How does coffee stack up against the antioxidant power of high bush cranberries?
I get coffee questions all the time…
Here’s one from Louis that we received recently:
“What can Kevin say about the anti-oxidants supposed to be in coffee?”
It’s a great question and deserves more detail than I’ve ever given about coffee before.
I’m going to start by stating, yes, coffee does have antioxidants.
In fact, all non-processed foods that you eat contain antioxidants. These compounds help protect your body from oxidative stress.
They basically do what rust-proof paint would do to a car – protect it from falling apart.
So, by adding them to our natural foods, nature tells us that antioxidants are an important part of our diet, but the question Louis poses is should we get them from drinking coffee?
Simply, I say no.
But here’s why in detail:
1. Where did all this talk about coffee and antioxidants come from in the first place?
In order to figure out some answers you have to get to the source…
In 2005, there was a study done by The American Chemical Society that basically concluded, Americans get most of their antioxidants from coffee.
The study didn’t really prove anything, because most Americans have a diet that is devoid of antioxidant rich fruits and vegetables, so any food that has any amount of antioxidants that is eaten more than 1-2 times a day would rank fairly high on the list.
The reason why the study got so much attention, and still is a thorn in my side, is because of the press release that was sent out by The American Chemical Society had a misleading headline.
This is what they chose:
“Coffee is number one source of antioxidants.” (You can see it here)
Anyone can see that this headline states something extremely different than what was found in the study, and the headline is why almost every main media organization published something about it back in 2005.
This is the best news any American has ever heard.
“Coffee is actually good for you!”
You can even see why the media was fooled.
Look at this graph that was published with the press release:
Doesn’t this visual representation make coffee look like a superfood?
What the graph really shows, if you read into it, is that Americans eat like crap.
Here’s a statement from study leader Joe Vinson, Ph.D to back that up:
“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,” Vinson says. Dates, cranberries and red grapes are among the top fruits for antioxidants on the basis of concentration (antioxidants per serving size), he says.”
So for over 6 years now, health advocates, writers and experts have had to repair the damage done by a single press release headline.
(NOTE: I can’t say this is the definitive source of this misconception, but it definitely one of them.)
2. Just because a food has antioxidants doesn’t mean we should eat it.
Moving on from media blunders (or calculated media manipulation), I want to discuss this on a much deeper level.
As you know blueberries, cherries, pomegranates are all high sources of antioxidants. In fact, all non-processed foods have antioxidants.
But antioxidants shouldn’t be the only reason why you choose to eat certain foods.
Here are some other foods that contain antioxidants:
- Welch’s Grape Juice from Concentrate
- Frosted Strawberry Pop Tarts
- Processed Cheese
- Any food that contains the preservatives: BHT and BHA
If you were to live off of these antioxidant containing foods for a lifetime you may experience a little oxidation.
Now these examples are extreme, but based on this evidence, the presence of antioxidants isn’t the only factor in deciding what foods to eat – coffee included.
3. The reason we know about antioxidants is marketing.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s not all that good either.
Remember, every non-processed food you can eat contains antioxidants. These compounds are the plant’s natural protection from “aging.”
So this means a diet rich in non-processed vegetable foods, will be sufficient in your antioxidant needs.
You don’t need a study to show you that.
The reason we hear about blueberries, pomegranates and cherries being high in antioxidants is because those who have an interest in selling these products want to market to you.
Now, look, I don’t have any problem with the blueberry or pomegranate growers funding a study to show that there are more antioxidants in their berries than other fruits and vegetables.
In fact, doing so has likely helped people think about eating more fruits.
The negative side is that comparing foods and their antioxidant levels in a scientific way has unfairly put emphasis on only one aspect of nutrition and minimized the role of the thousands of other compounds.
The same can be said for Omega 3 oils, calcium, vitamin D and more – again not all bad, but not all good either.
4. The reason we know about antioxidants is reductionist science.
As humans, we have a very strong need to take things apart to see how they work.
I used to take apart all my mechanical toys when I was young to see if I could figure out how they work. As I got older, I would disassemble my stereo equipment and computers to see what parts may have been causing them to fizzle out and stop working.
Sometimes the problem would be a loose wire while other times it was a piece on a board that needed to be soldered.
Sometimes, just taking it apart and putting it back together again – not making any apparent changes – would fix it.
I have this same interest in how the body and food nutrition works, but I know it has it’s limits.
You can’t take living things apart and put them back together again and expect them to work the same.
I don’t know why scientists don’t understand this simple fact.
If I cut off my hand to examine it, it stops doing the things that hands do like waving, typing, and scratching.
If, when after I’m done examining it, I try to reattach it, there’s a very slim chance that it will ever work again.
The example above is a representation of what we’re doing with reductionist, single nutrient type science.
If you break down the living components of a food, these individual compounds don’t necessarily do all the things that they would do when they were part of the living plant.
So how important is an antioxidant over the whole food sources of them?
Comparatively, they can’t be important at all.
An antioxidant is just an antioxidant.
A whole food contains antioxidants and many other compounds that contribute to good health which makes them much more valuable to you.
In order to understand our bodies better, we need to stop isolating nutrients.
We don’t need science to tell us whole foods are good.
Nor do we need science to tell us that coffee is a good source of antioxidants – particularly when it contains another very suspect compound called caffeine.
5. Coffee has caffeine.
As you can see, the antioxidant thing has been blown out of proportion.
We need to look at coffee as a whole food, not as a source of antioxidants to determine if it’s good or not.
We need to know what it does collectively – regardless of its antioxidant content – when you drink it.
The most potent ingredient in coffee (thanks to reductionist science, LOL!) is caffeine.
This compound is a known stimulant.
Ingesting stimulants, like caffeine, cause an adrenal response in the body. This response increases cortisol which raises blood pressure and heart rate, as well as interferes with other hormone production in the body.
People with elevated cortisol levels produce less DHEA, testosterone, estrogen, progesterone and other hormones that give the body balance at both physical and mental levels.
Excess cortisol can suppress the immune system as well.
So when you drink a cup of coffee, or two, or three…
Your heart rate and your blood pressure increase which puts stress and pressure on your cardiovascular system – in particular your capillaries.
Your adrenals become overtaxed and slow the production of sex and feel good hormones.
You start to store excess fat in the belly area (a symptom of excess cortisol) and your immune system starts to break down.
There are not the properties of a health promoting food.
Clearly, the whole package is much more potent and potentially dangerous than some minimal antioxidant protection.
So based on this evidence, is coffee a good source of antioxidants?
Of course not.
Coffee is a stimulant that should be used on rare occasions if used at all.
In fact, the best use of coffee that I’ve found to date is for traveler’s constipation.
I used to drink 5-6 cups of coffee a day and, no fail, after the first few sips in the morning, I’d have to go to the bathroom.
About 5 years ago, Annmarie and I flew to an event and both of us were constipated (likely because we didn’t drink enough water on the plane.)
Anyway, when we were discussing how to get rid of the problem, I suggested we should drink a cup of coffee and see what happens – since drinking a cup always worked for me in the past.
She laughed and said it was worth a shot.
So I brewed one up in the hotel room and just the smell of it was enough to alleviate my discomfort – hers too.
Since then, on rare occasion that this happens the coffee trick has worked about 50% of the time without even taking a sip and 40% of the time by sip 3-4. The other 10% of the time it doesn’t.
This is far from scientific and highly anecdotal, but sometimes little tricks like these don’t need any explanation.
Finally, there is some talk about “low acidity” coffee coming on the market and being a good alternative for coffee drinkers.
This too is a market distinction (and manipulation) as well.
While it may be a better choice in terms of acidity, it still contains caffeine which still do all the damaging things that I mentioned above.
So whether your cortisol levels are raised moderately or massively, you still have elevated cortisol.
Again, just like antioxidants, acidity isn’t the only factor that you need to examine when you decide what to eat and drink.
Sorry to burst a bubble, I know some of you love your coffee… let me know your thoughts on all this here on the blog!
Last Day for Weekend Specials!
Like I said yesterday, we completely sold out of Ceylon Cinnamon bark.
Since the Ceylon Cinnamon was the big weekend deal we had for the specials, we’ve added a bunch of other specials so you can take advantage of them during this special sale.
What we’ve done, until tomorrow morning, is dropped the prices on our other spices and herbs like:
- Ceylon Cinnamon powder
- Holy Basil
Here’s where you can check out these deals now:
Remember, these deals end soon!