Coffee

By EAT-SMARTER
Updated on 28. Sep. 2020

Coffee has been an integral part of the human diet since at least the 15th century, and for good reason. New research indicates that this popular drink is more than just a morning pick-me-up; indeed, it's one of the healthiest things you can consume. Read up on what makes coffee such a powerfully nutritious ingredient below.

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  • ...is packed with antioxidants. Coffee is packed with antioxidants, powerful substances which help protect the body’s cells against damage caused by free radicals, including premature aging and even certain types of cancer. The antioxidants contained in coffee, called quinines, actually become more powerful during roasting, ultimately making coffee beans one of the richest sources of antioxidants in the Western diet. In fact, studies have shown that coffee is the #1 source of antioxidants for most Americans.
  • ...may lower your chances of developing certain types of cancers and other serious diseases. Studies have shown that regular coffee consumption may reduce the risk of developing colon cancer by 25%, liver cancer by 40%, and colorectal cancer by 15%. Studies have also shown that it can reduce the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease by 80% and gallstones by 50%.
  • ...may help protect the liver. ...can help protect the liver. Regular coffee consumption has been shown in many studies to help prevent cirrhosis, in which the liver begins to be replaced by scar tissue. Studies have indicated coffee consumption might help decrease chances of developing cirrhosis of the liver by up to 80%.
  • ...may reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. offee’s high amounts of antioxidants mixed with its rich levels of the mineral magnesium, may lower your chances of developing type 2 diabetes. One study indicated that regular coffee drinkers had between a 24-50% lower chance of developing type 2 diabetes, although others have pointed to more modest numbers around 7%.
  • ...contain essential vitamins and minerals. ...contain essential vitamins and minerals. Coffee isn’t packed with vitamins and minerals, but does contain considerable amounts of vitamins B2 and B5, which helps the body metabolize carbs, proteins and fats into energy; manganese, which helps regulate blood sugar; potassium, which supports healthy nerve and muscle function, and magnesium, which helps regulate blood sugar and blood pressure levels.
  • ...can help improve brain function. ...can help improve brain function. Coffee is rich in caffeine, a natural stimulant which works to block the inhibitory neurotransmitter adenosine in the brain, increasing the amount of other neurotransmitters and ultimately enhanced firing of neurons. This process can result in better brain function, from reaction times, memory and mood to increased energy.
  • ...is much healthier consumed black. On its own, coffee is something of a miracle ingredient. However most of the ingredients people often add to their coffee is another story. Creamers and sweeteners can quickly bog down a healthy cup of coffee with calories, fat and chemicals, so make sure to check the nutritional labels of your coffee additions before using them. If they’re high in fat or sugar, try alternating every cup of creamed coffee with a black cup.
  • ...isn't for everyone. Coffee’s abundance of caffeine can have adverse reactions in some. If you suffer from health palpitations or a rapid heartbeat, consult your doctor about how much coffee is healthy to consume. Those you are pregnant, nursing, or suffer from heart disease, high blood pressure or osteoporosis should also consult their doctor before drinking coffee.

What You Should Know About Coffee

A warm beverage brewed from the roasted beans of the coffee plant is one of the world's oldest and most beloved beverages, enjoyed as a warming pick-me-up across the world for nearly 700 years. And recent studies have shown that there's more to our centuries-long adiction to this beverage than just its taste and caffeine intake; indeed close to 20,000 major studies have been conducted on coffee consumption over the past three decades, with results indicating that regular coffee consumption can help lessen chances of developing diseases from cancer to type 2 diabetes to Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease.

However it's not all sunshine and roses when it comes to coffee. Coffee's long history has at times been an incredibely violent and blood-stained one, produced off the backs of slaves and child laborers, even in modern day. Indeed as recent as 2014 it was discovered that Starbucks was purchasing beans from plantations utilizing forced labor. Today, up to 40% of workers on coffee bean farms in Honduras, a major coffee exporter, are children. 

It's easy to believe that in the U.S. the cup of coffee you buy every morning or brew at home might have nothing to do with the human rights atrocities ubiquitous in coffee production in other countries. In reality, the exact opposite is true. Indeed the vast majority of coffee brands, from your local cafe to massive international coffee brands, utilize beans from small farmers in other countires. Studies estimate that 70-80% of the world’s coffee is grown by small-scale farmers. In the best cases this can mean steady income for independent farmers and the infusion of more jobs in poorer countries. However all to often, as in the 2014 case of Starbucks, outsourcing the cultivation of coffee beans can mean awful labor practices  go unchecked by American companies, prioritizing cheap prices over just labor practices. Even more common is for large American companies to exploit small farmers in poorer countries, specifically in Central and South America, by drastically underpaying them. On average, coffee farmers typically earn only 7–10% of the retail price of coffee, and in some cases as low as 2%. 

Therefore if you drink coffee, it's important to buy ethically-sourced varieties from growers who practice moral labor practices and American companies which pay growers equitable rates for their work. The best way to do this is by doing a little research on the coffee shops and companies you're buying from. In light of rising publicity surrounding the exploitation of coffee farmers, many companies will have information on the farms they purchase from on their website. Look out for companies which identify the specific farms they source their beans from, how much they're paying their farmer heads and workers and the labor practices at the farms. If this information isn't available, it's probably a red flag.

Origins

Coffee plants grow in tepid to tropical climates with rich soil, and are indigenous in countries across the world, from North and South America to the Caribbean and Asia. It's hard to pinpoint the first time these beans were roasted and brewed into the modern-day coffee beverage, but the earliest recorded use was in the early 15th century in Yemen. By the 16th century, coffee had become a popular beverage through the Middle East and soon thereafter in Africa.

Season

Coffee plants grow on both sides of the equator, meaning that fresh coffee beans are cultivated and available year round.

Flavor

Coffee has a rich, nutty and slightly earthy taste that varies widely depending on the bean, region its grown and the cultivation methods. Coffee beans can be produced with complex flavor profiles ranging from fruity to chocolatey to more herbal.

Find all our recipes with coffee here.

How Healthy is Coffee?

Coffee might get a bad rep due to its high caffeine content, however the science seems to indicate that this couldn't be more wrong. In fact, coffee's incredibely high levels of antioxidants as well as considerable amounts of different nutrients make it one of the healthiest things you can consume. In fact, recent studies have shown that for most Americans, coffee is the top source of antioxidants in their diet.

Indeed, 19,000 studies on coffee over the past decades have indicated that coffee might have major effects in preventing an array of diseases. Studies have shown that regular coffee consumption may reduce the risk of developing certain cancers significantly, including colon cancer by 25%, liver cancer by 40%, and colorectal cancer by 15%. The promising research doesn't just apply to cancer. Studies have shown that regular coffee drinkers reduced their risk of developing Parkinson’s disease by 80%, gallstones by 50%, type 2 diabetes by anywhere from 7-50%, and cirrhosis of the liver by up to 80%. Coffee might even help you live longer; a massize 2008 study of nearly 130,000 people showed that regular coffee consumption was associated with a 26% reduced risk of death in women over 24 years old, and a 20% reduced risk in men.

Coffee also contains virtually no calories, fat or carbs, making it a good option for dieters.

That said, coffee's naturally stimulating effects can have adverse side effects for some people. If you suffer from health palpitations or a rapid heartbeat, consult your doctor about how much coffee is healthy to consume. Those you are pregnant, nursing, or suffer from heart disease, high blood pressure or osteoporosis should also consult their doctor before drinking coffee.

COFFEE NUTRITIONAL INFO (8 FL. OZ)  
Calories 2.4
Protein 0.3 g
Fat 0.1 g
Carbohydrates 0 g
Fiber 0 g

Shopping and Preparation Tips

Shopping

What kind of coffee you purchase depends entirely on your taste and preferences. Cheaper brands of coffee tend to have a more subdued, earthy taste while more expensive varieties are often cultivated and roasted to bring out more complicated flavor profiles, with notes of berries, chocolate, caramel and even herbs.

When buying coffee, whether it's a brewed cup at your local coffee shop or a bag of beans from the market, it's important to do your research to make sure your money isn't supporting companies which exploit their workers by underpaying them or supporting exploitative labor practices. This happens more than you'd expect, so it's well worth your time to do a little digging before heading to the store. Most grocery stores are stocked with a variety of small and large-scale coffee brands. Look up the brands you see at the store to see which are transparent about the farms they source their beans from, how much they're paying their farmer heads and workers and the labor practices at the farms. This information should be available on their website; if it's not, or if they information is vauge (i.e., they don't name a specific farm) it's probably a red flag.

Preparation

Coffee can either be purchased pre-ground or as whole beans. Most coffee connoisseurs wouldn't be caught dead purchasing pre-ground, as coffee begins to lose flavor once it's been ground. If you're a casual coffee drinker, it won't make that much of a difference, but if you're drinking a couple cups a day, it's worth the extra time to grind your beans at home. This will yield the most intense flavor, and only takes a couple seconds to prepare in a food processor or blender.

What to Make With Coffee

Coffee is way more than a morning pick-me-up. Indeed coffee's bold, nutty flavor adds beautiful flavor to both savory and sweet dishes. Particularly when it comes to desserts, there is no end to what you can do with coffee. The most well-known example is probably the luscious Italian dessert tiramisu, made up of crispy lady fingers soaked in espresso and layered with coffee-flavored marscapone, however coffee makes a beautiful dessert base in a range of less time-intensive recipes, from simple cakes to these yummy Vanilla Cappuccino Bars

Coffee is less utilized as a savory ingredient, but paired with the right ingredients can be delicious in main entrees or appetizers. These Steak Skewers with Fried Chestnuts and Coffee Sauce, for example, are a must-try.

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