Check, please!

Is green coffee good for you? A food scientist debunks the hype

As with many purported superfoods, green coffee is heralded as a rich antioxidant source.

Green coffee beans
Miriam Cepeda / 500px/500px/Getty Images

Sometimes it seems there are so many supposed superfoods out there that they ought to have their own cinematic universe and a Snyder cut. Green coffee beans, which are simply coffee beans that haven’t been roasted yet, have a long history of being called superfoods, from the green coffee they brew to extracts in a vitamin supplement.

In 2012, TV personality Dr. Oz endorsed green coffee bean extract as a surefire way to lose weight, which is always a red flag. Subsequently, the Federal Trade Commission charged a company profiting off this fad with deceiving consumers. What’s more, a 2014 paper demonstrating green coffee bean extract’s safety and effectiveness as a weight loss supplement was retracted, and all this together ought to be enough of an answer.

Just to be thorough, Rui Hai Liu, a food science professor at Cornell University, helped us dive into the myth behind unroasted coffee beans.

Is green coffee good for you?

First of all, coffee — any kind of coffee — brings health benefits. Coffee beans contain over 800 naturally occurring compounds. While the Internet ping-pongs on whether coffee is good or bad, there’s evidence that coffee contains health-boosting chemicals.

As with many purported superfoods, green coffee is heralded as a rich antioxidant source. These antioxidants in green coffee come from a phytochemical, or naturally occurring plant chemical, called chlorogenic acid. There’s a belief that chlorogenic acid influences how quickly the body metabolizes fat, and while there has been some evidence that it may, the evidence isn’t clear.

“I think that people just like the term ‘green coffee,’” Liu tells Inverse.

In a previous Check, Please! on coffee, computational materials chemist at the University of Oregon, Christopher Hendon, tells Inverse, “literally everything on earth contains antioxidants.” Antioxidants don’t make green coffee beans or their beverage byproduct special.

Is green coffee healthier than roasted coffee?

Compared to coffee made from roasted beans, green coffee has more chlorogenic acid, though that doesn’t make it healthier. Yes, there’s more of this compound, but “there is not much scientific evidence” behind whether it’s a superior choice to roasted coffee, Liu says.

As for the claim that green coffee can help one lose weight, which isn’t at all the same as being healthy, Liu says, “I think that’s misleading.” There’s no additional benefit that comes with drinking green coffee, he says.

Personally, Liu opts for coffee made from roasted beans. “Otherwise, you won’t get the coffee aroma,” he says. That’s what the roasting process is all about.

What about green coffee bean extract?

Green coffee bean extract comes in the form of a vitamin supplement, which means even higher levels of concentrated chlorogenic acid. These high levels may actually be toxic, Liu says.

“The problem right now is that you cannot control [the] amount of the compound in the dietary supplement in that extract,” he says. “So you may overdose.” The extract often contains far higher doses of a chemical than one could imbibe from daily coffee, even if that’s more than a few cups a day. What’s more, taking dietary supplements, in general, may offer exponentially higher amounts of a vitamin or compound, but the body loses all the plant’s phytochemicals that benefit us in complex ways.

Switch to green coffee if you prefer flavors described as “acrid” and “grassy.” Otherwise, regular coffee is just fine.

CHECK, PLEASE is an Inverse series that uses biology, chemistry, and physics to debunk the biggest food myths and assumptions.

Now read this: Is decaf coffee caffeine-free? ‘Dr. Coffee’ shares the answer

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