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For many of us, starting the day with a drink is a basic morning ritual. And while some people might opt for drinks like orange juice or plain water, most people have tea or coffee. These drinks, after all, are among the most widely consumed in the world. Even the act of taking each drink offers its own unique experience. But when it comes to health and wellness, is one better than the other? To find out, we spoke to registered dietitians to see which drink comes out on top.
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Health benefits of tea
Now, it is worth noting that hundreds types of tea. But tea in general is a wonderfully nutritious beverage, especially when consumed regularly. For starters, it’s teeming with antioxidants. Quick recap: Antioxidants are beneficial molecules that protect the body from free radicals, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Free radicals are unstable atoms that, when present at high levels, can lead to oxidative stress. Over time, oxidative stress can damage cells and lead to chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer — but consuming a lot of antioxidants (like those in tea) can lower your risk. Green and black teas are especially rich in antioxidants called polyphenols, says Kelsey Lorench, RD and founder of Graciously Nourished. Even herbal teas, such as peppermint and chamomile, contain antioxidants, albeit in smaller amounts.
Both green and black teas also contain a moderate amount of caffeine, about 47 mg and 28 mg per 8-ounce serving, respectively. Caffeine has a stimulant effect. This can be useful to start your day, whether you are heading to work or dealing with household chores. Furthermore, caffeine supports cognitive functions such as learning and memory, according to a 2021 article published in the journal Nutrients. And get this: Caffeine is an antioxidant by itself, which means it protects cells from oxidative stress, adding to the tea’s health benefits.
Health benefits of coffee
Coffee, like tea, is full of antioxidants. It’s known for its high content of chlorogenic acid, an antioxidant compound that protects against oxidative stress, says Keri Hackworth, MS, RD, a registered dietitian with the National Dairy Council. Chlorogenic acid also has anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties, which could play a potential role in warding off chronic disease. In fact, drinking coffee is associated with a lower risk of developing neurodegenerative conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Furthermore, the drink may help slow muscle loss associated with aging, according to registered dietitian Maddie Pasquariello, MS, RDN.
And when it comes to caffeine? You can’t go wrong with coffee. The drink contains more caffeine than tea, which may be ideal if you have a high tolerance to the substance. For example, one 8-ounce cup of brewed coffee contains 96 milligrams of caffeine, according to the Mayo Clinic. That’s more than double the amount of caffeine found in black tea and four times that in green tea.
So, which is healthier: tea or coffee?
It depends. Both tea and coffee have notable health benefits for the body, and both drinks can be part of a healthy diet. Thus, the “best” choice depends on what is more important to you.
For example, if you are looking for antioxidants, any drink can check this box. But if you’re looking for something to quell a bout of nausea, a cup of hot tea will likely hit the spot. It also depends on how you prepare each drink. For example, if you want or need to limit excess sugar, drinking any beverage with a sweetener may not be ideal for your situation.
Another factor to consider is the caffeine content in each drink, and how your body responds to caffeine. Remember that coffee is two to four times more caffeine than tea — so if you’re sensitive to the substance, tea may be a better option, says Lorenc. Or if you can tolerate caffeine but find that coffee makes you jittery, you might be better off drinking matcha (a type of green tea) or black tea, which has less caffeine, Pascariello points out. In addition, the time of day is important. Caffeine has a long half-life. [meaning] It will stay in your system for hours after you drink it,” says Pasquarello. So if you’re drinking caffeinated coffee or tea in the afternoon, you may feel wired to come bedtime. This can disrupt your ability to get a good night’s sleep, which may It is unhealthy and stressful for the body.
Most importantly, think about your personal health concerns. Some medications and conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome, may not play well with large amounts of caffeine. This means that you may need to limit or skip drinks that are high in caffeine, such as coffee. Likewise, if you’re trying to become pregnant, are currently pregnant, or breastfeeding, you’ll need to limit your caffeine intake, Hackworth points out. This may mean drinking coffee or tea in certain amounts, although “it’s always best to consult a doctor or registered dietitian for individual advice,” she adds.
Finally, it is worth considering which drink will bring you happiness. After all, whether it’s a bold cup of joe or an earthy green tea, these little everyday pleasures are essential to your well-being. And by recognizing how each drink fits into your lifestyle, health, and general needs, you can determine which one is best for you.