The Health Benefits of Decaf Coffee and Tea, According to a Nutritionist
I’m coming out as a decaf drinker. I have long loved the aroma and flavor of coffee, as well as the comforting ritual of starting my day with a cup of Joe. But caffeine just didn’t agree with me. In addition to making me a bit anxious and irritating my digestive system, caffeine was wreaking serious havoc with my energy.
My personal situation is a bit unusual in that I split my time between New York City and Los Angeles, so I live in two different time zones, and I’m on a plane every other week. But many of my clients, who often travel for work or simply keep unconventional hours, struggle with the same issue: an erratic caffeine intake can lead to spikes and drops in energy that ultimately zap your get-up-and-go.
Like many of my clients, when I gave up caffeine, I felt better within days. I fell asleep faster and slept more soundly. My energy increased, and I felt more tuned in to my true energy level, unmasked by caffeine’s stimulating effect.
For me, ditching caffeine greatly improved my quality of life and overall wellness. But I was not about to give up my beloved coffee—or tea, for that matter. Fortunately there are delicious caffeine-free options for enjoying both, with health benefits to boot.
Best decaf coffee
My current favorite brand of decaf coffee is Mount Hagen Organic Fair Trade Instant Coffee ($13, amazon.com). Mount Hagen's freeze-dried process does not use any form of preservatives or additives, and the beans are decaffeinated using a carbon dioxide and water process that preserves flavor, and doesn’t impart chemicals.
I always stash single-serve packets in my bag, especially because some high-end coffee spots don’t offer decaf espresso. Keeping these on hand means I can simply order a hot water or steamed almond milk, sprinkle in my crystals and a bit of cinnamon, and enjoy a deliciously smooth and organic decaf coffee anytime.
Nutritionally speaking, decaf coffee offers some important perks. It remains high in antioxidants and nutrients found in regular coffee, including some magnesium, potassium, and B vitamins. This may be why drinking both regular and decaf have been linked to a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and certain forms of cancer, as well as liver protection.
Also, the mental performance benefits of coffee are not entirely attributed to caffeine—antioxidants and other bioactive compounds play a role too, meaning even decaf may give you a brain boost!
Best decaf tea
As with coffee, a carbon dioxide and water process for removing caffeine from tea is preferable to a chemical solvent. This method preserves the vast majority of the antioxidants in tea, which have been shown to reduce inflammation and preserve cells from damage linked to aging and disease. One of my favorite brands that fits this bill is Yogi's Pure Green Decaf ($6, amazon.com).In addition to its smooth taste, each bag of organic tea leaves comes with an uplifting message on the tag, such as “Gratitude is the open door to abundance.” Nice!
One important note: decaf coffee and tea aren't completely without caffeine, but they do need to be at least 97% caffeine free. That means an 8-ounce of coffee may contain 2 to 7 mg of caffeine, compared to about 50 to 65 mg in an espresso or 95 to 165 mg in a brewed cup; and a single tea bag may provide 10 mg.
How to go caffeine-free
If you’re thinking about ditching caffeine, you can either wean yourself gradually or go cold turkey. The former is the better option if you want to avoid withdrawal symptoms, which may include fatigue, headaches, and irritability. The latter approach may leave you feeling downright miserable, but the effects should subside after about three days. In either case, breaking free could be the key to feeling better. And the best part is you don’t have to give up the nutritional benefits (or enjoyment) of coffee or tea in the process.
Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health's contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a nutrition consultant for the New York Yankees.
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