Tea and coffee are good sources of antioxidants and caffeine, but which one is best for you?

coffee and tea cups on wooden table

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For many of us, starting the day with a drink is an essential morning ritual. And while some people might opt ​​for drinks like orange juice or plain water, most people go for tea or coffee. These drinks, after all, are some of the most consumed drinks in the world. Even the act of consuming each drink offers a unique experience. But when it comes to health and wellness, is one better than the other? To find out, we talked to registered nutritionists to find out which drink comes out on top.

Related: 10 foods to eat for a healthy life

Health benefits of tea

Now, it is worth mentioning that they are hundreds of types of tea. But tea, in general, is a wonderfully nutritious beverage, especially when consumed regularly. For starters, it’s packed with antioxidants. A 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 conditions like heart disease and cancer — but consuming lots of antioxidants (like those found in tea) can reduce your risk. Green and black tea are particularly rich in antioxidants called polyphenols, says Kelsey Lorencz, RD, registered dietitian and founder of Graciously Nourished. Even herbal teas like peppermint and chamomile have antioxidants, albeit in smaller amounts.

Both green and black tea also have a moderate amount of caffeine, around 47 milligrams and 28 milligrams per 8-ounce cup, respectively. Caffeine has an energizing effect; this can be useful to start your day, whether you’re commuting to work or doing household chores. Additionally, caffeine supports cognitive functions like learning and memory, according to a 2021 article in the journal Nutrients. And get this: caffeine is an antioxidant in itself, which means it protects cells against oxidative stress, further enhancing the health benefits of tea.

Health benefits of coffee

Coffee, like tea, is packed with antioxidants. It’s best known for its high content of chlorogenic acid, an antioxidant compound that protects against oxidative stress, says Kerry Hackworth, MS, RD, a registered dietitian with the National Dairy Council. Chlorogenic acid also has anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties, which may play a potential role in preventing chronic disease. In fact, drinking coffee is associated with a lower risk of neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, the drink may help slow the muscle loss associated with aging, according to nutritionist 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 can be ideal if you have a high tolerance for the substance. For context, an 8-ounce cup of fresh coffee contains 96 milligrams of caffeine, according to the Mayo Clinic. That’s more than twice the caffeine in black tea and four times as much in green tea.

So, which is healthier: tea or coffee?

It depends. Both tea and coffee have remarkable health benefits for the body, and both drinks can be part of a healthy diet. So, the “best” option depends on what is most important to you.

For example, if it’s the antioxidants you’re after, any of the drinks can tick that box. But if you’re looking for something to ease a bout of nausea, a hot cup of tea is more likely to hit you. It also depends on how you prepare each drink. For example, if you want or need to limit excess sugar, drinking any sweetened beverage may not be ideal for your situation.

Another factor to consider is the caffeine content of each drink and how your body responds to caffeine. Remember, coffee has about two to four times more caffeine than tea — so if you’re sensitive to the substance, tea might be a better choice, says Lorencz. Or if you tolerate caffeine but find coffee makes you nervous, you might be better off drinking matcha (a type of green tea) or black tea, which contains less caffeine, notes Pasquariello. Also, 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 Pasquariello. So if you drink coffee or caffeinated tea in the afternoon, you may feel connected at bedtime. which can be harmful and stressful for the body.

Most importantly, think about your own personal health concerns. Some medications and conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome, may not work well with large amounts of caffeine. This means you may need to limit or skip high-caffeine drinks like coffee. Likewise, if you’re trying to conceive, are pregnant or breastfeeding, you’ll need to limit your caffeine intake, notes Hackworth. This could mean drinking coffee or tea in certain amounts, though “it’s always best to consult a doctor or nutritionist for individualized advice,” she adds.

Finally, it is worth considering which drink simply brings you joy. After all, whether it’s a cup of coffee or an earthy green tea, these little everyday pleasures are crucial to your well-being. And by recognizing how each drink fits your lifestyle, health and overall needs, you can determine which one works best for you.

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