Coffee vs. Green Tea

First of all, congrats on the coffee elimination! I really think you’re looking at this the wrong way. The fact that you were able to switch out coffee for green tea is not a failure at all, but a roaring success. Coffee is a highly addictive substance, so you need to celebrate your new found freedom.

Eliminating coffee from your diet is a slow process and one that takes some time. Moving to green tea is part of that process and should be looked at as a necessary step for some people. Check out my previous post 5 Tips For Getting Off Coffee for more details on these steps.

As for why green tea is acceptable while coffee isn’t, it has to do with the physiological effect that the beverages have on the drinker…

While both beverages contain caffeine, green tea contains considerably less. Drip coffee has anywhere from 130 to 220 milligrams of caffeine per cup, whereas green tea has about 40 to 45 milligrams. This alone is enough to make it a better choice, but green tea has a few other things going for it.

Green tea has an ingredient that actually counteracts the caffeine it contains. The amino acid theanine, found in green tea, has been shown to reduce mental and physical stress, improve cognition and mood and has a relaxing effect when consumed. Theanine is even used as a natural calming agent for its ability to cause states of relaxation without sedation. So green tea, despite its caffeine, has an overall calming effect. Most people find they can drink green tea late at night and it won’t keep them awake.

Coffee, on the other hand, stimulates an adrenal response. This release of adrenaline, the “stress hormone“, triggers the “fight or flight” response. Being in “survival mode”, while perking you up and making you more alert, is a serious overreaction when you consider you’re only sitting at your desk or behind the wheel of your car, not fighting for your life. Keeping yourself artificially and constantly in this fight or flight mode leads to a state of adrenal exhaustion, characterized by the complete inability to handle stress, and can lead to even more dependence on stimulants (leading to yet more coffee consumption, as the cycle continues).

Many people argue that scientific studies are finding health benefits of coffee consumption. Both coffee and green tea have been lauded for their health benefits of late, so I don’t see this as really entering into the argument. Green tea may protect against cancer, coffee may protect against Parkinson’s. It’s important to note with these claims, however, that many of them are theoretical. Much of the research done on coffee and tea is done with extracts under microscopes and not actually the full beverage in human bodies. Antioxidants extracted from coffee may affect cancer cells in a petri dish, but does it have that same effect in our bodies?

Also of note is that coffee has an acidifying affect on the body whereas green tea is alkalizing (you can see a discussion of acidifying versus alkalizing effects of foods in one of my previous posts). This means that, while coffee does contain magnesium, its net effect is to deplete the body of minerals. Green tea, on the other hand, does not have this effect.

And while coffee is highly addictive (we can get hooked on the adrenal response) green tea does not seem to be. It’s rare that you hear of people who “can’t function” without their cup of green tea in the morning, while this is a relatively common report with coffee.

I see green tea as a great transitional tool for getting off of coffee. While some people may wish to continue with green tea consumption, some may want to transition away from caffeine completely. I personally have begun to avoid green tea due to its high fluoride content. There is some evidence that the fluoride in green tea may interfere with the polyphenol epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), the ingredient in green tea that has been the subject of study and widely lauded for its health effects.

The Healthy Foodie is Doug DiPasquale