Coffee Buzz: Drink Is Top Antioxidant Source in U.S.

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"There are about 4,000 known [antioxidant] compounds that are in plants. Their purpose [for the plant] is to reduce free radicals from UV light [exposure]," Vinson said. "Coffee is a rather unique plant in that it doesn't have a lot of different chemicals in it."

Jeffrey B. Blumberg is the director of the Antioxidants Research Laboratory at Tufts University's Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging in Boston, Massachusetts. He cautions that the study data also don't account for how well chemicals in coffee are absorbed in the body.

"The antioxidants in coffee are primarily of a specific type … ," he said. "We know relatively little about its activity in humans and its biological role.

"To suggest its role is similar to other essential antioxidants is misleading," he added.

Blumberg and Vinson both recommend eating more foods that contain a host of vital minerals and nutrients in addition to a high concentration of antioxidants—such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, and whole grains.

"The idea is to get a variety of antioxidants. With just coffee you are not getting all the kinds there are," Vinson said.

But staying healthy by eating your broccoli might not be what people want to be told, Blumberg says.

"Wouldn't you like good news that something you already do is good for you?" he quipped. "The suggestion that coffee is the new health food is really unwarranted."

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