Is Coffee or Tea Better For You?

Published On: March 14, 2024

Coffee and tea, which is better? – A nutritionist’s perspective

As a nation we do love our cups of tea and coffee. Many people simply like the taste, but others may lean towards one or the other for the associated health benefits. We hear lots about these purported health benefits in the press and on social media but how healthy are they and is one healthier than the other? As a nutritionist I am always interested in the potential benefits brought by consuming food and drink, especially if they’re such a regular part of people’s diets and easily accessible. So, let’s discover the benefits of these hot drinks, from antioxidants to caffeine and see how these attributes might reduce the risk of disease and help manage stress. In the process we will discover which is best, tea or coffee?

Antioxidants

Both coffee and tea are rich in antioxidants. These compounds, such as vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, catechins, and chlorogenic acid, act as antioxidants and neutralise harmful free radicals in the body which may in turn help prevent the development of certain chronic diseases. Tea is particularly rich in catechins, while coffee is abundant in chlorogenic acid.

Conclusion – both coffee and tea provide antioxidant benefits.

Caffeine

Coffee tends to contain more caffeine per serving than black tea. A 225ml cup of coffee on average contains 95mg of caffeine, whilst the same serving of black tea contains approximately 47mg. Caffeine is associated with improved athletic performance, overall benefit to mood and mental alertness, and may even reduce the risk of certain chronic diseases. However, in excess it can also cause jitteriness and anxiety.

Conclusion – whilst both tea and coffee contain caffeine, coffee provides almost twice the amount per cup.

Lower disease risk

Several studies have found an association between reduced cancer rates and coffee drinkers. A meta-analysis of 59 studies across 40 cohorts showed regular coffee drinkers had a 13% lower risk developing cancer compared to people that didn’t drink coffee or didn’t drink it often . Another study explored the causal relationship between tea intake and cardiovascular disease subtypes. The results indicated that increased tea intake was associated with a:
25% lower risk of hypertension.
28% lower risk of heart failure.
29% lower risk of ischemic stroke.

Conclusion – both tea and coffee appear to have credentials where lowering your risk of disease is concerned.

Oral health

Higher tea intake is associated with a healthier oral microbiome i.e. a greater richness and diversity of healthy bacteria in the mouth. However, coffee is not associated with these benefits to the microbiome.

Conclusion – tea appears to make a larger contribution to the health of your oral microbiome.

Stress management

Studies found that when people are stressed, drinking green or black tea can help them feel more relaxed and lower their levels of the stress hormone cortisol. It is believed that this is in part due to l-theanine, a compound found in tea, particularly in green and black teas, that promotes relaxation without inducing drowsiness . Compared to tea, coffee contains higher levels of caffeine which is known to stimulate cortisol levels which elevate your mood but can lead to anxiety and insomnia if consumed to excess.

Conclusion – tea is better at helping you through more stressful periods.

Mental focus

Studies show that caffeine can improve your attention span, vigilance, alertness, and reaction time. Too much caffeine, however, can lead to over anxiety which can disrupt your performance. Coffee tends to have more caffeine than tea. Tea may provide just enough caffeine, yet not affect sleep, therefore allowing for better rest.

Conclusion – whilst caffeine helps with mental alertness it may disrupt sleep. Tea being lower in caffeine may be better for longer term mental focus as it is less likely to affect rest/sleep.

Longevity

It seems that coffee and tea drinkers tend to live longer than people who don’t drink either beverage. Most of the studies on tea and coffee in relation to longevity are observational, which means they can’t prove causation. However, tea and coffee do provide many health benefits so it’s reasonable to conclude that they could contribute to a longer life expectancy.

Conclusion – both tea and coffee appear to be linked with longevity.

If you are neither a tea, nor a coffee drinker don’t feel pressured to change that. However, if you do enjoy your tea or coffee and had been worried about some of the media reports about whether they are healthy or not then rest assured there are plenty of benefits to drinking both.

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