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Coffee and Antioxidants: Everything You Need to Know

Health + Wellness
Elena Pueyo / Moment / Getty Images

By Adda Bjarnadottir, MS

Opinions on coffee vary greatly—some consider it healthy and energizing, while others claim it's addictive and harmful.


Still, when you look at the evidence, most studies on coffee and health find that it's beneficial.

For example, coffee has been linked to a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, liver diseases, and Alzheimer's (1, 2, 3, 4).

Many of coffee's positive health effects may be due to its impressive content of powerful antioxidants.

In fact, studies show that coffee is one of the largest sources of antioxidants in the human diet.

This article tells you everything you need to know about coffee's impressive antioxidant content.

Loaded With Several Powerful Antioxidants

Your body is under constant attack from so-called free radicals, which can damage important molecules like proteins and DNA.

Antioxidants can effectively disarm free radicals, thus protecting against aging and many diseases that are partly caused by oxidative stress, including cancer.

Coffee is particularly rich in several powerful antioxidants, including hydrocinnamic acids and polyphenols (5, 6, 7).

Hydrocinnamic acids are very effective at neutralizing free radicals and preventing oxidative stress (8).

What's more, the polyphenols in coffee may prevent a number of conditions, such as heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes (9, 10, 11, 12).

Summary

Coffee is very rich in antioxidants—including polyphenols and hydrocinnamic acids—that may improve health and reduce your risk of several diseases.

The Biggest Dietary Source of Antioxidants

Most people consume about 1–2 grams of antioxidants per day—primarily from beverages like coffee and tea (13, 14, 15).

Beverages are a much larger source of antioxidants in the Western diet than food. In fact, 79% of dietary antioxidants come from beverages, while only 21% come from food (16).

That's because people tend to consume more servings of antioxidant-rich drinks than foods.

In one study, researchers looked at the antioxidant content of different foods by serving size.

Coffee ranked 11th on the list behind several types of berries (7).

Yet, as many people eat few berries but drink several cups of coffee per day, the total amount of antioxidants provided by coffee far outweighs that of berries—even though berries may contain greater amounts per serving.

In Norwegian and Finnish studies, coffee was shown to be the single biggest antioxidant source—providing about 64% of people's total antioxidant intake.

In these studies, the average coffee intake was 450–600 ml per day, or 2–4 cups (13, 17).

Additionally, studies from Spain, Japan, Poland, and France concluded that coffee is by far the biggest dietary source of antioxidants (14, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21).

Summary

People tend to get more antioxidants from beverages than foods, and studies from all over the world demonstrate that coffee is the single biggest dietary source of antioxidants.

Linked to a Reduced Risk of Many Diseases

Coffee is associated with a reduced risk of many diseases.

For example, coffee drinkers have a 23–50% lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Each daily cup is linked to a 7% reduced risk (1, 22, 23, 24, 25).

Coffee also seems to be very beneficial for your liver, as coffee drinkers have a much lower risk of liver cirrhosis (3, 26, 27).

What's more, it may lower your risk of liver and colorectal cancer, and several studies have observed a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke (28, 29, 30, 31, 32).

Regularly drinking coffee may also reduce your risk of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease by 32–65% (2, 33, 34, 35, 36).

Some studies indicate that coffee may benefit other aspects of mental health as well. Women who drink coffee are less likely to become depressed and die by suicide (37, 38).

Above all, drinking coffee has been linked to a longer lifespan and up to a 20–30% lower risk of premature death (4, 39).

Still, keep in mind that most of these studies are observational. They cannot prove that coffee caused the reduction in disease risk—only that coffee drinkers were less likely to get these diseases.

Summary

Drinking coffee has been linked to numerous health benefits, including a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and liver, heart, and neurological diseases. It may also benefit mental health and help you live longer.

The Bottom Line

There are many types of dietary antioxidants, and coffee is a very good source of some of them.

However, it does not provide the same antioxidants as whole plant foods like fruits and vegetables — so while coffee may be the biggest dietary source of antioxidants, it should never be your only source.

For optimal health, it's best to get a variety of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and plant compounds from many different sources.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.

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