Friend or foe?

Tea or coffee? Most people have a favorite; few take neither, but which is better for you?

Coffee is by far the most popular in the US as a whole, but I have to say, my experience in the South led me to believe that iced tea is a firm favorite there, unfortunately too often the very sweet version where the sugar content outweighs any possible benefits the tea itself may have.

Let’s look at both to compare the pros and cons, in each case looking at a 5oz cup of brewed and unsweetened.


Drip coffee, dependent on the brand, has between 100 and 180mg of caffeine.

coffee beans

Black tea:

Brewed for 5 minutes has between 20 and 50mg of caffeine.

tea leaves

Without adding milk, creamer or sugar/sweetener, at this point the calorific value is about the same – negligible. So what else do we need to know?

Coffee has various cons – it can cause insomnia; it can irritate the stomach, by increasing stomach acid – not a good idea if you suffer from ulcers, for instance; it reduces calcium absorption – a particular problem for older women prone to osteoporosis; it can aggravate heart conditions by provoking heart palpitations or arrhythmia; it can raise blood pressure and speed up the heart rate. This is all due to the caffeine content.

On the positive side however, coffee can provide a boost of energy just when you need it; it may reduce cancer risk – in studies women’s risk of developing skin cancer was reduced by 20% in women who drank at least 3 cups a day, it also cut men’s risk of dying from prostate cancer; studies show that drinking at least 2 cups a day wards off depression; it enhances athletic performance, because it increases your ability to burn fat for fuel; a study of 14000 people who drank 3-4 cups a day showed that they cut their risk of developing diabetes by 28%; for some people it can actually cure a migraine, because it is very effective at shrinking swollen blood vessels in the brain (though it should be noted that for other people it can actually cause migraines!)

Overall, if you are one of the following you should be avoiding coffee altogether:

Ulcer sufferer

Heart patient

Seniors with hypertension

Women who are pregnant, nursing or who have osteoporosis

Migraine sufferers

For the rest of you, weigh up the pros and cons and see what works for you. Maybe tea would be better? Let’s see.

In fact (having done the reading for you) both drinks have both caffeine and antioxidants in them, antioxidants being those good things that help fight cancer and prevent other diseases. Coffee actually comes out higher in quantity on both counts – for the caffeine that’s not so good, but for the antioxidants that’s great!

Both drinks contain a lot of polyphenols, the antioxidants that can help to reduce inflammation and repair cellular damage. As we are all aware, the driving force behind many of our modern day illnesses, such as heart disease and stroke, is inflammation. Polyphenols can help with that. HOWEVER (here it comes…) there is a vast difference between brands, thanks to methods of roasting, and also a big difference between types of coffee beans from different countries. If you really want to get the most polyphenols, and thus the most benefit, from your coffee, choose beans grown at high altitude, such as Nyeri in Kenya. Better still is dark Greek or Turkish roast as they retain higher levels of polyphenols than lighter French or Italian roasts. To really get a good variety of polyphenols, you really should drink both tea and coffee, and pay attention to the quality of both too.

Regular tea drinkers have been proven to live longer on average than (solely) coffee drinkers, possibly due to a unique compound in tea that actually changes your genetic make-up. As tea has caffeine in it too, it also has the same cons (and pros) as coffee on that front, but less so as the quantity is lower. Scientists still have so much to discover….the best I can glean from it is drink tea and coffee every day, choose your beans/leaves well and don’t drink more than 4 cups a day total! Good luck!


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