6 surprising facts about coffee (that you didn't know before)

We all know of the energy-boosting benefits of coffee. But did you know the science behind it? After drinking coffee, caffeine travels through the bloodstream to block the neural transmitter of adenosine, which is what lets us feel tired.

But there's so much more to coffee than just caffeine.

Coffee is made up of thousands of compounds, including a high amount of chlorogenic acids.

Here are 6 things that you probably didn't know about coffee.

[1] Coffee comes from one of the most antioxidant-rich plants in the world - Cascara

You know that there are antioxidants in dark chocolate, and you probably know that there are even more in blueberries.

But when it comes to coffee, it blows the competition away.

Depending on which method of antioxidant measuring you use (ORAC vs. Phenol-Explorer database), brewed coffee can have varying levels of antioxidant richness. What is uncontested, however, is the incredibly high antioxidant content of cascara, the coffee cherry.

Based on ORAC values, a method of calculating antioxidant absorption in humans per 100g of the food itself, and therefore their antioxidant value, the coffee cherry called “cascara” is the 4th most antioxidant rich food in the world.

Here are the top 4:

  1. Dragon's blood (Sangre de Grado) - the viscous, red sap of the Croton Lechleri tree, native to South America
  2. Astaxanthin Supplements - Isolated from microalgae
  3. Triphala Powder - a blend of three fruit: amla berries, haritaki, and vibhitaki
  4. Cascara Powder - powdered flesh of the coffee cherry

The first three products are not easily found on a daily basis in the Western diet, and are considerably limited in supply. Compare that to cascara, which abundant in the world - just as abundant and in demand as coffee beans.

Cascara, the flesh of the coffee cherry, is rich in plant polyphenols - specifically Chlorogenic acid and epicatechin. They've both found to positively impact brain performance and heart health. The fruit of the coffee cherry is usually discarded during the coffee making process, making coffee production an extremely wasteful activity. Even more so when you understand how many antioxidants are being thrown away.

When cascara is put to use, it is most usually seen in a dried form, to be used as “tea” that can be steeped in water. It is also being used in innovative ways, such as the Coffee Pixels edible coffee bars.

[2] Coffee stimulates the release of adrenaline and cortisol

Coffee stimulates the adrenal glands. Adrenal glands, in turn, distribute the “flight or flight” hormone - cortisol. As a result, within 15 minutes of drinking coffee, your body will be put into survival mode, which results in heightened attentiveness, stress and clear-mindedness. This is what creates the energy-boosted feeling after your coffee.

Sounds great, right?

If you've ever had a few too many cups of coffee, you'll intuitively know that there is indeed such a thing as too much of a good thing.

Here's the science to back it up.

Drinking excessive amounts of coffee can put you at risk of adrenal fatigue and over stimulation.

Though it does provide a boost of energy, it only lasts a few hours. As the cortisol wears off, you're left even more tired than you were at the beginning. As a result, most reach for the next cup of coffee to initiate the same stimulus.

The risk of continuing the cycle of cortisol release, is provoking adrenal fatigue. When cortisol is consistently released, the adrenal gland becomes fatigued. It no longer produces more cortisol in the morning (to help you wake up), and therefore makes it even more difficult to pick yourself up and get going in the morning.

The best solution?

Most resources suggest avoiding coffee or using it in moderation. However recent studies have shown that adding a fat component coffee can slow the absorption of caffeine, which can in turn slow and elongate the production of cortisol. Some coffee products that have been making use of this science include Bulletproof Coffee and Coffee Pixels.

[3] Caffeine prolongs the absorption of dopamine, thereby prolonging our “high”

Caffeine has been found to increase the amount of dopamine receptors in humans' brains. Dopamine is the hormone that makes us feel happy. This makes us more able to look on the bright side once we've had a coffee, than if we didn't.

The result of a predisposition to happiness while drinking coffee primes us for wanting more of the happiness. This in turn contributes to the addictive feeling of coffee, because we, as humans, naturally are designed to seek out good feelings.

This explains why coffee drinkers are less likely to have depression, especially women.

With this info in mind - the next time you feel like you're in a good mood, consider having a cup of coffee to maximize that good mood, or reach for a cuppa joe when you're feeling down.

  • [4] Caffeine boosts metabolic rates by 3-11%
  • Studies have found that drinking coffee can increase the resting metabolic rate (RMR) of individuals by up to 11%. In a similar vein, it has also been found that increasing coffee intake can lead to fat loss.

    In one experiment, ingesting 100mg of caffeine (the equivalent of two espresso) in two hour increments over 12 hours produce an effect of an additional 150 calories burned in lean individuals, while resulting in 79 calories burnt in post-obese individuals.

    However it has to be said that coffee drinking is a metabolism booster only for those who are not already heavy caffeine consumers. By developing a caffeine tolerance, the body becomes less receptive to the fat-burning effects of coffee. Unfortunately, that means that coffee drinking is not a sustainable or long-term weight loss strategy.

    [5] Over-roasted coffee may be carcinogenic

    The carcinogenic effect of coffee has recently been a hot topic, since a California judge ruled that coffee shops in CA must label that coffee is a carcinogen.

    Declaring coffee as carcinogenic is highly contested. In 1991, the World Health Organization (WHO) listed coffee as a group 2B carcinogen - “possibly carcinogenic to humans”. However in 2016, the classification was downgraded to a group 3 carcinogen - “not classifiable as to carcinogenicity”.

    It was one of the few times that the WHO has taken an food off of the list of carcinogens.

    Then why did the California judge deem it carcinogenic?

    Experts are divided.

    The California judge was influenced by the findings that the chemical acrylamide is carcinogenic, which is noted by the WHO as a group 2B carcinogen. Acrylamide is a toxin that occurs in the coffee bean roasting process. It is found in minute amounts in coffee. However in studies of rats, when it's been present in high doses in their drinking water, it has proven carcinogenic.

    The decision to list coffee as carcinogenic in California was contested by many specialists, saying that it does not take into consideration the substantial amounts of studies that conclude the opposite.

    As the chemical acrylamide becomes present during the roasting process, the lighter the roast, the less acrylamide in the coffee grinds. If acrylamide is a concern, then the best alternative would be to opt for light roast coffees, or specialty coffees that are precision-roasted.

    [6] Eating coffee makes you more productive than drinking it

    It turns out that eating solid coffee (which is combined with cocoa butter and antioxidant-rich cascara) yields an 11.6% increase in productivity, over drinking brewed coffee.

    In an office experiment, avid office coffee drinkers replaced their 2-3 daily cups of coffee with solid, edible coffee for a week. Their productivity scores from that week, measured by a time tracking and productivity app, were compared to a random week of regular coffee consumption.

    The results were undeniable.

    Consuming the edible coffee lead to an 11.6% average improvement of productivity in the workplace. Additionally, experiment participants demonstrated less dramatic peaks and falls of productivity, when compared to the coffee drinking week.

    It's possible to conclude that eating coffee mitigates the effects of the cortisol and adrenaline spikes and crashes, leading to a more homogenically productive workday.

    The tip of the coffee-berg

    Coffee is a multi-faceted product that can yield interesting results, can improve health, or also diminish it. It depends on how you use it.

    At Coffee Pixels, we suggest sticking to specialty coffee when possible, and making use of the whole coffee bean, cascara, for even higher antioxidant consumption and a boost in everyday performance.


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