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 numerous health benefits — such as a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and liver disease — you may wonder if eating coffee beans has the same effect.
Munching on coffee beans — especially those covered in chocolate — is an increasingly popular way to get a caffeine fix.
This article reviews the potential benefits and risks of eating coffee beans.
Coffee beans have been eaten for hundreds of years or more.
It is thought 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 joe — but in a much more concentrated form.
Because regular coffee is filtered and diluted with water, you only get a portion of the caffeine and other substances in the whole bean.
What’s more, eating coffee beans — rather than drinking the beverage — may lead to more rapid absorption of caffeine through the lining of your mouth.
The beneficial and adverse effects of coffee are amplified when the beans are consumed whole.
As such, it is best to eat coffee beans in moderation.
That said, green coffee beans — which are raw — aren’t very pleasant to eat. They have a bitter, woody flavor and can be hard to chew. Roasted coffee beans are slightly softer.
Chocolate-covered, roasted coffee beans are often sold as a snack and are easy to find in your local store.
Summary: Coffee beans are safe to eat. However, consuming coffee beans in moderation is advised because their nutrients are more concentrated than liquid coffee.
Potential benefits of eating coffee beans
While many studies have examined the benefits of coffee as a beverage, few have explored the effects of eating coffee beans.
Yet, consuming the beans likely provides some of the same benefits as sipping the drink. Here are some potential benefits of snacking on coffee beans.
Coffee beans are 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 may reduce your risk of diabetes and combat inflammation. Some trials suggest it may have cancer-fighting properties as well.
The amount of chlorogenic acid in coffee beans varies depending on the type of bean and roasting methods.
Roasting can result in a 50–95% loss of chlorogenic acid — though coffee beans are still believed to be one of the best dietary sources.
Coffee beans are an easily absorbed caffeine source
Caffeine is a natural stimulant in various foods and drinks, including coffee and tea.
On average, eight coffee beans provide equivalent caffeine to one cup of coffee.
Your body absorbs caffeine from whole coffee beans at a quicker rate than that from liquid coffee.
Caffeine impacts your brain and central nervous system, resulting in many benefits. For example, this substance can boost energy, alertness, mood, memory, and performance.
One study found that drinking 2 cups of coffee with 200 mg of caffeine — the equivalent of around 17 coffee beans — was as effective as a 30-minute nap at reducing driving mistakes.
In another study, a 60-mg shot 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 tiredness.
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:
Suggested read: 8 symptoms of caffeine withdrawal
- death from all causes
- heart disease and stroke
- certain cancers
- liver illnesses, including nonalcoholic 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, remember that these benefits are based on observational studies — not rigorous controlled trials. Therefore, more research is needed before 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 may cause problems. Additionally, some people are sensitive to substances in the beans, which may lead to unpleasant side effects.
Heartburn and stomach upset
Certain compounds in coffee beans can cause stomach upset in some people.
This is because caffeine and other compounds called catechols in coffee beans have increased stomach acid.
This can lead to heartburn, an uncomfortable condition in which stomach acid pushes back up your esophagus.
It may also cause bloating, nausea, and stomach upset.
Some studies note that using green coffee bean extract 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 coffee and coffee bean intake.
Drinking coffee exhibits a laxative effect in some people.
Caffeine is not the culprit, as decaffeinated coffee also increases bowel movements.
Although rare, even low doses of caffeinated coffee may cause diarrhea.
People with bowel conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), should consume coffee beans with caution.
Suggested read: Side effects of tea: 9 reasons not to drink too much
While caffeine in coffee beans can give you a much-needed energy boost, it can also lead to sleep problems — particularly in caffeine-sensitive individuals.
Studies suggest that people who are sensitive to caffeine or who consume too much are at a greater risk of struggling to fall and stay asleep, which can prompt 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 entirely close for bedtime.
Other potential side effects
High caffeine intake is linked to other unpleasant and potentially dangerous side effects, including:
- increased anxiety symptoms, such as palpitations, nausea, and feelings of stress
- withdrawal symptoms — including headaches, anxiety, tiredness, tremors, and poor concentration — if you abruptly abstain from coffee
- increased risk of pregnancy problems, such as miscarriage, low birth weight, and early labor
If you are sensitive to caffeine, struggle with anxiety, or are pregnant, it may be best to limit or avoid eating coffee beans.
Likewise, if you are experiencing withdrawal symptoms, try gradually reducing caffeine intake.
Summary: Eating too many coffee beans may cause a wide range of adverse effects, such as heartburn, stomach upset, increased bowel movements, sleep problems, anxiety, and pregnancy complications.
How many coffee beans can you safely eat?
The number of coffee beans you can safely consume comes down to a safe level of caffeine.
Although tolerance to caffeine varies, single doses of up to 200 mg and usage up to 400 mg per day — around 4 cups of filtered coffee — are considered safe for adults. Anything more than this may negatively impact your health.
There is currently insufficient data available to determine safe caffeine levels for children and teens, and they are likely to be more sensitive to its effects.
Suggested read: Coffee and caffeine — How much should you drink?
The amount of caffeine in coffee beans varies based on size, strain, and the duration of roasting.
For example, Robusta coffee beans generally contain around twice as much caffeine as Arabica coffee beans.
On average, a chocolate-covered coffee bean contains around 12 mg of caffeine, including the caffeine in the chocolate.
This means that adults can eat around 33 chocolate-covered coffee beans without going over the recommended safe level of caffeine. However, these treats may also contain excessive calories, high fat, and added sugar, so limiting your intake is best.
What’s more, if you consume caffeine from other foods, drinks, or supplements, you may want to moderate your coffee bean consumption to avoid unpleasant side effects.
Summary: Caffeine levels in coffee beans vary depending on roasting methods and bean type. While you can eat quite a few without exceeding safe caffeine limits, snack varieties are often covered in chocolate and may be unhealthy if consumed in excess.
Coffee beans are safe to eat — but should not be consumed in excess.
They’re packed with antioxidants and caffeine, which may boost energy and lower your risk of certain diseases. However, too many may cause unpleasant side effects. Chocolate-covered varieties may also harbor excess calories, sugar, and fat.
That said, when eaten in moderation, coffee beans can be a safe and healthy way to get your caffeine fix.