Coffee beans are safe to eat – but should not be consumed in excess.
Coffee beans are the seeds of the coffee fruit, often known as the coffee cherry.
These bean-like seeds are usually dried, roasted, and brewed to make coffee.
Because drinking coffee has been linked to many health benefits — like a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and liver disease — you might be wondering if drinking coffee beans has the same effect…
Snacking on coffee beans — especially chocolate-covered ones — is an increasingly popular way to get a caffeine fix.
This article reviews the potential benefits and risks of consuming coffee beans.
Coffee beans have been consumed for hundreds of years or more.
It is believed that before coffee was developed as a beverage, its beans were often mixed with animal fat and consumed to boost energy levels.
Coffee beans provide the same nutrients as a cup of coffee but in a much more concentrated form.
Because regular coffee is filtered and diluted with water, you only get some of the caffeine and other substances found in the whole bean.
What’s more, eating coffee beans — rather than drinking the beverage — may lead to faster absorption of caffeine through the lining of the mouth.
The beneficial and negative effects of coffee are amplified when the beans are consumed whole.
As such, coffee beans are best consumed in moderation.
That said, green coffee beans – which are raw – are not very pleasant to eat. They have a bitter, woody flavor and can be difficult to chew. Roasted coffee beans are slightly milder.
Chocolate-covered roasted coffee beans are often sold as a snack and are easy to find at your local store.
Summary: Coffee beans are safe to consume. However, it is advisable to consume coffee beans in moderation as their nutrients are more concentrated than liquid coffee.
While many studies have looked at the benefits of coffee as a beverage, few have explored the effects of consuming coffee beans.
Still, consuming the beans probably offers the same benefits as sipping the drink. Here are some potential benefits of snacking on coffee beans.
An excellent source of antioxidants
Coffee beans are packed with powerful antioxidants, the most abundant being chlorogenic acid, a family of health-promoting polyphenols.
Studies show that chlorogenic acid can reduce your risk of diabetes and fight inflammation. Some trials suggest it may also have cancer-fighting properties.
The amount of chlorogenic acid in coffee beans varies depending on the type of bean and roasting methods.
In fact, roasting can cause a loss of 50–95% chlorogenic acid — although coffee beans are still considered one of the best food sources.
An easily absorbed source of caffeine
Caffeine is a natural stimulant found in a variety of foods and beverages, including coffee and tea.
On average, eight coffee beans provide the equivalent amount of caffeine to one cup of coffee.
Your body absorbs the caffeine from whole coffee beans at a faster rate than from liquid coffee.
Caffeine impacts your brain and central nervous system, resulting in many benefits. For example, this underlay can increase energy, alertness, mood, memory, and performance.
One study found that drinking 2 cups of coffee with 200 mg of caffeine — the equivalent of about 17 coffee beans — was as effective as a 30-minute nap in reducing driver errors.
In another study, a 60 mg dose of caffeine — about 1 espresso or 5 coffee beans — improved contentment, mood, and attention.
Caffeine works by inhibiting the hormone adenosine, which causes drowsiness and fatigue.
This chemical may also improve exercise performance and weight loss by boosting metabolism.
Other potential benefits
Observational studies have linked coffee to multiple health benefits, including a reduced risk of the following:
- death from any cause
- heart disease and stroke
- certain cancers
- liver diseases, including non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, liver fibrosis, and liver cirrhosis
- Type 2 diabetes
- brain disorders, such as depression, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease
Animal and human studies further suggest that green coffee bean extract may reduce blood pressure in people with already high levels.
However, keep in mind that these benefits are based on observational studies, not rigorous controlled trials. Therefore, more research is needed before any firm conclusions can be drawn.
Summary: Coffee beans are a concentrated source of antioxidants and caffeine. They have anti-inflammatory properties that protect against certain diseases and boost energy and mood.
While eating coffee beans in moderation is perfectly healthy, eating too many can cause problems. Additionally, some people are sensitive to substances in beans, which can lead to unpleasant side effects.
Heartburn and upset stomach
Certain compounds in coffee beans can cause stomach upset in some people.
In fact, caffeine and other compounds called catechols in coffee beans have been shown to increase stomach acid.
This can lead to heartburn, an uncomfortable condition in which stomach acid pushes up your esophagus.
It can also cause bloating, nausea, and upset stomach.
Some studies note that using green coffee bean extracts in higher doses caused diarrhea and stomach upset in people with sensitive stomachs.
If you suffer from heartburn or have other stomach problems, you may want to avoid or limit your intake of coffee and coffee beans.
Drinking coffee has a laxative effect on some people.
Caffeine doesn’t seem to be the culprit, as decaffeinated coffee also increased bowel movements.
Although rare, even low doses of caffeinated caffeine can cause diarrhea.
People with bowel conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), should consume coffee beans with caution.
While the caffeine in coffee beans can give you a much-needed energy boost, it can also lead to sleep issues, especially in caffeine-sensitive people.
Studies suggest that people who are sensitive to caffeine or who consume too much of it are at greater risk of having trouble falling and staying asleep, which can lead to daytime exhaustion.
The effects of caffeine can last up to 9.5 hours after consumption.
If your sleep is affected by caffeine, reduce the amount you consume during the day and avoid it completely before bedtime.
Other potential side effects
High caffeine intake is linked to other unpleasant and potentially dangerous side effects, including:
- increased symptoms of anxiety, such as palpitations, nausea, and feelings of stress
- withdrawal symptoms — including headaches, anxiety, fatigue, tremors, and poor concentration — if you suddenly refrain from coffee
- increased risk of pregnancy problems, such as miscarriage, low birth weight, and early labor
If you are sensitive to caffeine, suffer from anxiety, or are pregnant, it may be best to limit or avoid eating coffee beans.
Likewise, if you are experiencing withdrawal symptoms, try to gradually reduce your caffeine intake.
Summary: Eating too many coffee beans can cause a wide range of negative effects, such as heartburn, upset stomach, increased bowel movements, sleep problems, anxiety, and pregnancy complications.
How much can you safely eat?
The number of coffee beans you can safely consume comes down to a safe level of caffeine.
Although caffeine tolerance varies, single doses of up to 200 mg and use of up to 400 mg per day – about 4 cups of filtered coffee – are considered safe for adults. Anything more than that can negatively impact your health.
Currently, available data are insufficient to determine safe levels of caffeine for children and adolescents, and they are likely more sensitive to its effects.
The amount of caffeine in coffee beans varies depending on the size, strain, and roasting time.
For example, Robusta coffee beans typically contain about twice as much caffeine as Arabica coffee beans.
On average, one chocolate-covered coffee bean contains about 12 mg of caffeine per bean — including the caffeine in chocolate.
This means that adults can eat about 33 chocolate-covered coffee beans without exceeding the recommended caffeine level. However, these treats can also contain excessive calories, high amounts of fat, and added sugar – so it’s best to limit your intake.
Additionally, if you consume caffeine from other foods, beverages, or supplements, you may want to moderate your coffee bean intake to avoid any unpleasant side effects.
Summary: Caffeine levels in coffee beans vary depending on roasting methods and bean type. Although you can eat quite a few without exceeding the caffeine limits, the snack varieties are often covered in chocolate and can be unhealthy if consumed in excess.
Coffee beans are safe to eat – but should not be consumed in excess.
They are packed with antioxidants and caffeine, which can boost energy and reduce the risk of certain diseases. However, too many can cause unpleasant side effects. Chocolate-covered varieties may also contain excess calories, sugar, and fat.
That said, when consumed in moderation, coffee beans can be a safe and healthy way to get your caffeine fix.