Health Benefits of Coffee and Tea:
Coffee drinkers vs tea drinkers – “teetotalers.” Both have been stigmatized, stereotyped. For example, the term, teetotaler, refers to complete abstinence from alcohol. But you and I know that stereotypes are seldom accurate. And you don’t need to be one or the other exclusively.
Me? I LOVE BOTH coffee and tea. I love the chocolate-y, caramel-y richness of coffee, and I love the breadth and nuances of the teas. But there are differences. Differences in both caffeine levels and levels of various plant nutrients that have health benefits. Let’s review their differences, and review the health benefits of coffee and tea. I will focus on two differences here: caffeine levels, and antioxidant levels.
Let’s start with the obvious: tea contains less caffeine than coffee.
Caffeine levels of various teas compared to coffee:
Source Caffeine per 8 oz.
Coffee (standard) 150-200 mg
Cool-brewed coffee 75-100 mg
Black Tea 60-90 mg
Oolong Tea 50-75 mg
Green Tea 35-70 mg
White Tea 30-55 mg
So, in general, if you drink Green Tea or White Tea you can drink about 4 cups before you match the level of caffeine from a single cup of coffee. For Oolong and Black tea, you can probably drink 2 cups before you get into coffee caffeine territory. That is an overall positive. Caffeine is a diuretic – that is, it makes you urinate. As a result, if you are drinking coffee and not replenishing with other liquids, coffee can dehydrate you. So what? Think kidney stones. And even though your brain functions well on a low level of caffeine, it does not function well if it is dehydrated. Your brain is about 80% water. That means staying well hydrated is important to keep your brain functioning well. So, for the same level of caffeine, you will be taking in four times the water if you drink Green Tea. Good.
Contrary to common myth, BOTH coffee and tea have health benefits. Tea simply provides more of those benefits. Let’s look at coffee first:
Can coffee possibly be healthy? Really? Coffee has taken a bit of a bad rap. Let’s examine the facts.
Coffee has long been suspected of causing various illnesses, including cardiovascular disease and cancer (colon cancer, for example). However, detailed clinical studies in humans have not supported this notion.
But if you sift through the medical literature for studies that are well-designed, and that include a large sample of people so that people can be age-matched and matched by other criteria, so that the results provide meaningful statistics, it seems that coffee may not be so bad after all. Granted, caffeine can worsen your blood pressure problems. But as for overall health and mortality, coffee may actually be healthy:
With regard to the suggestion that coffee contributes to colon cancer, a group at Harvard published a systematic review (called a meta analysis) in 2009 that addressed this rumor (International Journal of Cancer. V 124: pg 1662-1668). The authors reported no effect of coffee consumption on colorectal cancer risk; they did find an inverse association between coffee consumption and the risk of colorectal cancer in a few populations (for example, in studies of Japanese women). That is, for some people, drinking coffee reduced their risk of colon cancer. At worst, coffee did not cause colon cancer.
Another study, reported in the British Journal of Nutrition (2008; vol 99: pg 1354-1361), suggests that coffee may be good for you: The authors studied a group of more than 800 elderly men and women over a 14-year period. That’s a pretty long period for a medical study. They monitored for deaths from any cause, and compared the rate of mortality in coffee-drinkers to non-drinkers. The study was performed in Finland; the Finns have the highest per capita coffee consumption in the world.
They did all the right things to prevent bias in the results: they adjusted for age, gender, marital status, educational level, occupation, smoking history, BMI, history of heart attack, diabetes, disabilities, and other medical details.
They reported that those who drank coffee on a daily basis – caffeine-containing coffee – were healthier (at least, they were dying at a lower rate): They had a lower risk of dying from any cause than those who did not drink coffee, or who drank little coffee. That is, there is an inverse association between daily coffee consumption and total mortality.
The moral of these stories?
Coffee, consumed in moderation, does not cause cancer. In fact, it may reduce your risk of dying from any cause. How cool is that?! Coffee is good for you :))
What About Tea?
Over the last couple decades, the health benefits of tea have become recognized in the West; they have long been appreciated in Asian cultures. Now that results of basic science research and clinical studies are becoming available, there is a growing list of health benefits of teas:
- Teas have antimicrobial properties. Several studies now show us that teas contain agents that are bactericidal (help kill bacteria) for some of our worse bacterial enemies – pathogenic strains of Strep, Staph, Salmonella, cholera, pertussis, and Pseudomonas. Reviewed here: Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy; 1995; v 39: pg 2375-2377; and Food Control; 2013; v 31: pg 403-409.
- Teas, and especially Green Teas, contain many of the plant biochemicals from the Camellia sinensis leaf. Green teas are known to contain strong antioxidants (Food Control; 2013; v 31: pg 403-409). The plant polyphenols that come through in teas – particularly the catechins – have been studied for their health benefits. The catechins are powerful antioxidants. These are thought to contribute to the cancer fighting properties of tea. Catechins act as free radical scavengers (Bioscience Biotechnology Biochemistry. 1999; v 63: pg 1621-1623). Antioxidants and free radical scavengers are believed to confer anti-cancer and anti-aging benefits (see Dr. Perlmutter’s clear explanation of the free radical theory of aging), although the free radical theory of aging is an area of recent debate (Scientific American. January, 2013).
- Regardless of how that debate turns out, teas have been found to confer real health benefits in clinical trials. Many of these benefits are thought to result from the antioxidants present in tea. In fact, teas have recently been found to be even richer in antioxidants than fruits and vegetables (Food Control; 2013; v 31: pg 403-409). The EGCG and other flavonoids in Tea have been found to help lower cholesterol levels, helping to prevent cardiovascular disease (Journal of Nutrition. 2003; v 133: pg 3298s-3302s). Other polyphenols present in tea (again, highest in Green teas) including the molecule epigallocatechin-3-gallate, have been found to protect against various cancers, to protect the brain against dementia, reduce the risk of stroke, and to increase fat-burning. And despite the presence of some caffeine, even black teas may help lower blood pressure.
Thus, it now seems that these tea flavonoids are providing the tea drinker with some amazing health benefits, including protection against:
- heart disease
- cancers, and
How cool is that?!
So, both coffee and tea can be good for you.
Bottom Line? It’s probably about the antioxidant levels: the phytochemicals in both coffee and tea are powerful antioxidants.
Those phytochemicals, flavanoids, polyphenols, etc., also have other benefits beyond their antioxidant benefits, but it is the antioxidants that have been studied the most.
Coffee and tea are a couple of the most powerful antioxidant drinks available. They have high “ORAC points.”
Your Goal is to “Max Your ORACs”
What is the ORAC score? That stands for Oxygen Radical Asorbance Capacity, or ORAC. That’s a scale used by the USDA. Health officials currently recommend consuming about 3,000 to 5,000 ORAC units per day, or at least 4 mmol/day.
So how many ORAC units can you get from common drinks?
As you can see, coffee far exceeds the antioxidant levels of our other common (and not-so-common) drinks.
Want even more anti-oxidants?
Edible green tea, or powdered green tea (organic, of course) both have even HIGHER levels of these antioxidants – as much as 100 times the levels of these powerful phyto-nutrient antioxidants! Take a look at edible green tea and powdered green tea on this site – just click on the banner image below (yes, it’s an affiliate link: get 5% off your order – enter “SAVE5” at checkout):
The bottom line?
For me, I will always love coffee. I love the rich, robust, chocolaty flavor, with “notes” of caramel, and the big caffeine boost (yes, I am a caffeine addict). But there is just so much medical research coming out now that supports the powerful health benefits of green tea, so I have added green tea to my daily life. And I want to stay well-hydrated for optimal brain function and avoid kidney stones. And – for those of you with a history of kidney stones: the phytonutrients in green tea bind to oxalic acid (causes kidney stones) and keeps it from making crystals in you kidney!! How cool is that? Drink green tea to prevent kidney stones!
As a result, I have grown to love the breadth and nuances of fine teas in addition to my love for coffee. Growing to know and love teas has been a bit like growing to know and love wines: Teas are complex, as one might expect from an herb that we have developed a relationship with for over 4,000 years! I love the varieties, and am fascinated by the various rituals that are associated with tea in Asian cultures. (Oh, and I still love, and still drink, coffee).
Both tea and coffee have a permanent place in my life. I don’t really see it as a coffee vs. tea, but enjoy each for their own unique wonders.
Finally, tea DOES provide something that coffee does not. Be sure to read my article, Alert Yet Chill: How YOU Can Hear the Grasshopper.
So join me in learning more about, and enjoying, coffee and teas (and enjoying the many health benefits, too!), and the “super-foods.” I typically post articles about once per week here on tea, coffee, and various herbals that have health benefits. To make sure you don’t miss my newest posts, you can subscribe via RSS or e-mail.
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Green Tea Prevents Kidney Stone Formation: Itoh et al., 2005, Journal of Urology
polyphenols vs flavonoids: http://www.livestrong.com/article/479645-polyphenols-vs-flavonoids/