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Good to the last drop, but ...


Published: Fri, September 9, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.


Philadelphia Inquirer: Ah, the joy of it all: Sitting in a Starbucks last week, sipping an espresso macchiato and spotting a news story that proclaims that coffee has far more antioxidants than anything else we eat or drink.
Antioxidants, of course, are the Patriot missiles of our internal system, seeking out and neutralizing so-called free radicals that can damage cells and hence make us vulnerable to a host of chronic diseases. And now the news that coffee gives us our greatest daily dose of antioxidants -- well, for a moment that's a twin high that would seem almost too good to be legal.
But just a moment. Before we think that two venti lattes a day can prevent heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer's, let's get beyond the headlines of the findings by chemistry professor Joe A. Vinson of the University of Scranton.
Indeed, says Vinson, coffee is loaded with antioxidants -- at least when measured in a test tube, as he did. How many are absorbed into the body when coffee is consumed is yet to be determined. Further, not all antioxidants have the same effect; they are most effective against free radicals when they come from a variety of foods, drinks and food supplements.
Spinach
Finally, other sources such as fruits and vegetables may be lower in antioxidants but higher in vitamins, minerals and fiber, which are of far more nutritional value. So yes, spinach and asparagus still trump coffee -- for healthiness, is not taste.
Jeffrey B. Blumberg, director of the Antioxidants Research Laboratory at Tufts University, said he was certain that Vinson's results were accurate but feared that "a whole industry of coffeemakers will turn this interesting observation into a health claim."
"We're just not there yet," he said.
So enjoy your cup of joe or two, caffeinated or decaf -- both are high in antioxidants, Vinson says. If it puts a spring in your step, that's fine, but for now it would be a leap of faith to think that coffee is a panacea.


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