Ah, coffee. The magical drink that greets us in the mornings when we’re bleary-eyed zombies and our fuel for when we’re weary. It’s often a reason to get together with old friends and reminisce.
Is there anything coffee can’t do? Probably, but there has been plenty of research around lately that shows what it can do. If you’re wondering, there are some health benefits you might enjoy hearing about.
Registered dietitian Jennifer Oikarinen works in the trauma and surgical intensive care unit at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix. Recently, she answered five questions about the health benefits and risks associated with coffee and tea.
Question: What are the health benefits of drinking coffee?
Answer: Whether coffee is good or bad, healthy or unhealthy, largely has to do with how quickly and efficiently someone can metabolize caffeine. And, caffeine metabolism, which occurs in the liver, is just one more component of our genetic makeup. Because of this, there are mixed reviews when it comes to the benefits of coffee drinking.
For individuals who can quickly clear caffeine from their system, coffee has been shown to have many associated health benefits. In addition to improved mental and physical performance, coffee consumption has been linked to a decreased risk of developing Type II diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and several types of cancer.
Question: Are there any downsides to drinking coffee?
Answer: For individuals who are slow to metabolize caffeine, coffee has been associated with an increased risk for high blood pressure, poor sleep quality and, specific to women, worse PMS symptoms, such as bloating, headaches and changes in mood.
Drinking coffee can also increase cortisol levels. Cortisol, also known as the “stress hormone,” is secreted from our adrenal glands and increases blood sugar levels and inflammation in the body. It also disrupts metabolism. But, the good news is regular consumers of coffee are generally less affected by the spike in cortisol associated with coffee drinking.
Question: Some studies have linked coffee to cancer. Should we be concerned about this?
Answer: While dark chocolate and tea have been in the spotlight for their antioxidant content, coffee contains an abundance of antioxidants that surpasses them both. Because of this, coffee is actually associated with a decreased risk of cancer—specifically advanced prostate cancer in men and breast cancer in post-menopausal women.
Question: What are the health benefits of drinking tea and is green tea or black tea better?
Answer: Drinking tea can help boost cardiovascular health by reducing the risk of developing high blood pressure and improving blood vessel function. The popular beverage has also been associated with a lower risk of developing a variety of different cancers, Parkinson’s disease and kidney stones while improving bone health in women.
If heart health is your priority, consider drinking black tea which has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke by lowering cholesterol and triglyceride levels. When compared to non-tea drinkers, consumers of black tea had a decreased risk of heart attacks.
While the consumption of green tea has been shown to increase daily energy expenditure (i.e. calorie burn), there isn’t sufficient evidence to suggest drinking green tea will result in weight loss.
Question: Are there any downsides to drinking tea?
Answer: Tannins, naturally occurring compounds found in tea, can inhibit the absorption of dietary iron. For individuals at risk for iron deficiency, I recommend consuming tea between meals instead of during the meal.
To gain the health benefits of green and black teas, adults need to drink at least 3-4 cups per day, which for many can seem like a chore.
The widely popular packaged tea bags are more prone to oxidation and may not offer the same health benefits when compared to loose-leaf teas.
Question: In your opinion, is one—coffee or tea—better or worse for your health?
Answer: Neither is particularly harmful, and both offer an abundance of potential health benefits. Like most things in life, it comes down to portion control and individual preference. If you aren’t sensitive to caffeine, both are considered healthy. Generally, most adults can tolerate small amounts of caffeine without harmful effects, but if drinking either beverage leaves you feeling jittery or unfocused, consider choosing a non-caffeinated beverage and upping your water intake instead—a choice you can’t go wrong with.
Whether you enjoy a morning cup coffee or afternoon tea, beware of high-calorie, high-sugar creamers and sweeteners. According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines, added sugars account for more than 13% of calories per day in the US. And, one of the major sources of added sugar in the typical US diet? Sweetened coffee and tea.