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What are you actually getting when you drink a cup of coffee? A jolt of caffeine, of course – even decaf has a little caffeine in it – but what about the other constituents of coffee? A cup of java contains quite a number of nutrients, it turns out. Check out our quick overview of the nutrients in coffee and other chemical compounds in coffee.
For the purposes of this article, we’re defining a cup of coffee as 250 ml (just over 8 oz.) of medium-strength, brewed, unsweetened, black, caffeinated coffee. If you add milk, creamer or sugar to your coffee, these nutritional facts will be different, obviously – but they may also be different if you drink espresso, or make your coffee very strong or very weak. These figures won’t differ substantially in those cases, but scientists are finding that brewing methods – particularly the difference between filtered and unfiltered coffee – can make a difference in some the amount of some chemical compounds typically found in coffee. The roast level of your ground coffee may also make a difference. So, just to be clear – we’re talking about an 8 oz. cup of black coffee, no sugar and full strength here. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about what’s in that cup of Joe.
Coffee contains no macronutrients – fats, proteins and carbohydrates – so there are no appreciable calories in a cup of plain, undoctored black coffee. A standard 8 oz. cup of coffee provides approximately 3 to 8 kcal (that’s calories, in layman talk). Of those very few calories, 17% is from fat, 41% is from carbs and 42% is from protein.
Specifically, the fats are omega-6 fatty acids – but there’s really not enough of them in a cup of coffee to have an adverse effect on your omega-3:omega-6 OFA balance, if you’re obsessive about balancing your omegas. The .3 g of protein is in the form of micronutrients – amino acids and the like – and comprises about 1% of the recommended daily value of protein.
Coffee has a number of important amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. Most of these are present in very small amounts, but they serve important functions in the body. As you read through the list, though, you may start to understand why scientists are discovering new beneficial effects of coffee all the time. The full list of amino acids found in coffee includes:
Threonine 2.4 mg – metabolizes fat, prevents the buildup of fat in the liver, helps in the formation of tooth enamel, collagen and elastin.
Isoleucine 4.7 mg – helps prevent muscle protein breakdown and prolongs endurance performance in heat.
Leucine 11.9 mg – helps regulate blood sugar, growth and repairs of muscle tissue, growth hormone production (and you thought coffee stunted growth!), energy regulation and promotes would healing.
Lysine 2.4 mg – helps build muscle protein and fight cold sores, assists with calcium absorption and maintaining nitrogen balance.
Methionine 0.0 mg – improves memory recall in people with nervous system degeneration, provides sulfur and other compounds needed for normal growth and metabolism.
Cystine 4.7 mg – strengthens the protective stomach lining, functions as an antioxidant.
Phenylalanine 7.1 mg – may help with neurological issues related to Parkinson’s disease, helps elevate the mood, helps with memory and learning, and suppresses the appetite.
Tyrosine 4.7 mg – helps suppress appetite and reduce body fat, assists in producing skin and hair pigment, and in regulating the thyroid, pituitary and adrenal glands.
Valine 7.1 mg – promotes mental vigor and muscle coordination, and helps reduce anxiety.
Arginine 2.4 mg – assists with producing protein, hormone secretion (including growth hormone, glucagon and insulin), promotes wound healing, stimulates the immune function and helps remove excess ammonia from the body.
Histidine 4.7 mg – is a neurotransmitter, stimulates gastric secretions, dilates blood vessels and helps regulate blood pressure.
Alanine 7.1 mg – helps strengthen the immune system, metabolize sugar and organic acids, assists in the healthy functioning of the nervous system.
Aspartic acid 11.9 mg – works with other amino acids to absorb toxins and remove them from the blood.
Glutamic acid 47.4 mg – helps protect the heart muscle in people with heart disease, and stimulates the central nervous system.
Glycine 9.5 mg – inhibits some neurotransmitter in the central nervous system.
Proline 9.5 mg – helps strengthen cardiac muscles and improves skin texture, slows the loss of collagen due to aging.
Serine 2.4 mg – helps in the production of antibodies and provides immune system support, helps metabolize fat and promotes tissue growth.
Vitamin K 0.2 mcg 0%DV
Vitamin K is the blood clotting vitamin. If your body doesn’t have enough of it, your blood won’t clot properly. Scientists are also discovering that this vitamin may also play a role in bone mineralization.
The B vitamins help the body turn food into energy. There are 8 recognized B vitamins, along with choline, which is often considered to be part of the B complex group. Each of the B vitamins has a unique role in the body, and coffee provides a surprisingly high amount of several of them. In general, any food that provides 1% or more of a particular nutrient is considered a “good” source of that nutrient. As you can see above, a cup of Joe is actually a good source of thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, folate, pantothenic acid and cholate. What do they do for you?
Thiamin (B1) 0.02 mg 2%DV
helps synthesize DNA and RNA and is required to produce energy from food. It’s necessary for the healthy replication of cells. A cup of coffee provides 2% of the daily value of thiamin for an adult male.
Riboflavin (B2) 0.2 mg 11%DV
supports the antioxidant activity in the body and helps your body produce energy. It’s necessary for healthy cell growth. A cup of coffee has a whopping 11% of the recommended daily value for riboflavin.
Niacin 0.5 mg (B3) 2%DV
supports more than 200 chemical processes in your body, including those responsible for energy production and for synthesizing fatty acids. A cup of coffee provides 2% of the recommended daily value of niacin.
Folate 4.7 (B9) mcg 1%DV
is a naturally occurring form of folic acid, which your body requires for healthy cell growth and energy production. It is best known for its role in neural and spinal cord development in the fetus – however, the possible adverse effects of caffeine on the developing fetus counteract the beneficial effects of the relatively small amount of folate in coffee. Nonetheless, a cup of coffee provides about 1% of the daily value of folate.
Pantothenic Acid (B5) 0.6 mg 6%DV
familiarly known as vitamin B5, is an essential vitamin for all forms of life. It is a precursor of Coenzyme A, which is required for energy production, fat metabolism and building cholesterol, one of the building blocks of new cells. A cup of coffee provides 6% of the DV of pantothenic acid, making it a very good source of that nutrient.
Choline 6.2 mg 1.2% (Adequate Daily Intake)
is not technically listed as a vitamin, but is commonly grouped with the B vitamins. It plays a role in brain development, cell signaling, healthy fat metabolism, liver protection, and healthy neurological function. The nutritional board has not designated a recommended daily value for choline, but suggests that an adequate daily intake of this important compound is 425 mg for women and 550 mg for adult men.
Last but not least, coffee also contains several important minerals. When you drink an 8-oz cup of black coffee, you’re consuming:
Calcium 4.7mg 0%
With a DV of 1000 to 1200 mg daily, the little bit of calcium in coffee doesn’t even really register on the scale, but it’s in there. The truth is, however, caffeine seems to increase the amount of caffeine excreted by your body. If you suffer from weak bones or bone loss, you should probably avoid drinking more than 3 cups of coffee day, according to many doctors. Others suggest that you drink your coffee with a little milk to offset the loss.
Magnesium 7.1mg 2%
Helps regulate heart rhythm, assists vitamin C metabolism, help metabolize sugar, protein and carbohydrates. Magnesium may help prevent strokes, and is necessary for the production of testosterone and progesterone. Along with calcium, it helps build strong bones and teeth and is essential for nerve transmission, temperature regulation and to help the body process many other micronutrients.
Phosphorus 7.1mg 1%
Phosphorus plays a role in nearly every metabolic reaction in your body, including converting fat, carbs and protein to energy.
Potassium 116mg 3%
Potassium helps regulate fluid balance in your body and is necessary for healthy adrenal gland function. It’s important for proper muscle contractions (bye bye Charley horses!), good blood pressure, nerve impulses, healthy skin and good enzyme production. It seems to help prevent strokes and has antidepressant and antihypertensive effects.
Manganese 0.1mg 3%
Manganese helps your body use choline, thiamine, biotin, vitamin C and vitamin E. It helps improve smooth muscle relaxation and promotes normal growth and development, as well as healthy cell function.
It would be stretching things to suggest that coffee is a “health drink,” but chemical analysis of coffee shows that it contains many of the nutrients that our bodies need and use for healthy functioning. Reading through the way your body uses all of these chemicals and constituents, it’s easy to draw connections between a regular coffee habit and many of the benefits that scientists have found in people who enjoy a few cups of java a day.
Of course, it’s also important to remember that coffee contains caffeine, which has side effects for many people and which is not well tolerated by a lot of people. People who have high blood pressure, for example, are usually advised to limit their coffee consumption, and most health organizations recommend that pregnant women consume no more than 400 mg of caffeine daily. You should always follow your doctor’s advice regarding coffee consumption, but if there are no health restrictions, it certainly looks as if coffee – which provides many nutrients with very few calories – is much more good for you than bad.