4 Ways to Boost the Health Benefits of Caffeine

Rachel Meltzer Warren, M.S., R.D.
February 13, 2012


Coffee or tea - take your pick. New research shows that both deliver unexpected health pluses. A 2011 Harvard study, for example, found that female coffee drinkers who averaged four cups a day cut their risk of endometrial cancer 25% and, with more than three cups of caffeinated java, lowered their odds of basal-cell carcinoma 20%. Tea, too, contains cancer-fighting antioxidants. The beverages may also be mood boosters, with coffee linked to a decreased risk of depression and tea to less anxiety. To get the most from your morning mug:

1. GO FOR THE HIGH-OCTANE (IF YOU CAN)
The health bonuses haven't been found as consistently in decaf versions of coffee and tea. But since regular coffee can pack as much as 200 mg of caffeine per eight-ounce cup (depending on the bean and the way it's brewed) and tea can go up to 60 mg per cup, stick with decaf if you have a GI issue like irritable bowel syndrome or acid reflux. Ditto if you suffer from anxiety or sleep disturbances - or if you're simply sensitive to caffeine. You'll still get some benefit from other compounds in your brew, such as the antioxidant chlorogenic acid in coffee.

Related: How to Get More Energy

2. SKIP THE CREAMER
Adding nondairy creamer and sugar to coffee interferes with the absorption of antioxidants, a Swiss study suggested. Also, creamers are often made with partially hydrogenated oils, which contain heart-damaging trans fats. To lighten your coffee, use cow's milk or soy or almond milk instead.

3. TAKE YOUR TEA BLACK
Adding milk may blunt its heart-health benefits, a German study found. And speaking of black, green tea may be the health star, but all members of the Camellia sinensis family - black, white, and oolong tea, as well as green - have health benefits, including aiding in fighting infections and slowing cognitive decline.

Related: You, Recharged!

4. FAVOR FILTERS
Coffee brewed without a paper filter - in a French press or espresso pot, for example - retains an oily residue that contains cafestol, a substance that raises levels of heart-damaging LDL cholesterol. You could - if you're addicted to your French press - pour your coffee through a paper filter into a cup. Or, just save special brews for an occasion - breakfast in bed, anyone?

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