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Is Decaf Coffee Bad For You? Not Necessarily, Here’s Why

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When making coffee, most people opt for a full-strength cup of joe. But since a fortuitous accident in 1905 spurred the development of decaffeination methods, coffee lovers have a non-caffeinated way to enjoy their brew.  

But how does decaf stack up against regular coffee? If you’re like most people, you’ve probably heard some negative things about it and wonder, “Is decaf coffee bad for you?” Today, we’re going to take a deep dive into the world of decaffeinated coffee to clear things up.

Keep reading to learn more.

Is Decaffeinated Coffee Bad for You?

Say the word “decaf” among coffee fans, and you’re likely to encounter some strong negative reactions.

Aside from gripes about taste and utility (why even bother drinking decaf?), the primary anti-decaf argument is that it’s chemically treated to remove the caffeine. And it’s true. Historically, toxic chemicals have been used as part of this process, which has given decaf a bad rep.

However, these processes have evolved considerably and any chemicals used are strictly regulated by the FDA. There are also now non-chemical methods of making decaf coffee, so you can rest assured that decaf coffee is completely safe.

How Much Caffeine Is Too Much?

Moderate caffeine consumption is a perfectly normal part of a healthy diet. Of course, the key word here is moderate. But just how much is that?

For most adults, anywhere up to 400 mg per day is okay (or about four or five cups of coffee). But caffeine affects folks differently, so some might be able to drink five cups per day just fine, while others may only tolerate a morning cup.

The recommendations for max caffeine consumption may also look different if you have certain health conditions. You’ll probably need to drink less if you:  

  • Are pregnant
  • Are taking certain prescription medications
  • Have blood pressure problems

And if you’re concerned about only having a small amount of caffeine daily, remember that coffee is not the only culprit. Caffeine is found in plenty of other food and beverages, so you may be getting more than you think.

Does Decaffeinated Coffee Have Risks?

Decaf has indeed had a bad reputation, but the good news is that no evidence has demonstrated any link to health risks. So if you prefer to drink decaf, need to switch to limit your caffeine intake, or are just curious about the effects, there is nothing to worry about.

Can Decaf Coffee Affect Your Sleep?

Some people worry that having a cup of decaf coffee before bed will affect their sleep. The reason? Contrary to popular belief, the decaffeination process doesn’t remove every last trace of caffeine. It gets most of it–about 97 percent–but there is a bit leftover. Is it enough to ruin your sleep?

Well, if we translate this amount to a cup of coffee, it equals about 2 mg of caffeine. (A standard cup of coffee has about 80-100 mg). Two milligrams of caffeine is usually not enough to affect sleep–especially if you’re not drinking it right before bed.

The exception is for people with caffeine sensitivity. If you know you are caffeine intolerant, you might notice the effects of decaf, even hours later. And some folks without sensitivity to caffeine may also notice issues if they drink decaf too close to bedtime.    

Pros and Cons of Drinking Decaf Coffee

Trying to decide whether to switch to decaf? It can be challenging to make that decision, especially if you’ve been a long-time coffee drinker. Here are some pros and cons to consider.  

Pros of Drinking Decaf Coffee

Drinking coffee decaf has some potential health benefits.

Nutrients in Decaf Coffee

Like caffeinated coffee, decaf contains some nutrients we need in our diet, like:

  • Magnesium
  • Potassium
  • Niacin (vitamin B3)

The amount of these nutrients is pretty small, but they could add up if you drink several cups throughout the day.

Antioxidants in Decaf Coffee

Decaf also has lots of the same antioxidants as regular coffee, notably hydroxycinnamic acids and polyphenols. Again, you’re getting smaller amounts than standard coffee, but the benefits could add up if you drink a lot.

Cons of Drinking Decaf Coffee

Of course, decaf is not without its downsides.

Taste

Perhaps the biggest con of decaf is the taste. It often has a less intense flavor profile, which takes some getting used to. (Think of it like switching from regular Coke to Diet Coke).

Hardcore coffee lovers will argue that it’s just not the same and not worth drinking, but other people prefer sipping a milder decaf brew. Plus, you can find some excellent decaf coffees out there–we’ll talk about what to look for at the end of the article.  

Chemicals

As mentioned above, there are different ways to make decaf. One of the methods uses methyl chloride, a chemical you can find in paint strippers. Methyl chloride has dangerous neurological effects if you’re exposed to a lot of it, but small amounts haven’t been shown to be harmful–like the amounts used to make decaf.

Is Decaffeinated Coffee as Healthy as Regular?

You already know that regular coffee has lots of health benefits, but what about decaf? How does it compare to a standard cup of joe?  Let’s take a look at how the two stack up against one another in the health department.

Is Decaf Coffee Worse for You Than Regular?

Both are perfectly safe to drink, and there isn’t a significant amount of difference between regular and decaf coffee minus the caffeine content. It’s not like comparing a donut and a bran muffin. Clearly, the bran muffin is healthier, but in this case, we’re looking at two already healthy drinks.

What Does Decaf Coffee Do to Your Body?

It’s actually more helpful to talk about what decaf coffee doesn’t do, and that discussion revolves around caffeine.

Since it has very little caffeine, it shouldn’t cause jitters or a strong physical reaction like regular caffeine (unless you’re really caffeine sensitive). And because you’re not getting a huge caffeine boost, it won’t cause anxiety.

Another thing that it won’t do to your body is cause the flare-ups that acidic foods are known for. Regular coffee is plenty acidic, but thanks to the decaffeination process, decaf coffee is significantly less acidic. This is good news for anyone who has GERD or chronic heartburn and needs a substitute for their morning coffee.  

Is Decaf Coffee Bad for Your Heart?

You might have run across claims that decaf coffee is bad for heart health. The argument, which has been active lately, is that it might raise cholesterol levels.

However, what’s important to remember is that no studies have been shown conclusive so far. As of right now, the data simply doesn’t support this claim. If you’re concerned, you may want to talk to your doctor, but if you’re not, go ahead and keep drinking your decaf.  

Which Coffee Is the Healthiest?

There is no straightforward way to answer this question. Mostly, it depends on the person who is drinking it. Both have pros and cons, and your decision to choose one over the other will depend on how you react to caffeine.

Regular coffee may improve cognitive function and lower your cancer risk, which is awesome. However, it makes some people feel overly jittery or anxious, and it can cause sleep issues. If you’re pregnant, drinking too much coffee can be bad for the pregnancy, so decaf might be a better choice.

In the end, it’s not a matter of which is healthier; they’re both healthy. Instead, you should ask yourself if you have any health concerns that dictate having one over the other.

Which Decaf Should You Choose?

Looking to branch out and buy some decaf to have on hand at home? Remember, there is no reason to sacrifice the delicious taste of coffee just because you’re drinking decaf. Our recommendation is to choose based on the decaffeination method.

There are a few different ones, but the Swiss Water Method (SWM) is the best. The SWM is a certified organic way of removing pretty much all the caffeine (99.9%), and it also helps keep the integrity of the flavors intact. Most brands who use this method list it on their packaging, so if you don’t see it, the decaffeination method is probably different.

Some brands to check out are LifeBoost, House Blend, Koa Coffee, and Coffee Brothers.  

Final Thoughts

Here’s hoping that your worries about decaf have been laid to rest. Whether you want to switch to decaf altogether or swap out a cup or two here and there, don’t let health concerns stop you. It’s widely considered to be a safe drink, and new methods like SWM have made it tastier than ever.

So go ahead, pick up some decaf beans, and have fun experimenting. Cheers to healthy living!

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