After water, coffee and tea are the most often-enjoyed beverages consumed across the world. Aside from providing cozy morning rituals and giving boosts to the midafternoon slump, these hot beverages have health benefits, too. Coffee and tea have long been acknowledged for their beneficial properties, which predominantly come from caffeine and antioxidants found in coffee beans and tea leaves. In addition, these drinks are a great excuse to get together with a friend, which can be good for your health.
What Makes Coffee and Tea Beneficial
With few exceptions, coffee is more popular than tea in almost every country (Ferdman, 2014). According to the National Coffee Association (2017), 62% of American adults drink coffee every day. Coffee beans grow on flowering trees found in more than 50 countries, including the U.S. (Hawaii). The beans are roasted and ground, and, depending on where you live and your preference, the roasted grounds are boiled, dripped, steamed or soaked. Coffee contains caffeine, vitamins and minerals, polyphenols, and other components that may provide health benefits. Polyphenols are antioxidants, which are chemical compounds that fight against free radicals. Free radicals can damage cells and lead to disease and illness.
Not to be outdone, tea continues to be a popular beverage in China, Turkey, Ireland and the United Kingdom (Ferdman, 2014). Tea makers dry and crush the tea leaves to bring out their oils, and may then expose them to air for a while. This is called fermentation, which is a chemical reaction that affects the flavor of the tea leaves and turns them brown. The longer the fermentation process, the more caffeine the leaves contain. Green tea is not fermented at all, oolong leaves are fermented for a time, and black tea leaves are fermented the longest. The polyphenols found in tea, specifically catechins and epicatechins, are likely the reasons why tea is a healthy beverage.
What Are the Possible Health Benefits of Coffee and Tea?
Both coffee and tea drinkers reap some of the same health benefits including:
- Reduce risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. The polyphenols in coffee and tea have been shown to reduce the threat of cardiovascular disease and stroke. Studies suggest regularly drinking coffee can decrease risk of cardiovascular disease including stroke (Ding et al., 2014). The Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis concluded that, compared to non-drinkers, those who drank more than one cup of tea per day had a lower incidence of cardiovascular events (Miller, et al., 2016). Other research shows drinking at least three cups of either black or green tea per day can reduce a person’s risk of stroke by 21% (Arab et al., 2009).
- Reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. Research shows the caffeine in coffee raises blood sugar in the short term, but the polyphenols may improve insulin sensitivity and lower the risk of type 2 diabetes over the long term (Bhupathiraju et al., 2013). Decaffeinated coffee may also have a beneficial effect on reducing type 2 diabetes, but the benefit appears to be less significant (Salazar-Martinez, et al., 2004). The antioxidants in tea may help your body process sugar in your blood (Mahmoud, et al., 2016).
- Slow progression or reduce age-related neurological disorders. Some studies have suggested caffeine can ease the early symptoms of Parkinson’s, while others show consuming coffee and tea might help protect against getting Parkinson’s in the first place. In a study looking at coffee consumption in men and women over a span of 22 years, those who consumed coffee had a significantly lower risk for developing the disease than non-drinkers (Saaksjarvi et al., 2008). Similarly, another long-term study of almost 30,000 adults found drinking three or more cups of tea per day was associated with a 69% reduced risk of developing Parkinson’s disease (Hu et al., 2007). Furthermore, there is research showing green tea consumption (five cups versus one cup per day) was associated with a lower risk of a dementia event or a new diagnosis of dementia (Tomata et al., 2016).
While there are similar health benefits to drinking tea and coffee, there appear to be differences as well. For instance, there is promising research suggesting caffeinated coffee may prevent the formation of gallstones in both men (Leitzmann et al., 1999) and women (Leitzmann et al., 2002). For tea drinkers, researchers found that across a large number of studies there was a significant increase in bone mineral density for tea drinkers compared to non-drinkers (Guo et al., 2017), as well as a lower risk of osteoporosis in tea drinkers compared to those who didn’t consume the beverage (Sun et al., 2017).
Potential Side Effects of Consuming Coffee and Tea
There can be side effects to consuming these hot beverages based on their caffeine content. Caffeine can cause anxiety, insomnia and an irregular heartbeat. In addition, coffee (both regular and decaf) can irritate the digestive tract, bladder and prostate. The side effects of high caffeine consumption apply equally to coffee and tea. However, you would have to consume many more cups of tea to equal those same high levels of caffeine found in coffee.
In summary, drinking coffee and tea provide a number of excellent health benefits with few side effects that can be managed by switching to herbal tea or decaf coffee. A caveat: Plain black coffee and tea are naturally low in calories, approximately two calories per 8-ounce cup. However, once you start adding sugar, milk and other additions you are likely consuming between 400 and 600 calories.
Cheers to you, enjoy a cup (or three) of coffee or tea with a friend and relish the benefits.
Arab, L. et al. (2009). Green and black tea consumption and risk of stroke: a meta-analysis. Stroke, 40, 1786–792.
Bhupathiraju, S.N. et al. (2013). Caffeinated and caffeine-free beverages and risk of type 2 diabetes. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 97, 155–66.
Ding, M. et al. (2014). Long-term Coffee Consumption and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease: A Systematic Review and a Dose-Response Meta-Analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies. Circulation, 129, 643–659.
Ferdman, R.A. (2014). Map: The Countries That Drink the Most Tea. The Atlantic.
Guo, M. et al. (2017). Tea consumption may decrease the risk of osteoporosis: an updated meta-analysis of observational studies. Nutrition Research, 42, 1–10.
Hu, G. et al. (2007). Coffee and tea consumption and the risk of Parkinson's disease. Movement Disorders: Official Journal of the Movement Disorder Society, 22, 2242–2248.