What’s the best way to start your day?
We’ve all heard it: breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But when you’re on the run, what’s the healthiest way to get a quick pick me up – coffee or tea?
One of the most popular drinks in the world, coffee holds a special place in American mornings. Nearly 85 percent of Americans drink coffee, and many rely on that morning caffeine boost to get their day started. But is it a healthy choice?
Research has tied coffee drinking to a number of health benefits, including decreased risk of liver and endometrial cancers, a decreased risk of diabetes and improved heart health. It may also offer some protection against colon cancer.
On the flip side, coffee contains a lot of caffeine – and high caffeine consumption can come with health risks, such as insomnia, rapid heartbeat, muscle tremor and pregnancy concerns. A typical cup (8 oz.) of coffee usually contains between 90-175 milligrams of caffeine, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers anything more than 600 milligrams of caffeine per day unhealthy.
“Too much caffeine can impair your sleep and hurt your ability to concentrate. Caffeine is also addictive, which can make it difficult for people to give up,” says Mallory Storrs, a clinical dietitian at Advocate South Suburban Hospital in Hazel Crest, Ill. “The energy-boosting effects might not be as great as people think, either. Caffeine can only do so much. At some point, people need to focus on self-care and healthy sleep habits.”
Storrs points out that the coffee makers themselves can also carry risks.
“Coffee makers, especially communal ones like those at the office, can contain a lot of bacteria if not cleaned regularly,” she says.
Despite coffee’s popularity in the U.S., tea is the most popular drink in the world, after water. Nearly 8 in 10 Americans drink tea, but for Millennials, that number rises to 9 in 10.
Tea consumption has been tied to a number of health benefits, large and small. Green tea may protect the brain against Alzheimer’s and reduce the risk of prostate cancer in men. Black tea has been tied to lower blood pressure and a decreased risk of heart disease.
“Many people see tea as a healthier alternative to coffee,” says Storrs. “Tea contains significantly less caffeine, usually between 20 and 35 milligrams per cup, so it’s particularly appealing to people who are worried about developing a caffeine addiction.”
Storrs also explains that tea might be a better alternative for those who are counting their calories. And their pennies.
“Plain tea and coffee are both very low in calories and can help keep people hydrated,” says Storrs. “But with more and more Americans consuming gourmet coffee drinks, the calories, sugar and fat content add up quickly, as do the costs of these designer beverages.”
So, which is the better choice?
“Because of coffee’s high levels of caffeine, it can be more addictive and easier to overdo, but some teas contain significant levels of caffeine, as well,” says Storrs. “Both come with health benefits, as long as they are consumed in moderation. So as long as someone is taking care of themselves, eating a well-balanced diet and using additives like honey, sugar or cream lightly, they can enjoy either without guilt.”
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About the Author
Amanda Jo Greep is the manager of public affairs and marketing at Advocate South Suburban Hospital in Hazel Crest. She has more than ten years of experience in communications and public affairs and has worked with a variety of nonprofits and health care organizations. Jo holds a master's of public administration degree in health policy and management from New York University. In her spare time, she is a Girl Scout leader, runner and amateur genealogist.