In a society that’s more health conscious than ever, many of us are asking which foods and drinks are better for us. Coffee and tea are among the world’s most popular beverages, with the latter even featuring in one of the UK’s favourite family theatre shows - The Tiger Who Came to Tea. But which of the two drinks is healthier?
Caffeine is present in both tea and coffee and is known for its stimulating effects. It improves mental alertness and may also be instrumental in improving insulin sensitivity, which in turn reduces the risk of Type 2 diabetes. As such, we could consider coffee to be healthier, as it contains more caffeine (95mg) per cup than tea (47mg). However, caffeine is not good for you in large quantities. Adults should stick to no more than 400mg per day, which is about four cups of coffee or eight cups of tea.
Although tea is lower in caffeine, it’s rich in an antioxidant called L-theanine, which stimulates your brain and is thought to have anti-stress effects. It increases your brain’s alpha waves, which have a calming and relaxing effect. Coffee doesn’t have this particular antioxidant, meaning it doesn’t have the same ability to make you feel chilled out.
Antioxidants protect your body from free radicals. These are unstable atoms that can cause damage to cells, resulting in illness and ageing. Tea and coffee are both packed with antioxidants called polyphenols. Studies have suggested that these lower your risk of developing chronic diseases, and have a protective effect against heart disease.
Coffee contains between 1.1–1.8 grams of soluble fibre. This not only helps with digestion, it also helps to lower low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, often known as ‘bad’ cholesterol. Soluble fibre is also associated with improved blood sugar control, which reduces the risk of Type 2 diabetes.
Although caffeine has positive effects on us during the day, researchers at the University of Surrey showed that coffee drinkers tend to struggle more when it comes to falling asleep. Caffeine has an average half-life of about five hours, which means if you have a cup of coffee with 95mg of caffeine in it, there’s still 47.5mg of it in your body five hours later. That’s the same amount of caffeine as you’ll find in a cup of tea.
Sleep deficiency is linked to health problems such as heart disease and high blood pressure, so whatever your preferred beverage, you should have your last cup around six hours before you go to bed.