Over the last several years, there have been many debates about which is better for you: Tea or coffee?
Some influencers and health advocates advise switching to chai, green tea, or matcha to forgo the “jolt” that often comes with drinking caffeine from coffee. You can instead opt for the slower and steadier stimulation that comes from the caffeine in green tea or the more concentrated version of green tea, matcha.
Turns out, the different types of tea (black, green, and oolong) actually all come from the same plant, but differ in nutrient and caffeine content depending on when the leaves are harvested and how they are processed. To keep it simple, black tea is fermented, green tea is non-fermented, and oolong tea is semi-fermented. Matcha is a powdered and concentrated form of green tea. Coffee beans come from the seeds of the fruit of coffee trees. Coffee trees grow in tropical regions and originated in Africa.
Both beverages are lauded for their stimulating and medicinal effects. Now that we know some of their differences, let’s answer the question: Which is healthier, tea or coffee?
Coffee contains significant amounts of B vitamins (riboflavin, niacin, folate, pantothenic acid), which help with energy metabolism and nervous system health, and thus can likewise improve how you feel throughout your day. Coffee also contains minerals like choline, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and manganese which help with hydration and regulating the nervous system. Coffee also contains polyphenols, which are antioxidants that are found in plant-based foods. Research shows that these nutrients can be important for disease prevention.
Black tea does not contain as many B-vitamins as coffee, although it does contain a small amount of folate, similar to coffee. Tea contains the minerals magnesium, potassium, manganese, and theobromine. The polyphenols commonly found in tea are flavonols, theaflavins, quercetin, and catechins.
Green tea is nutritionally similar to black tea, but the vitamins and minerals vary depending on when the green tea is harvested. Green tea contains lots of polyphenols, including flavonols, quercetin, and catechins. The total polyphenol content of green and black tea is similar, but depending on the degree of oxidation during processing, can vary.
There are trace amounts of omega fatty acids in both coffee and tea, but not enough to make a difference in one’s diet and overall health.
Most of the adverse effects related to tea and coffee come from taking in too much caffeine. Adverse effects are usually associated with taking more than 500mg of caffeine. High levels of caffeine intake have been associated with higher levels of anxiety, headaches, and migraines.
Here is how much caffeine is in the average cup of coffee:
- 8-ounce cup black coffee: 95 mg (caffeine)
- 1-ounce espresso: 64 mg
- 8 ounces instant coffee: 62 mg
- 8 ounces decaf coffee: 2 mg
Here is how much caffeine is in the average cup of tea:
- 8-ounce cup brewed black tea: 47 mg
- 8-ounce cup oolong tea: 38 mg
- 8-ounce cup green tea: 28 mg
More research is needed before we decide which drink is actually healthier for you. But based on what we know so far, coffee is a good source of B vitamins and minerals, while tea is a good source of polyphenols. In other words, your average cup of joe provides nutritional benefits for your metabolism and nervous system. Tea has lots of antioxidants that help prevent diseases like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, but some of these nutrients in tea haven’t been studied as well as the vitamins and minerals in coffee have. Regardless of which drink you choose, you’ll still need a balanced diet to reap the nutritional benefits of both beverages.
A word of caution: It’s easy to chug down too much caffeine with either drink. Make sure to limit your coffee to four small cups per day. If you’re a French press or pour-over devotee, keep it to two to three cups a day. With tea, it’s much harder to OD on caffeine, but if you’re drinking a strong matcha, also keep it to four cups. Whether you decide to drink coffee or tea, rest assured: Both contain more nutrients than the isolated caffeine in energy drinks, so you’re probably better off drinking a cup of joe than a Red Bull.
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