the pros and cons of decaf coffee

Jill Bridges, SATI STAFF

If you’re like many people across the world, there’s no better way to start the day than with a delicious cup of fresh brewed coffee. This flavorful beverage is one of the most popular drinks across the world, and has spawned an international industry that is worth billions of dollars.

While many of us claim to not be able to wake up in the morning without a fresh pot of coffee, there are certain drawbacks to this drink, particularly its high caffeine content. It is for this reason that many people consider switching from regular coffee to decaf coffee. Although coffee fanatics claims they can taste the flavor difference, the only thing that separates a cup of decaf coffee from a cup of regular coffee is the caffeine content.

Before you switch from regular coffee to decaf coffee, it’s important to learn more about this drink and the effects that it may have on your long-term health. Here is a guide to the benefits of decaf coffee that will cover the basics of this popular drink and will detail some of the reasons to make the switch.

What is decaf coffee?

Decaf is shorthand for decaffeinated. However, just because a coffee blend is labeled as decaf, it doesn’t mean that it is entirely free of caffeine. For a cup of coffee to qualify as decaffeinated, the beans used to brew the cup must have had 97% of their caffeine content removed [1,2]. So, while a cup of decaf coffee will have trace amounts of caffeine, it will be drastically less than you would find in a cup of regular coffee.

Producers of decaf coffee can use a variety of methods to remove caffeine from their beans. However, the process usually involves the use of water and non-toxic solvents. By washing the coffee beans in the solvent and then rinsing it away, the majority of the caffeine contained in the shells will be removed.

The process of brewing a cup or pot of decaf coffee is exactly the same as with regular coffee. Other than the caffeine, these two cups of coffee are identical, including their nutritional value. While decaf coffee may have a slightly milder taste than your standard cup, you’ll still be able to get that rich coffee taste that you love.

The caffeine in decaf

Now that you know a little more about how decaf coffee is made and how it differs from regular coffee, it’s a good idea to examine how much caffeine remains in a cup of decaf after brewing. Understanding the caffeine content for a cup of decaf is important for anyone that is considering the switch in order to cut down their regular caffeine intake.

While the amount of caffeine you’ll consume in a cup of decaf coffee can vary from cup to cup, the general amount is three milligrams per cup [3]. Some decaf coffee studies have shown that a standard six ounce cup of decaf coffee can contain anywhere from zero to seven milligrams of caffeine[4]. Although that might seem like a lot of caffeine for a drink that purports to be decaf, consider how much caffeine you typically consume in a regular cup of coffee.

When you drink a regular cup of coffee, you can expect to drink between 70 and 140 milligrams of caffeine [5,6,7], a staggering amount compared to what you’ll get in a cup of decaf coffee. If you want to massively trim back on the caffeine in your diet, switching from regular to decaf is a great decision.

Is decaf healthy?

One of the biggest reasons a person switches to decaf coffee is in an effort to improve their overall health. It is a good idea to examine some of the healthy properties if you are a regular coffee drinker.

Almost everyone is aware how important antioxidants are to a person’s health. However, few people understand that coffee is one of the most antioxidant rich substances that a person could drink [8]. In fact, for most people, coffee is the number one source of antioxidants in their diet. While all coffee possesses antioxidants, decaf coffee can have up to 15% less antioxidants than regular coffee, as a result of the process of removing caffeine from the beans [9].

In general, there are two types of antioxidants that you’ll find in coffee: polyphenols and hydrocinnamic acid. These antioxidants can reduce negative free radicals in your body and may even prevent the development of certain illness [10].

Coffee also contains some important nutrients, including potassium, niacin, and magnesium. This means by drinking a few cups of decaf coffee a day, you’ll be working towards fulfilling your daily nutrient requirements.

Words of caution

We’ve briefly discussed some of the benefits of drinking both decaf and regular coffee. However, before you start guzzling this tasty drink by the gallon, it’s important to realize that there is no way to be entirely certain of the health benefits of drinking decaf coffee. There are several reasons for this, but it is mostly related to the way that these drinks are studied.

For instance, in studies that examine the health effects of drinking coffee, there is usually no separation between decaf or regular coffee. Instead, the studies are interested in the overall effect of the drink, regardless of the caffeine content. In addition, most scientific research related to coffee is observational. This means that the benefits found during the study can only be associated with coffee, and cannot prove that coffee is the cause over another aspect of the participants diet or lifestyle.

Caffeine, regardless of its source, has negative impact on overall health. Consuming more than 500-600mg of caffeine daily can cause numerous problems, including upset stomach, rapid heartbeat, muscle tremors, irritability, nervousness and insomnia [11,12,13].

Type 2 Diabetes and Coffee

One of the more challenging diagnoses that a person can receive is type 2 diabetes. This is one of the fastest growing illnesses in the entire country, and as of 2014, nearly a tenth of Americans were afflicted with this ailment. While there are a variety of ways for people to control their type 2 diabetes, including diet, exercise, and daily insulin shots, it may also be useful to drink a daily cup of coffee.

Frequent coffee drinkers, whether decaf or regular, have been shown to have a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. In fact, certain research shows that every cup of coffee you drink may reduce your risk of suffering from this difficult illness by as much as 7% [14,15]. Because coffee has such a dramatic effect on the risk for diabetes, it is likely that the element that fights diabetes is something other than the caffeine content.

If you have a family history of diabetes, or your doctor has told you that you may be at risk for this disease, then you should consider upping your daily intake of decaf coffee.

Liver functioning

Your liver is one of the most important organs in your body, serving a variety of functions, including promoting blood clotting and breaking down fats for energy. Maintaining your liver health is one of the most important things that you can do to live a long and healthy life, and recent studies have shown that one of the best ways to preserve liver functionality and fight of disease is drinking decaf coffee [16].

The study, which was performed by researchers in Maryland, showed that the livers of participants who consumed large amounts of coffee daily had much lower levels of the type of abnormal enzymes that lead to disease [17]. Based on the outcome of the study, researchers concluded that something other than caffeine was impacting the spread of these abnormal enzymes.

While more research will need to be performed to make the link conclusive, it’s highly likely that drinking one or more cups of decaf coffee on a daily basis can help reduce your risk for serious liver diseases like cirrhosis and liver cancer.

Extend your life

The dream for most of us is to live as long and happy a life as possible. Unfortunately, premature death is a possibility, and can be caused by a variety of issues. Out of all of its amazing benefits, perhaps the best reason to make a cup of decaf coffee part of your daily routine is that it has been shown to reduce the risk of premature death when consumed in moderate amounts.

In a 2015 study that was performed by the Harvard School of Public health [18,19,20], one of the country’s most respected institutions, it was shown that participants who drank between three and five cups of coffee a day a risk of premature death that was 15% lower than subjects who didn’t drink any coffee.

While you obviously shouldn’t entirely rely on your coffee habit to maintain your long-term health, it’s nice to know that a tasty cup of decaf coffee has the possibility of helping you achieve that goal.

Neurodegenerative disease

As we age, it’s possible to suffer from a number of ailments that affect our cognitive ability, including our memory and fine motor skills. For example, in their later years, many people receive Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s diagnoses, both of which can severely limit a person’s quality of life. While many neurodegenerative diseases are genetic in nature, there are certain things that you can do to prevent their onset, including regularly drinking decaf coffee.

Studies of human cell development have indicated that drinking coffee can help to protect the neurons in the brain that are targeted by Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s [21,22]. The possible reason for this is the chlorogenic acid that is commonly found in coffee and not the caffeine, although caffeine may have some effectiveness at preventing the development of dementia.

If you’re interested in maintaining your mental health over time and preventing the development of debilitating neurodegenerative disease, consider drinking a few cups of decaf coffee every day.

Alleviate heartburn

Heartburn, particularly heartburn that is caused by acid reflux, is one of the most aggravating conditions that a person can experience. Most people who suffer from acid reflux avoid coffee out of the belief that this drink’s acid content may exacerbate the symptoms of this condition. However, there has been some recent research [23] that indicates that coffee and acid reflux may not be as linked as was once thought.

A study of the different triggers of acid reflux found that one of the major irritants in coffee was its caffeine content and not it’s acid. Subjects of the study who drank decaf coffee instead of regular coffee experienced significantly less acid levels and even experienced some relief from common acid reflux symptoms [24].

So, if you suffer from acid reflux but can’t bear to part with your beloved daily coffee, consider switching to decaf and you’ll be able to take advantage of the big benefits it provides.

Reduce your cancer risk

A significant concern of most people in the modern world is being diagnosed with cancer. While there are a variety of cancers a person could experience, one of the most serious and hardest to treat is colorectal cancer. Since cancer treatment is extremely stressful, most people focus on prevention, and one of the most effective ways to prevent colorectal cancer is through the consumption of decaf coffee.

In a recent study performed at the University of Southern California, researchers found that coffee consumption was inversely linked with a person’s risk for colorectal cancer. The study indicated that subjects who consumed coffee on a regular basis were 26% less likely to develop colorectal cancer than subjects who did not drink coffee [25,26].

If you’re the type of person who is concerned with protecting their health in whatever way possible, including reducing your overall risk of cancer, drinking decaf coffee on a regular basis is a great decision.

Advantages of regular coffee

As we have seen, switching from regular coffee to decaf comes with a variety of benefits, including improving certain areas of your health and preventing the onset of serious diseases. However, this doesn’t mean that decaf coffee is inherently better than regular coffee. In fact, regular coffee has several advantages over its caffeine free compatriot.

Obviously, the primary benefit of a cup of regular coffee is its caffeine content. The caffeine in regular coffee works as a stimulant, increasing your energy level and alertness. It can even improve your mood [27]. On the other hand, since caffeine is a drug, you can become addicted to its effects, needing more and more caffeinated coffee to receive the same response.

In addition to its energizing properties, there are several health benefits possessed by regular coffee that you won’t receive by drinking a cup of decaf. For example, regular coffee can increase your metabolism, helping you to lose weight [28]. It can also boost your memory, improve your athletic performance, and may lower your risk for end-stage liver disease.

While switching to decaf can be a healthy choice, you shouldn’t feel guilty about drinking a cup of regular coffee now and then.

Negatives of decaf

If you’re seriously considering switching from regular coffee to decaf, it’s important that you consider all of the angles, which means that you need to learn about some of the negative consequences of drinking decaf coffee.

Perhaps the biggest drawback of increasing your daily consumption of decaf coffee is that it runs the risk of increasing your cholesterol levels [29]. Every type of coffee, including decaf, contains the chemicals cafestol and kahweol, both of which have been linked to a rise in cholesterol levels. Although it has not been proven conclusive, researchers believe that it is the process of removing caffeine that causes decaf coffee to negatively affect cholesterol in your body.

As mentioned in a previous section, drinking decaf coffee may have some benefit for people who suffer from issues like heartburn or acid reflux. However, this is only when the decaf coffee is enjoyed in moderation. If you drink too much decaf coffee, you can actually increase your risk of gastrointestinal illness [30]. Decaf coffee also poses a risk of weight gain [31], but this is usually related to the milk, cream, and sugar you may put in your coffee and not the drink itself.

Decaf or regular?

If you’re still trying to decide whether decaf or regular coffee is the right decision for you, there are a few factors to consider that may help with your choice.

First and foremost, you need to consider how tolerant you are to caffeine. While some people can drink several cups of regular coffee without feeling any effect, others can may suffer negative consequences like irregular heartbeat, problems with digestion, and even anxiety. You should also consider if you have any medical issues that might be exacerbated by caffeine. For instance, certain medication require that you limit your caffeine intake.

There are also some people who should not drink caffeine, whether temporarily or permanently. Women who are pregnant, growing children, and those suffering from sleeping disorders should refrain from caffeine and should consider decaf coffee.

The sati line

If you’re a regular coffee drinker, then chances are you’ve considered switching from regular coffee to decaf. As you can now see, there are several excellent reasons to start drinking coffee without caffeine.

When you drink decaf coffee instead of regular coffee, you’ll be massively reduced the amount of caffeine you drink on a daily basis, improving your overall health, and reducing your risk of major diseases while potentially increasing your lifespan.

Whether you already drink coffee on a daily basis or are simply looking to add a tasty, hot drink to your daily routine, your best option is to start drinking decaf coffee.

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