Coffee & Antioxidants Revisited?

October 12, 2005

In response to some of the news reports that I quoted awhile back regarding coffee and antioxidants, someone was kind enough to send a link to this article.

There are two reasons why this is so misleading. The first is that in analyzing the antioxidant content of coffee, Professor Vinson included antioxidants which are √¢‚Ǩ≈ìhidden in sugar molecules.√¢‚Ǩ¬ù Sugar molecules? If you dig deep enough into the rash of articles about this great √¢‚Ǩ≈ìscientific breakthrough√¢‚Ǩ¬ù you’ll discover that Vinson himself admits that √¢‚Ǩ≈ìmost of the antioxidants√¢‚Ǩ¬ù in coffee are indeed √¢‚Ǩ≈ìhidden in sugar molecules.√¢‚Ǩ¬ù

Ok, so if you don’t dump a bunch of sugar and milk into your coffee you won’t be getting much, if any antioxidants.

But, let’s not quibble, as this is only minor compared to the really big deception. Let me explain by examining another food item, say, blueberries. By volume or by weight, blueberries have at least a thousand times more antioxidants than coffee.

Why do people get more antioxidants from coffee than blueberries? Well, over the course of year or so, the average American will drink approximately 45 gallons of coffee and eat approximately one pint of blueberries. So when you add this up, the average American gets more antioxidants from coffee than blueberries. Obviously, coffee is much better for you than blueberries!

To which I have the following reactions…

  1. Hey! Somebody actually reads this site! How cool is that?
  2. I have no doubt that the whole antioxidant thing could very well have been a combination of crappy science and good industry PR (hey, you want to see what the coffee industry PR engine is like, check some of the noise the last week or two about Nestle supporting Fair Trade, which is kind of like reading that a pride of lions is very serious about supporting vegetarianism).
  3. That being said, an article that sums up articles on coffee as a crap source of antioxidants on a site dedicated to life extension (a prime mover in nutritional supplements for antioxidants) isn’t exactly reassuring as objective journalism either, particularly absent citations, hard numbers, or any of the other things that tend to accompany “real science”. The guy may well be right, but it sure reads a lot like an opinion piece.
  4. Coffee has a fair amount of sugar even if you don’t dump in a bunch of refined sugar and milk. (The Maillard reaction being a substantial reason for roasting coffee beans to begin with, etc.)
  5. I’ve been a big consumer of antioxidant (and other) nutritional supplements for 25-30 years, since my first well-thumbed reading of Pearson and Shaw. Coffee being reported as a big antioxidant source didn’t change my intake of supplements one iota.
  6. People who depend on the popular press (or worse, blog reports of the popular press) for their nutritional information are going to get misled all day long; this guy ain’t nothing but one of thousands.
  7. If you’re smart, you’ll take nutritional supplements and do your own reading (of real books with references) as to how much of what to take and why. If you don’t, don’t expect to be around after the singularity to bitch at those of us who did…
  8. Thanks for the link!
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