Is light roast coffee healthier for you to drink?
Light roast coffee or dark roast coffee? It’s a tough debate.
By now, almost every coffee drinker will have read a blog post that professes the health benefits of coffee. Coffee is rich in antioxidants, and it is known to protect people against anti-inflammation issues and chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes, heart attacks, and several neurological diseases.
But a Pike Place filter coffee from Starbucks is arguably less healthy than a cup of independently roasted coffee.
Chlorogenic acid content
According to Science (yes, all of Science), coffee that is roasted lighter has more chlorogenic acid content. The Journal of Medicinal Food ran a study that sought out which roasting method produced the healthiest cup of coffee.
The researchers focused on Arabica beans, and looked at variables including caffeine content, chlorogenic acid and different styles of roast. They ran espresso shots through a machine to obtain test extracts and discovered that light roast coffee does in fact have a higher chlorogenic acid content.
More chlorogenic acid means higher antioxidant properties, and consequently, more health benefits.
One theory for this finding is that light roast coffee experiences shorter roasting times and lower temperatures, which means the beans will retain more of their nutritional value. Sampath Parthasarathy, PhD, an interim associate dean at the University of Central Florida School of Medicine and Journal of Medicinal Food editor-in-chief, explains this theory for health.com:
‘When we roast something, we expose it to air. There’s also a time element and a temperature element involved, and all of those things contribute to oxidation. This depletes the antioxidant molecules present in the coffee grinds. They sacrifice themselves during the roasting process. But, ideally, we would want to preserve them as much as possible, so they can have a better effect inside the body rather than getting wasted outside of it.’
But studies like this are still in their infancy, and it requires long-term tests on human subjects to truly understand the effects of coffee on the body.
There are two arguments when it comes to caffeine content. The first argument is that dark roast coffee contains more caffeine because it is a stronger cup. The second is that light roast coffee contains more caffeine because the caffeine isn’t ‘roasted out of them’.
Truth be told, neither argument is correct. Various experiments have been conducted to determine caffeine content in light and dark roast coffee, and the resounding argument is: Caffeine is extremely stable throughout the roasting process, meaning light and dark roast coffee often contain the same volume of caffeine.
A change in bean
Where caffeine differs, however, is by bean. Different plant species (Robusta, Arabica etc…) will contain different levels of caffeine. In a few studies testing 90 different Arabica cultivars, the caffeine content would vary between 0.42 and 2.9 percent. Another study looked at Robusta coffee, and discovered that caffeine content varied between 1.16 to 4.0 percent, but the likelihood is, you won’t be drinking industrial-strength coffee like this at your local coffee shop.
When it comes to caffeine and health, then, there is no difference between light and dark roast coffee. The health benefits from caffeine are approximately the same. And there are many benefits, including:
- Brain health: Caffeine can improve long-term memory, according to a study published in January 2014 in the journal ‘Nature Neuroscience’.
- Heart health: Coffee drinkers who sipped two to three cups a day saw their risk of death from things like heart disease and strokes drop by 18 percent, according to a study published in August 2017 in the journal ‘Annals of Internal Medicine’.
- Cancer protection: Drinking coffee was associated with an 18 percent lower risk of cancer, according to a review published in November 2017 in the journal ‘BMJ’.
- Diabetes prevention: Men and women who increased their coffee consumption by 1.5 cups a day benefited from a 11 percent lower risk of type 2 diabetes over a four-year period. On the other hand, those who dropped two cups a day had a 17 percent higher risk of the disease, according to a study published in April 2014 in the journal ‘Diabetologia’.
The list of benefits goes on and on. Depression, alertness, metabolism… a regular dose of coffee will make you a healthier person.
Like almost everything we eat and drink, the higher quality the ingredients, the healthier it is for you. A freshly prepared sandwich from Whole Foods will likely be healthier than a gas station sandwich.
By the same token, fresh and high-quality coffee is healthier for you to drink than that commercial cup of Starbucks coffee, because that Starbucks cup won’t be fresh, it’ll require more sugar, and will be a darker roast.
And dark-roasted coffee loses its antioxidant value, making for a less healthy cup of joe.