Coffee And Nutrition – What’s In This Little Bean?

The world is becoming more and more aware that nutrition is incredibly important, and can be the key to solving a range of different health problems.

But what about coffee? What nutrition do you get from a cuppa joe? Are there any health benefits of drinking coffee?

Well, we’ve listed the most common chemicals found in coffee and what they do for you. We’ve also attempted to explain what each micronutrients found in coffee do to your body, as often we don’t really know what B vitamins, sodium, or potassium does for us.

Next time you’re out for a coffee you can show off some of your new found nutritional knowledge to your friends and family. Shall we read on?

Coffee beans and ground coffee

Compounds Found In Coffee

There are lots of different compounds in that little bean, and they all have their role in keeping us healthy, as long as it’s consumed in moderation of course. Here are some of the most common compounds, and what they do.

Caffeine

Caffeine is a naturally found stimulant that’s found most commonly in tea, coffee, and cacao plants. There are synthetic versions which are added to some food and drinks, as well as medicine too.

Once consumed, it enters your bloodstream through your gut, where it then reaches the liver and is broken down into it’s compounds. There are many effects of caffeine, but the biggest effect is on your brain.

A neurotransmitter, called adenosine, is responsible for making you tired, and begins to build up from the moment you’re awake. The higher the levels of adenosine the more tired you feel.

What caffeine does is block the receptors of this neurotransmitter, therefore stopping that feeling of tiredness from building up.

Note however, that it doesn’t stop your body from producing the chemical, and so when the caffeine wears off, you get a big hit of adenosine, which you might recognise as a ‘caffeine crash’.

Other effects of caffeine include:

  • Feeling more alert and focused
  • Excitable and energetic
  • Faster heart rate and breathing
  • Higher body temperature
  • Stomach cramps
  • Headache

For more information on caffeine, we have an entire article dedicated to the buzz drug, which you can find here: What Is Caffeine?

Antioxidants

Coffee has been shown to be one of the largest sources of antioxidants in the human diet. A study actually found coffee ranked 11th when comparing antioxidant content and serving size.

That’s all well and good, but what do antioxidants do?

They’re pretty important for disarming something in your body called free radicals. These are oxygen-containing molecules with an uneven number of electrons, basically meaning they can react very easily with other molecules in your body.

They can damage important molecules like proteins and DNA, which can set off a chain reaction in your body and put your body under oxidative stress.

In short, free radicals can cause cancer and other diseases. Antioxidants protect you from these free radicals. 

Some of the main antioxidants found in coffee are hydroxycinnamic acids, and polyphenols.

Polyphenols are thought to prevent many conditions, such as cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. Hydrocinnamic acids are super effective at disarming free radicals, and prevents oxidative stress.

Diterpenes

There are two diterpenes found in coffee, which are cafestol and kahweol. They’re present in the oil contained in coffee, which you may have seen as an iridescent layer on the top of your black coffee or espresso.

In the past, research has suggested that high levels of these diterpenes can increase levels of total and LDL cholesterol, which isn’t really a good thing.

However, the amount of cafestol and kahweol you consume from coffee largely depends on what type of brewing method you use.

Unfiltered coffee, such as Turkish coffee, or that from a cafetiere/French press, will contain more of these diterpenes than filtered coffee.

If you’re drinking an espresso, there will be little to no effect from these diterpenes as the levels are lower than unfiltered coffee, and the serving size is smaller.

In recent research though there may be a link between diterpenes and a protection from some cancers. This isn’t concluded as fact and more research needs to be conducted.

Ochratoxin A (OTA)

OTA is a mycotoxin which is produced by mould, therefore only present in coffee that has been stored incorrectly and in humid conditions.

Don’t fret though. Today, coffee producing countries have put into place effective controls to manage the storing of coffee, in order to avoid OTA from developing. There are EU regulations that oversee the levels of OTA and stop it from ending up in our cups of coffee.

Therefore there isn’t really a concern about it anymore. There could be possible links between OTA and kidney disease, and bladder or hepatocellular cancer, but no direct causal link has been established. So it’s a good job measures are being taken to avoid this!

For top tips on storing your coffee correctly so you’re drinking the freshest coffee, check out this article: Don’t Drink Stale Coffee – How To Keep Your Beans Fresh

Furan

Furans occur naturally when food and drink is heated up or cooked.

In coffee, they occur when coffee is roasted. But they form in any traditional cooking methods, so it’s likely that they have been in the human diet for many thousands of years.

But does Furan make it into your cup? And what does it do to your body?

There was a concern at one point that Furan may be cancer causing, however after a review was published in the International Agency for Research on Cancer, it was concluded that ‘there is inadequate evidence in humans of the carcinogenicity of furan’.

Furan is known to be highly volatile and evaporates easily, so during the brewing process, most of the compound is removed.

Coffee contains hundreds of compounds and is deemed, by many organisations, as a healthy beverage to drink. Like with everything, too much of something is bad for you, so it’s all in moderation.

coffee and a healthy balanced diet

Nutritional Values In Coffee

Black coffee on its own contains almost no macronutrients, carbs, fats, or proteins, and therefore has less than 2 kcal per 100ml. It’s no surprise when you realise that coffee is 99% water.

Obviously, your average latte or cappuccino is going to have a significant amount of milk in it. And depending on what milk you use, the nutritional value is going to change. But for the sake of this example, let’s just use 100ml of black coffee.

When looking at micronutrients, which are essential for body and brain function, coffee contains a lot of them.

SodiumTrace
Potassium92mg
Magnesium8mg
Manganese0.05mg
Riboflavin0.01mg
Niacin0.7mg

Now I don’t know about you, but when I look at something like this table above I think ‘well that’s great but I have NO idea what these micronutrients do for me’.

So here’s just a quick run through of what each does to your body.

Sodium (Na)

Sodium is an electrolyte and mineral and helps to keep the water and electrolyte balance of the body. It helps to regulate the amount of fluid that’s inside and outside of your bodys cells.

Most sodium in your body is found in your blood and lymph fluid. A hormone called aldosterone tells the kidneys when to hold sodium in your body (when levels are getting low), and when to pass them through your urine.

Low sodium levels can cause Hyponatremia, which has symptoms of confusion, lethargy, and fatigue.

According to the FDA, we should be consuming no more than 2,300mg per day of sodium, so a teaspoon of salt. So I think most people are probably consuming way too much sodium each day.

Potassium (K)

Potassium is the third most abundant material in the body and acts like an electrolyte, carrying a positive ion which means it can conduct electricity. This is key to many bodily functions.

Some of these include regulating fluid balance, nervous system function, and muscle and heart contractions.

Around 2% of Americans actually reach the daily recommended amount of potassium, but a deficiency or surplus will rarely lead to a health problem.

But for optimum bodily function, potassium is important.

Magnesium (Mg)

Magnesium is important for lots of body processes, such as regulating muscle and nerve function, blood sugar levels, regulating blood pressure, and making protein, bone, and DNA.

Like potassium, not getting enough magnesium is unlikely to cause many serious symptoms, but some people are more susceptible than others.

These types of people include those with gastrointestinal diseases, type 2 diabetes, and long-term alcoholism. So making the effort to consume enough magnesium is important, another reason to drink more coffee!

The daily recommended intake is 400mg for men, and 315mg for women.

Manganese (Mn)

Manganese contributes to the metabolism of amino acids, cholesterol, glucose, and carbohydrates, as well as bone formation, reducing inflammation, and blood clotting.

The body doesn’t produce manganese, but stores it all over the body, so it’s important to be eating some foods with a little bit of manganese content.

Adequate levels of manganese are around 2.3mg for men, and 1.8mg for women. 

Riboflavin and Niacin (B Vitamins)

All B vitamins help the body to convert food into fuel, so carbohydrates into glucose. They also metabolise fats and proteins, as well as keeping your liver, skin, hair, and eyes healthy.

If you eat a balanced diet you’ll probably be getting enough B vitamins. There are lots of symptoms of having a vitamin B deficiency, and some of them can be nasty.

Changing your diet to include more B vitamins is usually all it takes to get your levels up to where they should be, and to stop the symptoms.

If you’re worried you’re not getting enough B vitamins, there are blood or urine tests you can do.

To Sum Up

There are more than a 1000 chemical compounds that are found in coffee. Here we’ve discussed a few of them, and hopefully you’ve learnt what some of these micronutrients do for you. I know I have.

I must state that we’re not a registered nutritionist website, nor do we claim to be. We’re simply mad about coffee, and we’re keen to learn everything about this little bean that the world consumes so much of.

I do hope you’ve learnt a thing or two! Let us know if you have any questions or something we can add to this article!

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Tom Bolland

Tom Bolland

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