Is Coffee As Healthy For You As Fruit And Vegetables?


Coffee beans may be viewed as healthy vegetable food and a main supplier of dietary phenolic phytochemicals.

This is a direct quote from a paper published in 2020 called ‘Health Effects of Coffee: Mechanism Unraveled?’ states

Some may be surprised, some might not be (especially now!), I actually started drinking coffee after learning about its health benefits. Since then we have seen a boom in research in coffee. Regular consumption has been associated with lower incidence of:

  • Type 2 diabetes mellitus
  • Kidney stones
  • Cognitive and neurological disease such as Parkinson’s
  • Cardiovascular health
  • Liver fibrosis, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, liver cirrhosis, liver cancer and of chronic liver disease
  • Reduced cancer risk (for some cancers)
  • Perfmormance enhancement in sport and general productivity

Ultimately there is an inverse association between consumption and all-cause mortality!

Health Effects of Coffee: Mechanism Unraveled?Nutrients 2020, 12, 1842

What Makes Coffee Healthy?

It contains more than 1500 chemical components!

Some of the key bioactive components include:

  • Quercetin
  • Polypehnols
  • Antioxidant such as ferulic, and n-coumaric acids
  • Phenolic compounds (chlorogenic acids, cafestol and kahweol)
  • Alkaloids (caffeine and trigonelin)
  • Diterpenes (cafestol and kahweol)
  • Polysaccharides, peptides and melanoidins
  • Other secondary metabolites
  • Caffeine
  • Minerals

A direct quote from a paper published in 2020 called ‘Health Effects of Coffee: Mechanism Unraveled?‘ states:

Recent studies have identified a health promoting mechanism common to coffee, vegetables and fruits, i.e., the activation of an adaptive cellular response characterized by the upregulation of proteins involved in cell protection, notably antioxidant, detoxifying and repair enzymes. Key to this response is the activation of the Nrf2 (Nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor-2) system by phenolic phytochemicals, which induces the expression of cell defense genes. Coffee plays a dominant role in that regard because it is the major dietary source of phenolic acids and polyphenols in the developed world. A possible supportive action may be the modulation of the gut microbiota by non-digested prebiotic constituents of coffee, but the available data are still scarce.”

Let’s look at some of the different links between coffee and health.

Cognitive Health

Consumption also appears to protect against some neurodegenerative diseases.

Lifelong consumption has been associated with prevention of cognitive decline, and reduced risk of developing stroke, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Its consumption does not seem to influence seizure occurrence. Thus, daily coffee and caffeine intake can be part of a healthy balanced diet.

Increasing evidence suggests that regular consumption of coffee, tea and dark chocolate (cacao) can promote brain health and may reduce the risk of age-related neurodegenerative disorders. However, the complex array of phytochemicals in coffee and cacao beans and tea leaves has hindered a clear understanding of the component(s) that affect neuronal plasticity and resilience. One class of phytochemicals present in relatively high amounts are methylxanthines. Among such methylxanthines, caffeine has been the most widely studied and has clear effects on neuronal network activity, promotes sustained cognitive performance and can protect neurons against dysfunction and death in animal models of stroke, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Caffeine’s mechanism of action relies on antagonism of various subclasses of adenosine receptors. Downstream xanthine metabolites, such as theobromine and theophylline, may also contribute to the beneficial effects on brain health.

Lifetime intake of ≥2 cups/day was significantly associated with a lower Aβ positivity compared to intake of <2 cups/day, even after controlling for potential confounders. In contrast, neither lifetime nor current coffee intake was not related to hypometabolism, atrophy of AD-signature region, and WMH volume. The findings suggest that higher lifetime intake may contribute to lowering the risk of AD or related cognitive decline by reducing pathological cerebral amyloid deposition.

There is also a weak inverse relationship with depression.

Cardiovascular Health

Habitual consumption is also associated with lower risks for cardiovascular (CV) death and a variety of adverse CV outcomes, including coronary heart disease (CHD), congestive heart failure (HF), and stroke; coffee’s effects on arrhythmias and hypertension are neutral. Consumption is associated with improvements in some CV risk factors, including type 2 diabetes (T2D), depression, and obesity.

Chronic consumption is associated with improved asthma control.

Gut Health And Coffee

Gut health is all the craze today, and yes there is little research in this area too. Here are the highlights:

Human studies have demonstrated that even instant coffee led to an increase in the metabolic activity and numbers of Bifidobacterium, a bacterial group of “reputed beneficial effects”.

This magical beverage has also been shown to stimulate gallbladder contraction, and increase of colonic motor activity (muscdle contractions in the large intestine). Amazingly, distal colonic motility (the end of the colon) increases as early as 4 minutes after coffee ingestion!

Consumption is also inversely associated with the prevalence of self-reported constipation.

In one final study, consumption was associated with microbial richness and evenness.

Liver Health

Consumption is associated with improvement in liver enzymes (ALT, AST, and GGTP), especially in individuals with risk for liver disease. Intake of more than 2 cups per day in patients with preexisting liver disease has been shown to be associated with lower incidence of fibrosis and cirrhosis, lower hepatocellular carcinoma rates, as well as decreased mortality.

I find this amazing!


Coffee drinking is associated with a reduced risk of liver cancer.

A possible decreased risk was found in some studies for oral/pharyngeal cancer and for advanced prostate cancer. Although data are mixed, overall, there seems to be some favorable effect of coffee drinking on colorectal cancer in case-control studies, in the absence of a consistent relation in cohort studies. For bladder cancer, the results are not consistent; however, any possible direct association is not dose and duration related, and might depend on a residual confounding effect of smoking. A few studies suggest an increased risk of childhood leukemia after maternal coffee drinking during pregnancy, but data are limited and inconsistent. Although the results of studies are mixed, the overall evidence suggests no association of coffee intake with cancers of the stomach, pancreas, lung, breast, ovary, and prostate overall.

An increase in consumption of one cup per day was associated with a 3% reduction in melanoma risk. Our findings suggest that coffee intake may be inversely associated with incidence of melanoma.

How Much Coffee is Healthy?

Habitual intake of 3 to 4 cups of coffee appears to be safe and is associated with the most robust beneficial effects.

But it’s not that simple…

The chemical composition of brewed coffee depends on numerous factors: the beans, post-harvest processing and, finally, the extraction method. In recent decades, numerous coffee-based beverages, obtained using different extraction techniques have entered the market

A study entitled What Kind of Coffee Do You Drink? An Investigation on Effects of Eight Different Extraction Methods states:

“Maximum caffeine and CGA concentrations were found in Espressos, while Moka and filtered coffees were three to six times less concentrated. The classic Espresso method was most efficient for caffeine and CGA recovery, with a yield almost double that of other methods. Per-cup caffeine and CGAs were higher in Cold Brew than Espresso coffees, as a function of the volume of beverage, which ranged from 30 mL (for espresso) to 120 mL (for filtered coffees). In light of these results, it is not possible to establish how many cups of coffee can be consumed per day without exceeding the recommended doses, since according to the applied brewing method, the content of the bioactive substances varies considerably.”

Ben Greenfield has some great resources around the health benefits of coffee such as this podcast.

A great ‘hack’ is to add a little cardamon or rosemary to your coffee – apparently these type of compounds enhances the free radical-scavenging and antioxidant properties.


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