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Antioxidants: the lovely coffee is second to no one

Everyone likes a good coffee. One reason, perhaps unconscious, is that coffee is potentially the biggest source of antioxidants in the world. The other reason is, well, because a good coffee is addictive; in a good way. Although researchers are still 100% responsive, the antioxidant properties in coffee can help you lose weight, prevent diabetes and protect us from certain forms of cancer. The link between these conditions is that they are all due to high levels of toxins in the body. Cancers, heart disease, diabetes, premature aging and some forms of cognitive decline disorders are related to inadequate levels or antioxidant function in the body. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals (ROS) in the body, transforming them into harmless derivatives that can then be eliminated from the bloodstream and the body. In this case, antioxidants can be derived from a beverage – and coffee is its name. New research indicates that taking 3-5 cups of coffee every day can serve up to 60% of the daily intake of antioxidants. In contrast, coffee has been touted as hazardous to health itself, mainly due to its stimulating caffeine content. In fact, a study supported by Nestlé in the United Kingdom in December 2010 showed that only about 8% of the 2027 respondents considered coffee as a food to be added to the list of antioxidants. In contrast, 35% believed that tea was an excellent antioxidant. Of the number, 59% think that blackcurrant is the top and 40% guaranteed for dark chocolate. Despite its controversial reputation for health, coffee is still a deterrent and wildly popular drink. The coffee statistics provided by The Specialty Coffee Association of America and the National Coffee Association demonstrate the following:

  1. About half of the US population is a fierce coffee drinker
  2. These over 150 million people have a daily average of about 3 cups of coffee
  3. The average person drinks 1 and a half cups of coffee a day
  4. 35% prefer black coffee and 65% prefer to add sugar or cream.

Antioxidants in coffee

In 2005, a study that was supported primarily by the American Cocoa Association and transmitted to the world by principal researcher Joe Vinson, indicated that coffee contained more antioxidant properties than previously thought. Unfortunately, at the moment, those antioxidant properties that he found were only presented at a particular point in the coffee roasting process. This means that at a precise roasting point, the benefits of antioxidants in coffee can be captured or crushed. The processing method greatly influences the antioxidant activity. For example, roasted coffee contains more antioxidants than non-roasted coffee. In particular, however, some other studies have established some truths about coffee antioxidants. While most of the known antioxidants come from colored vegetables and fruits and vegetables, some other compounds contain antioxidant properties – and these are some of the found in coffee drinks. Here are the main antioxidant substances contained in coffee.


The cafestolo in coffee beans is still present even after decaffeinization. It is a steroid-like molecule that acts as a bile acid modulator in the intestine. It is also a potent anti-inflammatory substance in the brain and coffee (decaffeinated) can help improve memory, according to the Science Daily. Cafestol is not directly antioxidant; acts as a genetic inducer of different antioxidant enzymes (NQO-1, SOD2, GPX, TxR-1, etc.) that effectively neutralize ROS.


The trigonelline, the bitter alkaloid of coffee, also adds the unique aroma of coffee. This compound is anti-bacterial and can help prevent dental caries. The mixture is 10 times higher in roasted coffee than green coffee and is also a significantly higher content for Arabica than the Robusta variety. It is important to underline how it degrades during roasting: the darker the roast, the lower the remaining trigonelline content. After toasting, the trigonellina partially degrades to form nicotinic acid and pyridines. Nicotinic acid is also known as vitamin B3 (or niacin), which is a known antioxidant. With demethylation of the trigonelline at high temperatures between 160-230 ° C, roasters can get vitamin B3 when 85% of the trigonelline decomposes. What really matters is the temperature applied, unlike how long the coffee lasts in heat.

Chlorogenic acids

Chlorogenic acid (CGA) is abundant in both green and toasted coffee. According to the Journal of Nutrition, CGA is distinguished by a large number of esterified compounds – it is the ester of caffeic acid, for example. This phenolic compound is a fundamental element of the antioxidant, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory activity of coffee. Chlorogenic acids have also been shown to improve insulin function in laboratory rats. If it worked in humans, the CGA could be used to fight diabetes. Green coffee is cited as a primary source of CGA, and tests conducted in rats and humans lead to discoveries that CGAs help to curb the accumulation of fat in the body and increase the speed of metabolism. However, this study used only decaffeinated coffee and no normal coffee. Hydroxy-cinnamic acid contains some of the most active antioxidant properties in a coffee drink. Hydroxy-cinnamic acid is cited as a potent reducing agent that neutralizes free radicals and helps to limit the adverse effects of oxidative stress. The three most abundant derivatives are 3-Caffeoylquinic, 4-Caffeoylquinic and 5-Caffeoylquinic acid. 3-Caffeoylquinic acid is a compound that is abundantly found in colorful fruits and vegetables, and is a main ingredient behind the antioxidant powers of foods rich in antioxidants (berries, artichokes, aubergines, tomatoes).


These compounds are largely responsible for the unique aroma of roasted coffee. They are nitrogenous compounds that derive from the condensation of some coffee sugars with nitrogenous substances, also giving the coffee brown during the roasting process. They have anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, as indicated by a study published in the United States National Library of Medicine.


Like the trigonelline, it is another bitter alkaloid that gives coffee some of its antioxidant properties. Quinine is derived from the bark of an evergreen tropical plant known as the Cinchona tree, used primarily in the treatment of malaria. Bitter in some coffee beans can be linked to a high content of this alkaloid. Quinine and coffee belong to the same family as the Rubiacee. But more importantly, quinine as an antioxidant becomes more potent after the coffee is roasted significantly. Coffee drinks contain small amounts of quinine, though. The quantities present in the coffee stocks are rather small and approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).


Caffeine has not directly considered an antioxidant, according to most scientific researches. It is anyway an antioxidant, according to a study published in the Journal of Physical Chemistry by ACS. Caffeinated beverages can help treat headaches, lose weight and prevent diabetes. Recent comprehensive analyzes of caffeine have led to interesting results, which assume that caffeine is structurally derived from uric acid, a body antioxidant. However, research into exactly how caffeine functions as an antioxidant is still ongoing. What is beyond doubt, however, is that caffeine is more abundant in coffee, more than twice as much as tea. If caffeine turns out to be a healthy antioxidant, the new information could revolutionize the way that caffeine is considered worldwide.

Coffee has more antioxidants than red wine and tea

According to research conducted by Nestle polling organization, YouGov, while 40% of the 2027 respondents considered red wine a better solution as an antioxidant than coffee, this could not be further from the truth. According to a 2010 study conducted by researcher Perez Jemenez. J, for every 200 ml portion of soluble coffee, there are about 387 mg of antioxidant benefits. The results, the identification of the 100 richest sources of polyphenols, established that red wine, on the other hand, served about 269 mg of the same benefits per 125 ml serving. Results of another study presented by an Italian group of scientists, label espresso coffee with a FRAP of 129. Decaffeinated coffee is positioned at 93. The FRAP test stands for Ferric Reducing Antioxidant Power, and measures what chemical changes occur and how much good happen when a substance has interacted with various foods. The same scale indicates that both green and black tea have a FRAP score of 18 and 10 respectively. This would mean that coffee, in fact, has more antioxidant benefits than both types of tea.

Coffee: the largest source of antioxidants in the world

In the United States, for example, only 21 percent of Americans absorb their antioxidants from other sources of food other than coffee. On a global scale, coffee is at the top with oil for the most traded raw materials in the world. Furthermore, the fact that new research also indicates that coffee contains more antioxidants than tea and dark chocolate means that coffee is really up there with blueberries as a powerful antioxidant. New research indicates that coffee antioxidants make coffee a healthier antioxidant solution than other well-known antioxidant compounds. The main source of antioxidant power of coffee reigns from its polyphenols, caffeine and chlorogenic acids. But almost all the studies that give the coffee an excellent antioxidant, also highlight the caffeine as an important health alert to pay attention to. Apart from the fact that caffeine can easily be an addictive stimulant, it can also lead to a number of health problems such as increased levels of LDL (bad cholesterol), heart disease and muscle tremors. The latter could happen due to lack of magnesium in the body, an essential mineral we need to regulate physiological processes such as the burning of sugars. It is therefore wise to take coffee in moderation: the benefits mentioned above, in effect, derive only from a moderate intake of coffee.

  • edited by Dr. Gianfrancesco Cormaci, PhD, specialist in Clinical Biochemistry.

Letteratura scientifica

Nabavi SF et al. Curr Neuropharmacol. 2017; 15(4):471-479. 

Neuwirthová J et al. Klin Onkol. Spring 2017; 30(2):106-114. 

Gormaz JG et al. Curr Med Chem. 2016; 23(2):115-28.

Liang N, Kitts DD. Nutrients. 2015 Dec 25; 8(1).

Liang N, Kitts DD. Molecules. 2014; 19(11):19180-208.

Ludwig IA et al. Food Funct. 2014 Aug; 5(8):1695-717.


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Dott. Gianfrancesco Cormaci
Dott. Gianfrancesco Cormaci
Laurea in Medicina e Chirurgia nel 1998, specialista in Biochimica Clinica dal 2002, ha conseguito dottorato in Neurobiologia nel 2006. Ex-ricercatore, ha trascorso 5 anni negli USA alle dipendenze dell' NIH/NIDA e poi della Johns Hopkins University. Guardia medica presso la casa di Cura Sant'Agata a Catania. In libera professione, si occupa di Medicina Preventiva personalizzata e intolleranze alimentari. Detentore di un brevetto per la fabbricazione di sfarinati gluten-free a partire da regolare farina di grano. Responsabile della sezione R&D della CoFood s.r.l. per la ricerca e sviluppo di nuovi prodotti alimentari, inclusi quelli a fini medici speciali.

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