The Truth About Coffee and Tea and Which is Better for Your Health

Coffee and Tea

It is 6:00 am, your alarm goes off, and you hit snooze.  Once you’ve ruled out exercise, you can start thinking about your commute to work, and what you’re going to get to drink at your favorite coffee shop.

If you’re someone who drinks both coffee and tea, you understand what a tough choice it can be early in the morning. We know that for a lot of people whether they choose coffee or tea is based in part on which one they think is best for their health. Taken together coffee and tea are two of the most popular beverages in the world.

On average, Americans drink about three cups of coffee a day, which translates into 587 million cups annually (3).  Which is impressive, until you look at the statistics for tea. According to the Tea Association of the U.S.A., Americans consumed over 80 billion servings of tea in 2014, with 85 percent of the tea consumed in America being iced tea.

An interesting fact is that among the different generations, Millennials are the most likely to drink tea (4). The choice between coffee and tea is, of course, a personal one. However, research in the past few years has pointed out some health benefits for each beverage.

Health benefits of coffee

Coffee, by itself, is a zero calorie beverage.  Nutritionally speaking, it does not offer a significant amount of any vitamin or mineral, but scientific research has shown that coffee may have the ability to reduce the incidence of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, and even type 2 diabetes (1-2).  Specific recommendations for the amount of coffee you should drink each day do not exist, mostly because the body of research isn’t conclusive.

Health benefits of tea

Tea, by itself, contains almost no calories.  It does contain naturally occurring compounds called polyphenols, which function as powerful antioxidants in the body.  Of the polyphenols, tea specifically contains flavonoids and catechins. These antioxidants are beneficial because they help to neutralize free radicals, which are harmful to the body and can contribute to the development of chronic disease.  Some scientists are very interested in understanding the relationship between tea and the development of chronic disease.

What About Caffeine

Coffee contains more caffeine compared to tea, with about 100 mg per cup compared to approximately 25 mg per cup for white tea, 65 mg per cup for black tea, and 30 mg per cup for green tea (4).  Depending on the type of coffee and method of preparation, the caffeine content of a single serving can vary. The rule of thumb, in my opinion, is that if you are sensitive to the effects of too much caffeine then cut back or drink decaffeinated.  Drinking too much of either beverage can lead to heart palpitations, anxiety, insomnia, and even nausea

Sometimes It’s What You Put In Your Drink that Matters

Being mindful of what you add to your beverage can make a huge difference in terms of calories.  Consider that the average American is on a 2,000 calorie diet.  Look at the caloric content of these additives and how much people typically add to their coffee or tea.  You will be surprised at how quickly these calories can add up throughout the course of the day, especially if you are drinking more than one or two cups.

AdditiveTypical ServingCalories (5)
Sugar2 tsp33
Cream3 tbsp55
Milk (whole)1 oz20
Flavored Syrup 1 oz80

The bottom line: Which one is better for you?

Scientists are still actively conducting research to determine a definitive relationship between coffee consumption and the incidence of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s, cancer. The same is true for tea. While the research is still inconclusive, a side by side comparison shows that tea contains more antioxidants compared to coffee.  Neither has been shown to be harmful for health by itself, but it is important to be mindful of what you are adding to your drink since too much of anything can certainly tip the balance in anyone’s diet if you’re not careful.

Recommendations for further reading:

Antioxidants in Green and Black Tea by WebMD

Coffee and Your Health by WebMD.

References and Notes:

  1. Nehlig A. Effects of coffee/caffeine on brain health and disease: What should I tell my patients? Practical Neurology 2015. doi: 10.1136/practneurol-2015-001162.
  2. Ding M, Bhupathiraju SN, Chen M, van Dam RM, Hu FB. Caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and a dose-response meta-analysis. Diabetes Care. 2014;37(2):569-586.
  3. National Coffee Association. About Coffee. Accessed December 20, 2015.
  4. Tea Association of the U.S.A. Inc. Tea Fact Sheet. Accessed December 20, 2015.
  5. United States Department of Agriculture. National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28. Accessed January 5, 2015. Calories are based on estimates from the United States Department of Agriculture Nutrient Database

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