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:

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.

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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.

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.

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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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