Coffee and tea: The cautions and benefits

Tuesday’s conversation about the benefits — and drawbacks — of raw food reminded me of another interesting article I came across recently. It focused on coffee. And although I don’t drink it, it’s, of course, one of the most popular healthy “vices” amongst both my readers and patients. And what better time to share it with you than on a chilly, winter morning?

The latest research shows that hot-brewed coffee might actually deliver more antioxidants than its cold-brewed counterpart. Which means that steaming morning mug is actually a bona fide health food.

And when I say cold-brewed coffee, I don’t just mean hot coffee on ice. As you may know, cold brewing is a specific preparation technique that uses no heat and longer steep time. And while this makes for a smooth, stronger-tasting cup of coffee, it’s doesn’t offer the same amount of health benefits.

Ultimately, coffee’s pH levels are similar at either temperature. But hot coffee had more total titratable acids (also referred to as “total acidity”) — which, according to researchers, is the likely reason behind its higher antioxidant levels.

Not to mention its impressive array of health benefits — including protection against cancer, heart disease, and more.

If coffee’s not your bag, brew some tea instead

Of course, not everybody’s born to drink coffee. I almost never indulge. (Even a small dose of caffeine makes me jittery.) But I have been known to enjoy a cup of tea from time to time.

And if java isn’t your beverage of choice, let me remind you why hot tea is still a worthy substitute.

Last year, I shared new research on patients with glaucoma — a common eye disease and leading cause of blindness. This study showed that drinking hot tea daily was linked with a whopping 74 percent reduction in glaucoma risk — even after accounting for factors like diabetes and smoking status.

But the same couldn’t be said for coffee, whether it was caffeinated or decaf. Or for decaf tea, iced tea, or soda.

The two habits to avoid — especially when sipping a hot drink

Whether you prefer coffee or tea, I have a word of warning. (And this is a good opportunity to remind you of yet another study I shared last year.)

This study followed more than 450,000 subjects for nearly a decade. The results showed that, in combination with daily alcohol use or smoking, a daily cup of piping hot tea could significantly increase the risk of esophageal cancer.

And when I say “significantly,” I mean it: The risk of esophageal cancer was five times higher when subjects drank both hot tea and more than 1.5 ounces of alcohol daily. (As compared to drinking hot tea less than once a week, and consuming less alcohol per day.)

Meanwhile, the risk doubled among daily hot tea drinkers who smoked, compared to non-smoking, occasional hot tea drinkers.

It’s worth pointing out that a daily cup of tea — whatever the temperature — wasn’t a sole contributor to the increased risk of esophageal cancer. It was the combination of tea with either alcohol or smoking that proved dangerous.

Lastly, if you’re a hot tea drinker, there’s just one more precaution you need to be aware of: its temperature.

How hot is too hot?  

If you’ve ever eaten anything too hot — like a spoonful of steaming soup, or a slice of pizza — then you know what it does to the roof of your mouth. It burns. And burns are injuries.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer recently classified any beverage hotter than 65° C (149° F) as a probable carcinogen. To put this into perspective, most Americans drink their coffee at around 60° C, or 140° F — that’s cutting it pretty close if you ask me.

And switching to cold brew coffee throws the baby out with the bathwater. But if whatever’s in your mug is hot enough to take your skin off, it’s best to let it cool down a bit before you start sipping.