It’s been an ongoing grudge match for several years now. People get up in the morning and look for something stimulating to drink, but what should it be, coffee or tea? (For our purposes and a level playing field, we’ll be considering caffeine-rich black tea only.) The good press on both of these beverages is so praiseworthy and vehement. Then, the negative side effects seem so condemning. It’s early, our brains aren’t working, and we just want something to get us going.

Luckily, we’ve congregated here today to get to the bottom of the mysterious debates about coffee and tea. The good, the bad, and some semblance of truth will be revealed, and by tomorrow morning, when the time is right, we’ll all have a face full of steam, an activated brain, and the will to embrace another day. Let’s do it.

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The Good About…Both

Coffee and tea both have loads of redeemable qualities, some of which they share. Both are high in antioxidants, good for protecting our cells from free radicals that may cause cancer and/or other problems. Both wake up the brain with stimulants, upping our energy levels and ability to focus. Both can be preventive for type 2 diabetes and heart disease, as well as helpful in obesity issues.

Respectively, they each offer other benefits. Coffee provides some essential nutrients: B vitamins, manganese, magnesium, and potassium. Tea has wondrous pluses we’ve never heard of, like theaflavins for easing muscle soreness and increased bone density. Coffee may also help to prevent Alzheimer’s, cirrhosis, and depression. Tea actually perks up the brain with four separate stimulants (not just caffeine) and is linked to stress relief by lowering cortisol levels.

The Bad about…Both

But, as is usually the case, too much of either coffee or tea and things start to go downhill.

Coffee’s negatives start with hydrochloric acid (HCl). Most of us get up and drink our first cup on an empty stomach, and, unfortunately, that stimulates the production of HCl, needed for digestion. But, there’s nothing to digest. As a result, coffee throws our digestive system askew: Protein eventually passes too quickly into the intestines, it affects iron absorption in the stomach and kidneys, and there is the all-too-familiar laxative effect. So, coffee is hard on those with ulcers and other stomach ailments. Too much coffee may also overstimulate our brains, causing tension rather than focus. Then, there is acrylamide, a carcinogen produced by high roasting temperatures (We should note that this is in nearly any well-cooked carbohydrate.)

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Neither is tea necessarily all spoonfuls of sugar. Similar to coffee, tea is linked to digestive issues, as well as being a very powerful diuretic (Here’s a personal story).  In addition, the urinary issues and tea-based compound called oxalate can lead to kidney stones. More alarming is the fact that tea leaves, especially older ones, contain a little fluoride, which causes osteofluorosis, and aluminum, which can be linked to Alzheimer’s and brain problems (We should note that these effects would require large quantities of tea.)

The Semblance of Truth

Okay, admittedly, where we stand now is no better than when we started this journey. Tea and coffee both have good and bad qualities. Moderation is the key to good health. Didn’t we know that already? Now, there is even more — new diseases, disease prevention, type 2 diabetes again — to consider in the early morning hours before our first cup of … which should it be, coffee or tea?

And, the truth is that we all have to pay attention to our bodies. Maybe a little laxative effect is a good thing for cleaning the system and maintaining regularity (not usually an issue for plant-based diets). Maybe we don’t drink nearly enough tea to worry about trace amounts of aluminum. There is no definitive answer but rather, as with all things we ingest, we must develop an awareness of our individual needs, hereditary ailments, and bodily reactions.

The trick seems to be deciding beforehand, so that our slow-waking brains don’t have to deal with all this information prior to the first cup of whichever.

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Love coffee and/or tea? Well then, be sure to check out more of One Green Planet’s offerings on the subject: The 10 Best Fair Trade Teas, Your Guide to Eco-Friendly Coffee and Tea Makers, or — if you’re trying to kick a habit — The 5 Healthiest Alternatives to Coffee.

 Image source: mckaysavage/Wikimedia Commons

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