The Truth About Coffee & Antioxidants
Our quest for health takes us many places. To our yoga mats and our bicycle seats. To the hiking trail and the fitness center, a bowl of fruit or a lunchtime salad. Yet if we really want to boost our bodies, we should head for the nearest café and order a large latte.
Not to say those other things don’t matter. They do. But when it comes to self-care, the latest scientific surprise is deliciously simple: drink coffee.
Researchers who’ve picked our favorite drink apart say it’s loaded with all kinds of good things our bodies need to maintain optimal wellness and the top source of antioxidants in the human diet.
Antioxidants help our cells stay healthy. They defend us from toxins called free radicals, unstable molecules that are missing an electron. There are all kinds of free radicals. They come from things like pollution, sun exposure, and even our bodies themselves, which produce them as byproducts of metabolism. Free radical chemistry gets a little heavy, but the short version is that when these molecules are inside us (and they always are), they seek to become stable by “stealing” an electron from wherever they can. The “victims” of this theft are often the proteins and DNA our cells need to work properly. This action damages these essential elements of life and leaves them in a tough spot—they either have to steal an electron from somewhere else to repair themselves, which starts a chain reaction of harm, or they simply start to malfunction, which leads to diseases like cancer and other unfortunate things.
Antioxidants are the antidote. They’ve got an extra “spare” electron that they can donate to any nearby free radicals that need one without turning into a free radical themselves. This neutralizes toxins while sparing our cells. When we’ve got a lot of antioxidants in our bodies, we’re healthier. And when we drink coffee, we’re getting a lot of antioxidants.
While other foods have more antioxidants per serving, coffee wins the day as the world’s leading source because we consume so much more of it than most other foods. Every cup we savor contains a literal wealth of these beneficial nutrients.
They include necessities like quinines, which help maintain healthy blood sugar levels; the appropriately named cafestol, a brain-boosting anti-inflammatory; and antibacterial compounds like melanoidin and trigonelline. Coffee also contains large amounts of chlorogenic acid, hydrocinnamic acid, and other polyphenols, antioxidants known for their potency and their role in preventing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
Antioxidants are measured by something called ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) units. The USDA recommends we consume at least 3000-5000 ORAC units daily. Since coffee gives us 2,750 units for every 3.4 ounces we drink, just a cup or two a day goes a long way toward ensuring we get the minimum we need. We’re not saying forsake fruits and vegetables. By all means, bring on the blueberries and the broccoli. Then wash them down with a cup or two of health insurance. (Kohanacare, anyone?)