Drinking tea or coffee is a habit for most people. Are non-imbibers missing out on more than a hot cuppa? By Jennifer Bowden.
I recently read a newspaper health column about tips for a long life, with recommendations including drinking three cups of freshly brewed coffee daily. I don't drink hot drinks, as I never acquired the habit. Are there any stats about the health benefits, or otherwise, of never imbibing tea or coffee?
Although advice on precisely what to eat and drink in the name of good health and longevity is often varied and frequently contradictory, the reality is relatively simple.
To paraphrase author Michael Pollan, your health will benefit from eating real food, not too much, and mostly plant-derived.
But, of course, the details of that can vary significantly according to your personal preferences, including whether you enjoy drinking coffee or tea. Both are consumed worldwide but origin-ated in particular regions – tea in Southeast Asia and coffee from the Ethiopian plateau.
So, these beverages were originally a traditional part of diets in some parts of the world, but not others. We can safely say the famously healthy inhabitants of Crete, who ate the acclaimed Mediterranean diet, were not traditionally tea or coffee drinkers.
And while we talk about coffee in a singular sense, it's worth noting that its preparation varies widely, with different types of beans, roasting, grinding and brewing methods employed to produce espresso, instant, drip, French press, percolated … the list goes on. All of these significantly influence the intricate mixture of more than 1000 bioactive compounds in a cup of coffee.
Likewise, different production processes create many varieties of tea, all from the leaves of the plant Camellia sinensis. For example, white and green teas are not fermented, yellow tea is slightly fermented, while oolong, black and dark teas are more fermented. So, tea is not a uniform beverage, either.
And very few nutrition columns are complete without at least some mention of our genetic profile and gut microbiome. Both determine how our body responds to tea, coffee, and their metabolites. All of this adds up to a highly variable individual response to whichever specific version of coffee or tea you did or did not drink.
Evidence suggests that coffee has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects and thus may contribute to the prevention of diseases such as metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. Coffee intake is also associated with a reduced risk of several cancers and an overall reduced mortality risk.
The proviso is that caffeine consumption is limited to a safe level of 400mg/day (one to four cups of coffee).
Tea, too, is associated with various positive health effects, thanks to its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antihypertensive, anticancer, neuroprotective, cholesterol-lowering and cardioprotective effects, among other benefits.
Observational studies have found links between tea consumption and a reduced risk of various chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, arthritis, cardiovascular disease, stroke and more.
However, most of the research on tea and coffee involves observational studies and does not unequivocally prove these findings. Moreover, we do not yet fully understand the potential adverse effects of both beverages. But we know that coffee and tea inhibit the absorption of minerals such as iron when consumed with or near meals.
And certain types of coffee, such as French press and Scandinavian brews, contain significant quantities of cafestol – a molecule that increases total and LDL cholesterol, thus negatively affecting cardiovascular health.
You may forgo some purported benefits by not drinking tea or coffee, but you also forgo their possible risks. And, as noted, healthy eating is about more than coffee or tea.
So, there exists broad scope to follow your personal preferences and still achieve a healthy diet focused on real, mostly plant-derived foods. There is certainly no reason to drink or eat something you do not like when there are many other ways to improve your health through food choices that you do enjoy.