Is Tea Better For You Than Coffee?

by Gina M. Florio

We're always getting mixed signals when it comes to the subject of coffee. One study tells us coffee fights diabetes, prevents heart disease, and makes us more productive, less moody individuals. Minutes later, another team of experts informs us that coffee is the quickest way to worsen your anxiety and screw up your blood sugar levels. Whatever the truth is, every person has to decide for themselves. But for those of us who are flirting with the idea of calling it quits with our beloved coffee, the next question is: What do we drink instead? Tea is certainly the first thing that comes to mind — but is tea really better for you than coffee?

Surprisingly enough, more Americans drink tea every day than they do coffee. More than 80 percent of U.S. homes have tea stored in the kitchen and 158 million Americans have at least one cup of tea every single day. By comparison, 150 million of us drink coffee daily, although we average about three cups a day. Because they're both such popular drinks, there are quite a few health claims floating around that are attached to each of them, which is why it's important to know the science.

Here are nine facts about tea and coffee that might help you decide which beverage is the better choice for you.

1. Tea Contains A Lot Less Caffeine Than Coffee

A standard serving of black tea contains between 42 and 72 milligrams of caffeine, while a cup of green tea has anywhere between 9 and 50 milligrams. Coffee, on the other hand, has between 72 and 130 milligrams, making it a clear winner in the caffeine department. Caffeine certainly has its pros: It reduces migraines by constricting the blood vessels in the brain and can even improve people's asthmatic symptoms by opening the airway of the lungs. Let's not forget its most beloved benefit — waking us up in the morning when we're hungover or just plain tired.

However, when it comes to caffeine, more is not necessarily better. Caffeine is a powerful stimulant that, when consumed in large quantities, can induce the jitters and shakes, raise your blood pressure, and exacerbate any anxiety symptoms you may have. The caffeine level in tea isn't known to bring on these symptoms, so if that cup (or two) of joe in the morning is putting you on edge, you might want to switch to a caffeinated chai.

2. How Much Each Beverage Wakes You Up May Have More To Do With Your Expectations

In terms of feeling awake and ready for the day, studies have shown that it's not so much the amount of caffeine that's in your morning beverage that gets you going, but rather your expectations of what that drink will give you. A small study found that the folks who drank coffee and the people who drank tea reported the same amount of heightened concentration and alertness. Through their research, scientists suspect both can serve as equal wake-up tools if you believe that your drink will amp you up, which means you could use a green tea to get yourself going just as much as a coffee, only without all the nasty side effects.

3. There's No Such Thing As Caffeine-Free Coffee

If you want to steer clear of caffeine completely to avoid the unpleasant symptoms that come with it, you don't really have that option with coffee. Before you ask, no, decaf is not the same as caffeine-free; a report by the Journal of Analytical Toxicity that a cup of decaf coffee contains 8.6 to 13.9 milligrams of caffeine. Although that's not anywhere close to the 130 mg you might toss back with a normal cup, it's still a decent amount, and it could affect you, especially if you reach for two or three decaf cups throughout the day.

You can drink caffeine-free tea to your heart's desire, though, because when they say caffeine-free, they mean it. There are so many different varieties you can play around with — rooibos tea, bush chai, chamomile, the list goes on. If caffeine is your main concern, tea takes home the gold.

4. Tea Has All The Cancer Fighting Properties

The National Cancer Institute pretty much put its stamp of approval on tea when it announced that tea can be used a cancer-preventer. Apparently, teas have a lot of polyphenol compounds, which are essentially powerful antioxidants that can protect cells from DNA damage and act as free radical agents. More specifically, green tea has detoxification enzymes that can protect your body from developing tumors. Green and black teas are known to prevent ovarian and breast cancers in particular. You won't find all those goodies in an espresso.

5. Coffee Can Potentially Raise Your Cholesterol

There's a bad kind of cholesterol in your body called LDL, and drinking lots of coffee can cause LDL levels to shoot up. This potentially dangerous increase has nothing to do with the caffeine in coffee, but rather it's the terpenes, which are a certain kind of oil that raises cholesterol. Tea, on the other hand, is said to reduce bad cholesterol in the body.

6. Coffee Prevents Diabetes, Heart Disease, And Parkinson's Disease

Rejoice, coffee lovers. Harvard researchers have found that drinking coffee reduces your risk of contracting Type 2 diabetes, as well as cardiovascular disease and Parkinson's. They even say that you can enjoy several cups a day in order to reap these benefits. It's the caffeine in coffee that gives you these benefits, so don't think opting in for decaf will do the same.

7. Tea Isn't As Likely To Disrupt Your Sleep

Nor surprisingly, the more caffeine you consume, the more crappy your sleep will be. At the University of Surrey in the U.K., researchers found that, even though both drinks made participants equally alert in the day, the coffee drinkers were the ones who struggled to get a good night's sleep. Tea people, though, found it much easier to fall asleep and snooze straight through the night.

8. Tea Is A Lot Less Acidic

How acidic coffee is can present a real problem for many people. It causes a hypersecretion of gastric acids, leading to acid reflux, irregular and maybe even unpleasant trips to the bathroom, and indigestion. It also dehydrates you quite easily if you're not staying on top of your water intake. People who drink tea, on the other hand, don't experience these issues because it doesn't have nearly the same content of acid that coffee does.

9. The Health Benefits Depend On How You Drink It

Obviously, if you're piling in refined sugars and processed milks into your tea every single day, you may as well stick to that one cup of black coffee. Also, avoid buying pre-packaged, pre-made teas that are generally packed with preservatives and chemicals to make it taste good. The same goes for coffee; neither beverage is good for you if you're drinking the most unhealthy version of it you can possibly find.

The Bottom Line

Science has never come right out to claim that tea is the definitive winner, but judging by the evidence, you might have a lot more to gain from switching to tea. Coffee isn't necessarily going to shorten your life (studies have shown that it neither shortens nor extends your life), but with all the negative side effects that come with a cup of joe, you might do better to kiss it goodbye.

Experts in both camps always say that all your other lifestyle choices matter more than what morning beverage you reach for, so decide on what makes you feel best, and keep the rest of your health in check in the meantime.

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