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Should You Be Drinking All That Coffee and Tea?

There’s no doubt that Americans love their coffee and tea. About 64 percent of U.S. adults drink at least one cup of coffee a day and about half of U.S. adults consume tea on a daily basis. But is all of that coffee and tea good for us? You’ve probably heard about antioxidants in these drinks being good for you, but how does that balance with drinking too much caffeine? Let’s see how the pros and cons of these drinks stack up.

Potential Benefits of Coffee and Tea

While coffee used to be viewed as a health risk, it’s increasingly being seen as beneficial to our health. More and more studies are linking coffee to positive health effects, including:

  • Decreased risk for some cancers, including of the liver, colon and breast
  • Lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes
  • Reduced stroke risk
  • Reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and dementia
  • Lower overall mortality risk, resulting in longer life expectancy
  • Lower risk of depression

That’s a pretty impressive list, but it’s important to keep in mind that most of these studies were observational. That means research hasn’t proven that coffee caused these health effects; it only tell us coffee drinkers got these diseases less frequently.

Most of these health benefits have been linked to disease-fighting antioxidants, which are present in both coffee and tea. While fruits and vegetables have more antioxidants than coffee and tea, U.S. adults get most of the antioxidants in their diet from these drinks because of how much of them we consume.

Health Risks and Side Effects

Much like last month’s article on the benefits and risks of alcohol, the positive health effects of coffee and tea haven’t been clearly proven, but the risks are pretty well-known. Most of the negative effects of these drinks center around caffeine, which can cause the following:

  • Irritability, anxiety and headache
  • Disruption of sleep
  • Heartburn, heart palpitations or irregular heart rhythms
  • Mild increases in blood pressure
  • More frequent urination leading to dehydration

Caffeine affects people in different ways, with some people being more sensitive than others. Large amounts of caffeine increase the risk for these side effects. What qualifies as “large amounts” can depend on the person. Current USDA dietary guidelines recommend getting less than 400 milligrams (mg) of caffeine per day. Caffeine levels can vary significantly depending on how the drink is prepared, but an average eight ounce cup of coffee contains 120 mg of caffeine, while the same amount of tea contains about 40 mg.

Another possible health risk of coffee and tea involves the ingredients that are often added to these drinks. Teas and coffees sweetened with sugar or flavored syrups can increase risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, liver disease, unhealthy weight gain and heart attack and stroke. Creamers, half and half, milk and whipped cream add plenty of sugar, fat and calories to drinks that are naturally low in calories and fat free. For example, a 12 oz. Caramel Frappuccino at Starbucks is about 300 calories, 10 grams of fat and almost 50 grams of sugar. Compare that to a regular 12 oz. cup of Starbucks coffee, which is five calories and has no fat or sugar.

The Bottom Line

While we can’t say for sure that coffee and tea are good for you, there’s enough evidence to suggest they are healthy options when consumed in moderation and without unhealthy added ingredients. If you’re already a regular coffee or tea drinker, you can continue to feel comfortable having a few cups a day. If you drink more than five or six caffeinated drinks a day, consider cutting back or at least finding out how much caffeine is in the drinks you enjoy.

If you don’t already drink coffee or tea, don’t worry about starting just for health reasons. There are plenty of other ways to add healthy options to your diet, like adding a daily serving or two of fruits and vegetables.

[Nick Fox]

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