Could your daily coffee fix actually be doing you some good? A study funded by the cocoa industry suggests it might, showing that the beverage is a significant source of antioxidants, which can protect the body from cancer.
The research, funded by the American Cocoa Research Institute, says coffee drinkers appear to have higher levels of antioxidants than those who dont drink the beverage. The findings were presented as a weekend conference of the American Chemical Society in Washington, DC.
Bonnie Liebman, nutrition director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said the findings were not surprising, but she cautioned that there's more to health than antioxidants. Most experts are looking beyond antioxidants to the combination of vitamins, minerals other nutrition in specific foods, she said.
Americans get more of their antioxidants from coffee than any other dietary source. Nothing else comes close, said study leader Joe Vinson, a chemistry professor at the University of Scranton.
Both caffeinated and decaf versions appear to provide similar antioxidant levels, he added.
Study authors caution that their findings dont prove that drinking coffee is good for you, since they didnt make a determination about how many of the antioxidants from coffee are actually absorbed by the body. Researcher Joe Vinson of the University of Scranton also cautioned that coffee should be consumed in moderation. He said it is important to consume fresh fruit and vegetables, which are also good sources of antioxidants.
Unfortunately, consumers are still not eating enough fruits and vegetables, which are better for you from an overall nutritional point of view to their higher content of vitamins, minerals and fiber," he said.
Antioxidants help the body ward off harmful free radicals, which can damage cells and DNA. Studies have shown them to have a number of other health benefits, including protection against heart disease.
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, Vinson said. Java easily outranked such popular antioxidant sources as tea, milk, chocolate and cranberries, he says.
Of all the foods and beverages studied, dates actually have the most antioxidants of all based solely on serving size, according to Vinson. But dates are not consumed at anywhere near the level of coffee.
Coffee has been linked to an increasing number of potential health benefits, including protection against liver and colon cancer, type 2 diabetes, and Parkinsons disease, according to some recently published studies.
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 of diabetes.
But theres also a downside: Java can make you 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, Vinson said.
While the findings would seem to encourage people to go out and drink more coffee, Vinson emphasizes moderation. One to two cups a day appear to be beneficial, he says. If you dont like coffee, consider drinking black tea, which is the second most consumed antioxidant source in the U.S. diet, Vinson said.
Bananas, dry beans and corn placed third, fourth and fifth, respectively.
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