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Anti-oxidants in coffee

From the July 2015 issue.

New research has found that coffee has more types of anti‑oxidant in it than originally thought.

Ask most people what hot drink they should turn to in order to get their daily dose of anti-oxidants, and the answer will usually be tea.

However, according to Dr. Gordon Troup, from the School of Physics at Monash University in Melbourne, coffee may be a better bet.

“There are no anti-oxidants in black tea that we could detect. They were all burnt out because black tea is heated to 120 degrees,” Troup tells GCR Magazine.

“The high temperature simply destroys the complex polyphenols in the tea,” he says, adding that green tea is a rich source of anti-oxidants due to it being brewed at a lower temperature.

Troup was one of the first researchers to identify anti-oxidants in coffee back in the 1980s, and he has had an interest in studying the bean ever since.

Troup recently teamed up with Melbourne University researcher Simon Drew and Italian pair Luciano Navarini and Furio Suggi Liverani from illycaffe to examine the effect that the roasting process has on the anti-oxidants in coffee.

The group used an electron paramagnetic resonance machine to study the bean throughout the different stages of the roasting process.

The study, which was published in the research journal, Plos One, discovered a third type of anti-oxidant in coffee that was not previously known to be there. The research found that after roasting, the coffee bean retains theses low molecular weight anti-oxidants, which are fast acting and can be beneficial to peoples’ health.

“Some naturally occurring coffee compounds [polyphenols] are well-known anti-oxidants but, in addition, other compounds generated by roasting show as well antioxidant properties,” says Navarini.

Troup says that the idea for this study had been percolating between he and Navarini for more than a decade. But the pair only found the opportunity to fully conduct the study more recently.

“It’s just as well [that it took this long to start the study], because some of the techniques that we used just weren’t available... 10 years ago,” he says.

Troup says that the findings further reinforce that the anti-oxidant properties in coffee can be beneficial.

“There’s no doubt about it. Coffee has an anti-oxidant action, so from that point of view, it’s good for you,” he says.

Although he is a coffee lover himself, Troup cautions that too much of a good thing may not be such a great idea.

“I suppose if you took away the caffeine, you could drink more, but it’s best to do all things in moderation – in that way coffee’s a bit like wine,” he says.

Troup explains that anti-oxidants have a protective effect on the body, fighting free radicals to prevent the breakdown of harmful compounds and tackle inflammation.

“Free radicals are associated with causing swelling around wounds and things like that – if you can interrupt that oxidation action, then you’re doing a good thing,” he says. “Take cholesterol as an example – the oxidation of that turns it into a compound that sludges up your arteries. What the anti-oxidant does is to stop that action happening by getting in first – it’s like a shield that makes sure the cholesterol just passes through your system harmlessly.”

Navarini, who works as a researcher for illycaffè in Italy, says that while there is no immediate commercial application for this knowledge, the results of the research are a valuable addition to the growing bank of scientific knowledge about coffee.

“As you can easily understand the significance for illycaffè is simply to get knowledge and to stimulate the scientific arena in going in deep with further studies,” Navarini says. GCR

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