Caffeine is usually why many people first start drinking coffee. There’s really nothing like that burst of caffeinated energy at the start of the day! But it’s not all sunshine and roses when it comes to caffeine- many people have caffeine sensitivities or medical conditions that are worsened by caffeine.
Enter decaf coffee- a popular choice for those looking to reduce or regulate their caffeine intake. Over the decades, the debate over decaf coffee has raged on. Is decaf good for you? Or is decaf bad for you? Let’s dive in and find out!
What Is Decaf Coffee?
As you may guess, decaf is short for decaffeinated coffee. This refers to coffee in which most of the caffeine has been removed. Decaf coffee is usually at least 97% caffeine-free but you can find bags of 99% caffeine-free coffee as well.
Decaf coffee starts out the same as regular coffee. The cherries are picked, the inner beans are removed and dried, and collected as green coffee. At this stage, the processing starts to differ. Coffee needs to be decaffeinated before it’s roasted, ground, and packaged. Caffeine can be isolated from coffee in numerous ways- using water, solvents, charcoal filters, or carbon dioxide.
Decaf coffee is milder in flavor and less bitter than regular coffee, which appeals to many who can't stomach the bitterness of regular coffee.
Pros and Cons of Decaf Coffee
The biggest decaf coffee benefits are the following:
- More palatable for people with caffeine sensitivities
Many people are very susceptible to the ill effects of caffeine such as anxiety and heart palpitation. Decaf coffee is a great alternative here if you love coffee but can’t tolerate caffeine.
- Recommended for people with certain medical conditions
Certain medical conditions like heart diseases, high blood pressure, kidney conditions, etc. may be worsened by caffeine. In these cases, a doctor may recommend cutting out caffeine entirely or at least compromising by switching to decaf coffee (Remember, decaf coffee still has trace amounts of caffeine!).
- Helps reduce caffeine dependence
Caffeine dependence manifests various side effects including headaches, insomnia, restlessness, anxiety, dehydration, and withdrawal symptoms. Decaf coffee is a way to regulate your caffeine intake and reduce dependence over time.
- No digestive or urinary issues
Coffee often makes you go to the bathroom more often, which can cause dehydration. There are also various digestive issues associated with caffeine consumption including acid reflux, ulcers, and diarrhea. Reducing your caffeine intake by switching to decaffeinated coffee can greatly reduce these effects.
But what about the other side of the coin- is decaf coffee bad for you? There are a few cons to decaf coffee such as:
- The use of solvents to make decaf coffee
As mentioned, there are many ways to remove caffeine from coffee and one of these methods involves the use of chemical solvents like methylene chloride or ethyl acetate. These solvents are safe in small concentrations but they have been linked to negative effects on the central nervous system. You can never really be sure about the concentration of solvents left behind, so it’s best to buy decaf coffee that is transparent about how it was processed.
- Decaffeinated coffee has been linked to high cholesterol levels
Several scientific studies have found that decaf coffee may raise cholesterol levels. The research is inconclusive for now, but many are cautious about this potential side effect of decaf coffee.
Is Decaf Coffee Safe?
All methods of decaffeination have been tested and are safe. This covers the use of water, solvents, charcoal filters, and carbon dioxide. Some methods are perceived as riskier such as the use of solvents, but studies indicate that there are no ill effects except in the rarest of rare cases. If the use of solvents is a cause for concern, ensure that you purchase water processed or Swiss processed decaf coffee which is free from solvents.
Health Benefits Of Decaf Coffee
Switching to decaf coffee is usually based on health concerns and preexisting medical conditions. Those with anxiety disorders, insomnia, heart conditions, gastrointestinal issues, etc reap the most health benefits of decaf coffee. Apart from this, the following health benefits have been linked to decaf coffee:
- Decaf coffee has the same antioxidants and nutrients as regular coffee.
- Decaf coffee is less acidic and easier on the stomach.
- Decaf coffee can potentially lower the risk of type 2 diabetes.
- Decaf coffee doesn’t worsen any existing medical conditions
So, should you switch to decaf coffee? It all depends on your health and lifestyle. You can start slow with half-caff coffee (half regular, half decaf) and see if you prefer decaf over regular coffee. In any case, regular or decaf, coffee is overall good for your health and you can rest assured that whichever you pick, you can still enjoy a good cup of coffee.