48 milligrams. According to the Agriculture
Department, the typical adult American drinks 1.64 cups of coffee daily.
That does not mean coffee is a substitute for fruit and vegetables.
"Unfortunately, consumers are still not eating enough fruits and
vegetables, which are better for you from an overall nutritional point
of view due to their higher content of vitamins, minerals and fiber,"
Dates, cranberries and red grapes are among the leading fruit sources
of antioxidants, he said.
The antioxidants in coffee are known as polyphenols. Sometimes they
are bound to a sugar molecule, which covers up the antioxidant group,
The first step in measuring them was to break that sugar link. He noted
that chemicals in the stomach do the same thing, freeing the polyphenols.
"We think that antioxidants can be good for you in a number of
ways," including affecting enzymes and genes, though more research
is needed, Vinson said.
"If I say more coffee is better, then I would have to tell you
to spread it out to keep the levels of antioxidants up," Vinson
said. "We always talk about moderation in anything."
His findings were released in conjunction with the annual convention
of the American Chemical Society in Washington.
In February, a team of Japanese researchers reported in the Journal
of the National Cancer Institute that people who drank coffee daily,
or nearly every day, had half the liver cancer risk of those who never
drank it. The protective effect occurred in people who drank one to
two cups a day and increased at three to four cups.
Last year, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found
that drinking coffee cut the risk of developing the most common form
Men who drank more than six 8-ounce cups of caffeinated coffee per day
lowered their risk of type 2 diabetes by about half, and women reduced
their risk by nearly 30 percent, compared with people who did not drink
coffee, according to the study in Annals of Internal Medicine.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company