So, What's Actually Better For You—Coffee or Tea?
It often seems the world can be split into two types of people; coffee and tea drinkers.
Those reliant upon their morning cup of joe for a pick-me-up swear by the superpowers of their flat whites or double shot lattes, while tea drinkers firmly believe their herbal cuppas are the healthy way to go. The truth however is not as straightforward. Both coffee and tea serve up their own set of pros and cons.
Spilling the tea on tea
It’s no secret that drinking tea can have a calming effect on your body, not to mention that it also keeps you hydrated and is a good source of antioxidants.
“Antioxidants are compounds that latch on to free radicals in the body to reduce oxidative stress,” says dietitian Nicole Dynan, creator of 'The Good Mood Diet'. “And since stress is associated with inflammation and chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer, it has been suggested that the antioxidants in tea can act as anti-carcinogens with anti-inflammatory properties.”
The Australian Heart Foundation also found there to be a relationship between green tea consumption and improved endothelial function—the thin membrane that lines the inside of the heart and blood vessels.
There’s something truly comforting about the act of drinking tea, however, it’s important to stay well-informed on the realities of the beverage.
“All teas contain compounds called flavonoids, in particular tannin,” says Dynan. “Tannins are responsible for the bitter taste of tea and are known for having anti-nutrient (a compound that prevents absorption) properties. In particular, tannins can bind to iron and reduce our body’s uptake. What’s more, similar to coffee, tea still contains caffeine, which in high amounts, can lead to irritability, sleeplessness, headaches, anxiety and gastro-intestinal upset.”
And then of course, there’s sugar. “Drinking tea can also become problematic if you take your tea with sugar,” explains Dynan. “The World Health Organisation recommends no more than six added teaspoons of sugar a day, however, most Australians are exceeding this amount.”
Staying grounded with coffee
When it comes to the health benefits of the beloved brew, there seems to be a divide in public opinion. But what do the experts have to say about it?
A recent meta-analysis conducted by the British Medical Journal looked at the association between coffee and health, concluding for the most part that due to its high antioxidant content, coffee may reduce mortality rates (three cups per day showing the strongest associated reduction), as well as help improve cardiovascular function, decrease the risk of cancer (prostate, endometrial, melanoma and liver), improve mood, and reduce the risk of neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s.
The consumption of coffee is ubiquitous in today's society, but it’s important to remember that just because something is accepted by the mainstream doesn’t mean it’s always healthy for us.
“There must be a reason why people will line up every morning at their local cafe, be on a first name basis with their barista and willingly hand over $4 give or take for a coffee ($1460 per year),” says Dynan. “This is because coffee, and more particularly caffeine, is indeed addictive.”
In fact, withdrawal symptoms have been noted for people who drink large amounts (>400mg of caffeine or the equivalent of about 5 cups a day), with symptoms such as headache, heart palpitations, irritability and depression.
The bottom line
With all things considered, according to Dynan, it comes down to personal choice and what makes you feel good.
“What we drink should be enjoyable and not a crutch for an underlying issue,” advices Dynan. “For example, if you drink coffee because you like the taste and it perks you up, then that is great, however, if you drink it to mask the effects of an all-nighter, then you may be doing more harm than good.”
Perhaps what’s most important is paying attention to your own body regarding how each of these drink choices affect you personally.
“As someone who likes both tea and coffee, but can be sensitive to caffeine, I tend to limit my intake to one coffee a day (always in the morning or I won’t be able to sleep) and drink herbal tea that doesn’t contain caffeine,” explains Dynan.
“But everybody is different and has a different tolerance, so take cues from your own body and let that lead the way."
If you're concerned about your health or wellbeing, your first port of call should be your GP, who will be able to advise a correct treatment plan.
Found this interesting? This is what happens to your body when you stop drinking coffee.