Featured Research

Coffee: A Healthy Part of Your Diet?

October 12, 2017

Coffee and the health benefits associated with drinking it have taken over the media with claims of lowering the risk of diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s, and heart disease.

What is it about coffee that could possibly make it such a healthy dietary choice? A new study just published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism points to the benefits of chlorogenic acid (CQA), a polyphenol that has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that is found in large quantities in coffee.  The study is the first to focus entirely on CQAs.



Entitled “Influence of 2-Weeks Ingestion of High Chlorogenic Acid Coffee on Mood State, Performance, and Post-Exercise Inflammation and Oxidative Stress: A Randomized, Placebo Controlled Trial,” the study was designed to determine the effect of CQAs from coffee on inflammation and oxidative stress after a strenuous workout. Additionally, the study addressed the potential of CQAs to improve performance and mood. Study authors include David Nieman, DrPH, director of the Appalachian State University Human Performance Laboratory at the NC Research Campus, in partnership with Dr. Bob Arnot, journalist, author, and former medical correspondent for CBS and NBC news.

Beyond Caffeine

“[Most people] aren’t reaping the full rewards of coffee, because the coffees [they] favor have lost their healthy components as well as their flavor, so [they] load them with cream and sugar and syrups,” Arnot wrote in his book, The Coffee Lover’s Diet, which incorporates findings from the study.

Arnot spent months traveling the world, looking for the best tasting and most CQA-rich coffees. Nieman has been looking at different flavonoids for over a decade, and CQA in coffee is similar to other flavonoids he has studied. Several years ago, the two crossed paths thanks to their shared interest in polyphenols.

Polyphenols are plant-based compounds known for a range of health benefits. Nieman, a pioneer in the research area of exercise immunology, has studied polyphenols and human performance extensively.

“As polyphenol intake stays high as a part of a regular lifestyle, over the long term health is improved as phenolics reduce inflammation and oxidative stress and improve immune function, leading to a lowered risk for most chronic diseases that plague modern humans,” Nieman explained.

Coffee is the primary dietary source of polyphenols for people all over Europe, and it is consumed by 75 percent of the adult population in the United States.

“CQAs dominate in terms of polyphenols in the diet, not because they should but because we have a terrible diet,” Arnot said. “In other words, the majority of the population should be eating more fruits and vegetables. By accident, they end up getting most of their polyphenols from coffee.”

The Findings

The study was a randomized crossover design where participants were randomly separated into groups that drank one cup of high-CQA coffee or placebo coffee per day for two weeks and then completed a 50-kilometer cycling time trial. Each group tested the high-CQA coffee and the placebo drink.

To make Turkish coffee, an Ibrik is used. In traditional Turkish coffee preparation, the coffee is heated in sand.

Coffee selection and preparation was found to be extremely important to the CQA levels. Coffee used in this study was lightly roasted, finely ground, high-altitude coffee beans from the Hambela Estate in Ethiopia. The Turkish Method of preparation preserved the highest amount of CQAs.

The study results showed that, along with higher levels of caffeine in the blood, participants drinking CQA coffee generally felt better. Their improved mood was measured using a total mood disturbance (TMD) test. Participants also had a higher heart and breathing rate. The study also measured “ferric reducing ability of plasma” (FRAP), a test to measure the amount of polyphenols in the blood. Participants drinking the CQA had higher FRAP than participants drinking the placebo.

Indicators of inflammation, including plasma IL-6 and HODEs, which are very high after prolonged and intensive endurance exercise, and overall performance and power were not changed.

“The beneficial effects of the biotransformed coffee polyphenols should be measured over subtle changes that occur over the long term,” Nieman explained. “These effects are not often captured using typical blood inflammation and oxidative stress measures.”

Nieman also says that “we feel the data are robust and strong, and our primary, immediate health benefit was that the participants consuming CQAs just felt better mentally.”

Feel better, be better

“A lot of people doing things for their health don’t feel any better, and it’s very hard for them to keep it up,” Arnot explained. “What I like to tell people is ‘taste better, feel better, be better.’”

The world of plant-based foods, including coffee, offers that opportunity. Both Nieman and Arnot advocate for a diet full of phenolics, and coffee is just one part of the phenolic menu. Fruits and vegetables of all kinds that offer diverse types of polyphenols with unique health benefits make up the rest.

“If your polyphenol intake is high, both through coffee and through eating fruits and vegetables, then as the years go by, mortality rates, mental disease, various types of cancers, heart disease, and more are all reduced,” Nieman said. “There are long-term significant health benefits and then in the short-term, you feel better. It is a difficult combination to beat, those two put together.”

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