In the cold winter months, a yummy warm beverage can be medicine for the soul; and, perhaps better yet, some of the most popular warm beverages even offer health benefits.
It is estimated that at least half of the U.S. population drinks tea or coffee every day, so, since February is Heart Health Month, let’s review how these two favorites can be good for the human heart.
Those who don’t consume tea or coffee, please note that similar health benefits can be obtained by healthy eating and regular exercise.
Both tea and coffee contain natural compounds called polyphenols, which are antioxidants that fight free radicals — compounds that cause oxidation and stress in our bodies and cells — to aid in reducing inflammation and reduce the risk of disease.
This is why research has found some possible health benefits from the consumption of certain types of these beloved beverages.
The processing of tea and coffee can destroy some of their polyphenolic compounds; thus, certain types and varieties have more polyphenols than others. Research on the polyphenolic content of tea has found that green tea has the highest quantity of antioxidants.
The four biggest tea producing countries are China, India, Sri Lanka and Kenya. Four different tea varieties — black, green, white and oolong — all come from the Camellia sinensis leaves of the same plant, but these teas differ based on how they are processed.
A fifth type of tea is herbal tea, which is made from many different plants and different parts of plants, such as the roots, leaves and flowers.
The amount of caffeine in a tea is directly affected by the brewing and how long the tea steeps; for example, comparing an 8-ounce serving size reveals black tea contains about 48 mg of caffeine, while oolong tea has approximately 38 mg of caffeine, and green tea offers the smallest amount of caffeine at around 29 mg.
Total daily caffeine intake should not exceed 400 mg, which equates to approximately 6 cups of black tea or not more than 4 cups of black coffee. Decaffeinated tea and most herbal teas have very small amounts of caffeine.
Though more research is needed, it is believed that tea consumption may aid with weight management, diabetes and cancer and is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease.
Several research studies have shown that individuals who drink green and black tea regularly may reduce their risk of heart disease.
Coffee contains chlorogenic acid, which is an antioxidant that has been associated with fighting against cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Coffee beans are the roasted seeds of the Coffea plant’s berries, which are prepared for drinking by grinding and then brewing with either hot or cold water.
Coffee is grown near the equator in over 70 countries around the world, including the regions of Southeast Asia, Africa and the Americas.
Two main types of coffee are grown for consumption: Coffea arabica (about 70% of the crop) and Coffea robusta (30%).
The type of roast does not dictate the caffeine content in coffee; rather, the caffeine content is determined based on the amount or density of the coffee beans used when brewing a cup of coffee.
A lightly roasted coffee will contain more caffeine compared to a heavily roasted coffee because the lightly roasted beans are denser prior to grinding and brewing.
An 8-ounce cup of brewed coffee can contain from 95 to 200 mg of caffeine.
And beware that even decaffeinated coffee still contains 2 to 4 mg of caffeine per 8-ounce cup.
Studies have shown that drinking 1 to 5 cups of black coffee a day can be beneficial for health, though overall consumption advice is to limit caffeinated coffee intake to two 8-ounce cups per day.
Conservative consumption of coffee may reduce the risk of a heart attack. Research showed that people who drank 1 to 3 cups of coffee daily had a lower risk of having a cardiovascular event than those who didn’t consume coffee.
Be mindful that consuming plain black coffee is best; adding items such as milk, sugar and syrups to coffee means adding sugars, fats and calories to an otherwise very low-calorie beverage.
While many of us already relish every sip of our favorite warm beverages, perhaps knowing they’re also heart healthy makes every cup just a bit more enjoyable.
Stacy Reed is an educator with Penn State Extension in Lancaster, specializing in food safety and nutrition. Her column runs the second Wednesday of the month in LNP's Food section.