Is Drinking Decaf Coffee Good for Your Health?

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Manveen Sibia
Manveen had an illustrious career in journalism and writing. She is the mother of a super active 7-year-old. While chasing her around the house, she also finds time to pursue her passion for writing on parenting, education, health, fitness, and entertainment.

Coffee is one of the most popular beverages in the world. However, it is not uncommon for people to consider cutting back. It may be because you have trouble sleeping, or you rely too much on coffee to make it through the day. If you find giving up coffee too daunting a task, decaf coffee may be the compromise you need. But what is decaf coffee? How is it made? Is it safe to drink, or does it have any side effects? Is it better than regular coffee? In this article, we will answer all these questions and more about decaf coffee.

What is decaf coffee?

Decaf coffee (decaffeinated coffee) is coffee made from coffee beans that have 97% of the caffeine removed from it. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not have stringent regulations for decaf, so it can be challenging to know how much caffeine is there in a particular cup of decaf coffee. However, on average, decaf coffee contains 3 mg of caffeine per cup. A cup of regular coffee contains 85 mg caffeine per cup.

How is decaf coffee made?

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Decaf coffee was discovered in 1903 by German merchant called Ludwig Roselius when his freight of coffee beans accidentally got soaked in saltwater. He found these coffee beans had lost most of their caffeine without losing their taste.

Shortly after this accident, Ludwig created a process that involved steaming coffee beans with different acids and bases and then using benzene as a solvent to remove caffeine.

Over the years, several new and safer methods have been discovered to remove caffeine from coffee beans.  The decaffeination process begins with unroasted beans, which are soaked in water to dissolve the caffeine. The caffeine is then removed using one of the following methods –

1. Chemical extraction

Chemical solvents like ethyl acetate and methylene chloride are added to the mix of coffee or water for extracting caffeine. Though these chemicals are harmless, some of the substances used earlier were not so. Though methylene chloride is harmful to lungs when you breathe it in, it is safe when ingested in small amounts. This small amount is destroyed when the coffee beans are roasted.

2. Swiss water process

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This method is the most natural method of extracting caffeine.  This method uses the charcoal filter to remove the caffeine from the water.

3. Liquid carbon dioxide extraction

This process involves soaking green coffee beans in a water and carbon dioxide mixture. The mixture is pressurized to 1000 pounds per square inch to extract caffeine. The liquid is then trained and heated to release carbon dioxide, leaving caffeine behind.

How much caffeine does decaf coffee contain?

Despite its name, decaf coffee is not entirely free from caffeine.  A typical cup (8 ounces) of decaf coffee contains around 2 mg of caffeine, according to the US Department of Agriculture.  The caffeine content may also vary depending on the brand. Some brands of decaf coffee contain up to 15 mg of caffeine in one 8 ounce cup. However, this is much lesser than a regular cup of coffee, which includes 80 to 100 mg of caffeine. A cup of green or black tea also contains more caffeine than a decaf. An 8-ounce cup of green or black tea contains between 30 to 50 mg of caffeine.

Nutritional value of decaf coffee

One cup of decaf coffee does not contain any calories. The calorie content increases when you add sugar or milk to it.  Decaf coffee is also rich in antioxidants like hydrocinnamic acids and polyphenols.

  • Calories – 0
  • Protein – .24 grams
  • Calcium – 5 mg
  • Magnesium – 12 mg
  • Iron – .12 mg
  • Potassium – 128 mg
  • Fluoride – 124.2 mcg

Health benefits of decaf coffee

1. Lowers the risk of diabetes

Several studies have shown that drinking coffee, both regular and decaf, can reduce the risk of diabetes. According to a meta-analysis of 28 different studies, coffee consumption is inversely associated with the risk of diabetes in a dose-response manner (1). Coffee (decaf and regular) contains lignans and chlorogenic acid, which benefit glucose metabolism and lessen oxidative stress. Coffee also contains magnesium is, which helps reduce the risk of diabetes.

2. Boosts liver function

According to a 2014 study, higher intake of coffee, regardless of its caffeine content, has a hepatoprotective effect. According to the study, coffee diterpenes and various oils like cafestol and kahweol have a protective effect against aflatoxin, which can harm the liver. Kahweol oils and cafestol encourage the production of glutathione, which boosts detoxification and improves liver function (2).

3. Lowers risk of premature death

Drinking decaf coffee reduces the risk of death from heart disease or stroke (3). Coffee, both decaf and caffeinated, has a positive impact on endothelial function. The endothelial function aids in modulating blood flow, vasodilation, and vasoconstriction. Decaf coffee also has vitamins and minerals like magnesium, calcium, iron, calcium, and vitamin B3, which are beneficial for heart health.

4. Reduces the risk of neurodegenerative diseases

Decaf coffee can lower the risk of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. According to a study from Tufts University, the neuroprotective benefits of coffee are not just due to caffeine but many other bioactive compounds. So decaf coffee can reduce both the motor and cognitive effects of aging (4).

According to a study from Seoul National University, neuroprotective efficacy of decaf coffee is similar to caffeinated coffee. The active compounds present in these coffees like chlorogenic acid may drive the effects (5).

5. Lower risk of cancer

Many people develop heartburn or acid reflux when they drink coffee. You can lower these side effects when you drink decaf coffee. Studies have also shown that drinking decaf coffee can reduce the incidence of rectal cancer (6).

Risks of decaf coffee

While most experts agree that the liquid carbon dioxide and Swiss Water Process method are safe and do not have side effects, the use of methylene chloride does not have as many takers. When inhaled, methylene chloride can lead to coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. It can also cause headaches, confusion, dizziness, and fatigue when taken in higher doses. This chemical is also known to cause liver and lung cancer in animals.

However, according to FDA, decaf coffee contains only trace amounts of these chemicals, which can cause no harm to our health. According to the FDA, there can be only .001 % methylene chloride in the final product. Some coffee producers may claim that decaf coffee produced using ethyl acetate is naturally decaffeinated because ethyl acetate is naturally found in some produce. However, ethyl acetate that is used for this process is produced synthetically and can cause some side effects at high doses. The solvents used in the decaffeination process these days are much safer than they used to be.

Is decaf coffee healthier than regular coffee?

Caffeinated coffee has a long list of health benefits as compared to decaf coffee. However, that may be so because there has been more research on caffeinated coffee. Regular coffee is best known for its stimulant effects. It improves mood, increases alertness, reduces tiredness, and even memory. Some studies have also shown that it improves metabolic rate and helps in fat loss. It also helps reduce the risk of liver cirrhosis and liver damage.

However, many people who drink caffeinated coffee also suffer from acid reflux, heartburn, and stomach trouble. Since decaf coffee is milder, it can help reduce these symptoms. Though it is not as addictive as some other drugs, caffeine can also cause cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Caffeine can also interact with certain medications, which makes decaf coffee a much safer choice.

Pregnant and breastfeeding women are advised to restrict their caffeine intake. People who suffer from anxiety or sleeping troubles are also encouraged to refrain from taking caffeine. In general, both types of coffee have their health benefits. Which one to drink depends on your tolerance for caffeine?

Final thoughts

Coffee is a popular beverage around the world. Decaf coffee is very similar in taste to regular coffee, but it is made from coffee beans that have 97% of the caffeine removed from it. Both decaf and regular coffee are packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that provide many health benefits. Besides, decaf coffee being milder, has fewer side effects as compared to caffeinated coffee. Always look for the certified organic seal on your coffee to ensure that it is processed safely.

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