Every morning, as part of my morning routine, I am drawn like a magnet to my DeLonghi, latte maker. I warm my favourite mug, measure out my dark roasted espresso beans and carefully pour milk into the appropriate dispenser. How did this ritual become my daily habit?
My latte started in my late teens as a way to socialize and a treat to indulge in between study sessions. As a busy working mom my morning coffee remains an important part of my day. I’m not alone.
According to Harvard’s School of Public Health, coffee and tea are the second and third most common beverage consumed on the planet. Most of us consume tea and/ or coffee; oftentimes more than just one cup. If we’re swallowing these substances regularly and en masse, it seems prudent to understand the implications these have on our health.
Let’s start by examining the ingredients of each, which will help us understand what exactly we’re drinking.
Made from the roasted beans of the Coffea Arabica (coffea plant) and contains:
- Oily substances (increase LDL cholesterol blood levels which may increase the risks of heart disease. If this is a concern, simply use a filter which keeps them out of the coffee)
Made from the soaked leaves of the Camellia Sinesis (tea plant), different processing and heat creates the different types of teas. Tea leaves contain:
- Caffeine (less than coffee)
- Tannins (compounds that can bind minerals in the digestive tract, are not a concern since to be harmful the body needs A LOT of these, not possible from tea-drinking)
- Other beneficial compounds such as L-Theanine (has a calming effect)
Both tea and coffee contain caffeine and antioxidants which both have important effects on our health. The amount of caffeine in tea and coffee is different; therefore it takes more tea to create the same effects of coffee. Also, the antioxidants in coffee and tea are different, but they both have similar effects in our body.
- An addictive stimulant consumed by over 90% of the North American population (it is essentially a legal drug by definition)
- It’s physical effects on the body vary from person to person
- Found in tea, coffee, some pop drinks and energy drinks.
- May cause nervousness, irritability, insomnia, headaches and withdrawal symptoms
- May displace other important nutrients if preferred over meals and/or snacks
- There’s a controversy about caffeine consumption for pregnant women: caffeine crosses the placenta to reach the fetus, which is very sensitive to caffeine. A precaution recommended by many studies is to reduce the consumption of caffeine for pregnant women to one cup a day.
- Effects sleep, a lack of which in the long term may lead to chronic disease, weight gain, mood swings and decreased performance
- Decreases anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions in the right amounts
- May help prevent Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases
- Can enhance sports performance
- Enhances academic performance and ability to stay on-task and focused
- A study in Finland found that 66% of antioxidants in the diet came from coffee
- According to the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, tea drinkers take in 20 more times antioxidants than non-tea drinkers.
- What are they? Chemical substances found in plants, also called phytochemicals
- What’s so good about them?
- They protect healthy tissues in the body from free radicals, molecules that can damage cells and cause disease. For example, free radicals can attack artery walls and contribute to cardiovascular disease. Antioxidants neutralize those free radicals, thus keeping cells healthy.
- Flavonoids and polyphenols (antioxidants in tea and coffee) increase insulin sensitivity of cells in the body, therefore helping regulate blood sugar and decreasing the risks of developing diabetes. Decreased risks of diabetes decrease the risks for other chronic diseases such as heart disease and obesity (Harvard School of Public Health, 2011).
- A study conducted in Japan that followed up a group of adults aged 40-79 years found that those who consumed green tea were more likely to live longer and less likely to have cardiovascular disease due to the antioxidants in tea (Kuriyama et.al, 2006)
- For coffee drinkers: decreased risks of type 2 diabetes, some cancers, Parkinson’s disease, liver disease and others
A FEW THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND:
- While drinking tea seems to be associated with better health, it is unclear whether the tea itself is causing it or simply its correlation with healthier lifestyles. Similarly, there’s a myth that coffee is harmful to health, however it might simply be that it is the poor lifestyle of smoking, poor diet and lack of physical activity that’s causing the false correlation.
- While tea and coffee are great for health, served in many coffee shops and franchises, they might not have the same effects on the body and might even do more harm than good. Adding cream, sugar, whipped cream, flavourings, syrups, food-colouring and other ingredients reduces the health effects of tea and coffee on the body. As an example, a 16-ounce Mint Chocolate Chip Frappuccino with Whipped Cream contains 470 calories (which is more than many creamy cakes served as desserts) and over 17 teaspoons of sugar. This overpowers the positive effects of the tea/coffee.
WHICH KIND OF TEA IS THE BEST?
Some teas are not a “tea” by definition, since they are made from roots, flowers, spices or herbs and do not actually contain tea leaves, thus do not contain the antioxidants that have the health benefits described above. Green tea contains the most antioxidants since it is the least processed one, and therefore is believed to be the healthiest. Black tea and white tea also contain many beneficial antioxidants. It all comes down to your own preference and what tastes best to you. There are many ways to make tea more delicious such as adding a spoon of sugar or honey, adding milk, adding some cinnamon or vanilla, or having tea with a cookie or a desert.
Keep in mind that freshly brewed tea has the highest health benefits. Watch out for iced teas, as even though they are said to contain real tea, they are processed and have many other ingredients such as food colouring, flavouring, sugar, preservatives and others added which may alter the benefits of the tea.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
- The bottom line about caffeine is when it’s consumed in moderation, not only is it NOT harmful to our bodies, it gives great benefits to our mood, performance and short-term health as well as long-term health.
- The secret behind knowing how much is enough is listening to our bodies. If you had a cup of coffee at 2pm and you’re having trouble falling asleep at night, this might be a cue to have coffee earlier in the day or have decaf. However, if drinking a few cups of coffee or tea a day helps you function better and makes you feel good, then there is no reason to reduce its consumption.
- The general recommendation for adults (excluding pregnant women) is 1-2 cups of coffee per day (watch the size: a “cup of coffee” by definition is 8 ounces; however, a large/extra large coffee has double or triple this amount). Also, since tea has less caffeine than coffee, the recommendation is 1-5 cups a day.
- Drink plain tea and coffee, without the whipped cream and flavourings, to truly get the amazing natural ingredients.
- Drinking tea and coffee in moderation increases metabolic rate and energy expenditure, improving immune system, improving mood and performance and improving long-term health
While tea and coffee have health benefits, we cannot believe that these solely will bring us to improved health, these has to accompany healthy diets, physical activity and a healthy lifestyle overall. Listen to what your body tells you and do what feels and tastes good, in moderation.