We Get Most Polyphenols From Coffee, Study Says — But Is That OK? 

mbg Editorial Assistant By Eliza Sullivan
mbg Editorial Assistant
Eliza Sullivan is an editorial assistant at mindbodygreen. She received a B.S. journalism and a B.A. in english literature from Boston University.
We Get Most Of This Nutrient From Coffee & Tea: Here's Why That's A Problem

You'd be hard-pressed to find a person who's never had a cup of coffee or tea. In fact, for many people, these beverages make up a significant aspect of a morning routine (and, perhaps, an afternoon routine as well in an effort to avoid that dreaded afternoon slump). While we love our daily cuppa for its energy boost and reputed health benefits, in the United States there's one claim to fame coffee and tea maybe shouldn't have: the primary source of polyphenols in our diets.

What are polyphenols?

The term polyphenol refers to an entire class of compounds that are found in plants. In previous research, they've been linked to antioxidant, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory benefits (among others). A 2013 study also suggested that high dietary polyphenol intake was linked to increased longevity.

The new report, published in the November issue of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, examined the sources of dietary polyphenols for American adults, over a 10-year period.

In the report, the average adult consumed about 884.1 milligrams of polyphenols for every 1,000 calories—a reasonable amount. But it's where those compounds are coming from that may be a problem.

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Why getting polyphenols from coffee might not be optimal.

The researchers found that 39.6% of polyphenol intake came from coffee, while beans accounted for 9.8%. Another popular morning beverage, tea accounted for 7.6%.

As previously mentioned, polyphenols are a group of compounds (including things like flavonoids and phenolic acids) that originate in plants—which means, logically, shouldn't those five to nine servings of fruits and veggies we eat each day account for our polyphenol intake?

"Findings from this study suggest that polyphenol intake is consistent with the low intake of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in the U.S. population," states the report, "and provide more evidence of the need for increased consumption of these food groups."

The standard American diet often means far too few vegetables, excess grains and proteins, as well as a shockingly high amount of added sugars. It seems likely that Americans are getting these compounds primarily from coffee due to deficiencies in other food categories.

By contrast, diets in other parts of the world (like the ever popular Mediterranean diet) place more emphasis on vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats, and whole grains.

What are other dietary sources of polyphenols?

Instead of leaning on our morning brew for our polyphenols, we're much better off looking at those milligrams as a bonus—and packing our diet with other foods rich in this nutrient.

In 2010, a study was published that identified the 100 best dietary sources of polyphenols. Here's a list of some of those top-ranking items:

  • Cloves: 15,188 mg per 100 g
  • Dried peppermint: 11,960 mg per 100 g
  • Flaxseed meal: 1,528 mg per 100 g
  • Black elderberry: 1,359 mg per 100 g
  • Blackberries: 260 mg per 100 g
  • Strawberries: 235 mg per 100 g
  • Red raspberries: 215 mg per 100 g
  • Black currants: 758 mg per 100 g
  • Plums: 377 mg per 100 g
  • Sweet cherries: 274 mg per 100 g
  • Hazelnuts: 495 mg per 100 g
  • Pecans: 493 mg per 100 g
  • Artichokes: 260 mg per 100 g
  • Red onions: 168 mg per 100 g

So there you have it: Load up on spices, berries, and nuts where you can. As for your cup of coffee, consider it an extra dose of polyphenols (a cup of filtered coffee has 214 milligrams per 100 grams). You can even try these pro tips to optimize that cup of coffee—for taste and nutrition.

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