Coffee is one of the 9 most popular beverages in the world. Apart from its flavour, people love coffee for its caffeine content. Tolerance levels also vary from one person to the next. One person may enjoy 3 cups of coffee a day while another one will find it difficult to finish a single cup. Those who want to drink coffee but don’t want the caffeine content resort to drinking decaffeinated coffee.
Decaf vs Regular Coffee: what is the difference? Decaf and regular coffee are different in terms of their health benefits, acids, caffeine content, and probably the most noticeable: the taste.
Here’s a short table of their differences:
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|Regular Coffee (per 8oz cup)||Decaf Coffee (per 8oz cup)|
|Caffeine||70 to 140mg||0 to 7mg|
|Antioxidants||Yes||Yes (15% lower than Regular Coffee)|
|Acidity||Average pH Level of 5 (Less acidic)||Flat pH Level of 5 (More acidic)|
|Side Effects||Anxiety |
|Increased bad cholesterol |
Higher acidity levels
The word “DECAF” means devoid of caffeine or decaffeinated, meaning it doesn’t contain that much caffeine compared to a regular coffee. Decaf is considered unnatural for coffee lovers and enthusiasts, but before you judge it in its entirety, let’s go over the major differences in great detail.
What Is the Decaffeination Process?
Decaffeinated coffee comes from coffee beans with their caffeine removed, so all flavours and oil are completely removed. Because caffeine is responsible for the flavour, the decaffeination process restores the flavouring of the coffee beans.
The decaffeination process is carried out second-party companies, not the roasting companies or the farms. But some roasting companies will buy a lot of beans from the farm and separate a batch or two for decaffeination.
In countries like Brazil, which is the world’s leading supplier for coffee, there are companies that are responsible for genetically modifying Coffea plants, so beans will now have little to no caffeine content. However, this process is expensive and there’s limited availability of genetically modified coffee beans on the market.
Here’s an overview of how the process is carried out. The unroasted beans are soaked in water to dissolve the caffeine, then it follows either of the three primary methods of decaffeination:
This one involves the use of chemicals such as Methylene chloride, which is the same chemical used in paint removers or ethyl acetate. This chemical is either added to the mixture of coffee and water mixture or removing the water from the beans and adding them to the water mixture. Then the last part involves evaporating the water so the caffeine content is gone but the flavour remains.
Swiss Water Process
This one uses a charcoal filter to remove caffeine from the water without using any harmful chemicals.
Liquid Carbon Dioxide
This process involves using liquid carbon dioxide to dissolve the caffeine in the water and coffee bean mixture. Again, this process doesn’t use any chemicals to get rid of the caffeine.
How Is Regular Coffee Prepared?
Regular coffee comes from roasting coffee beans, which the seeds of berries coming from the Coffea plant. Coffee beans are also sold in their roasted state, and each to varying levels of roasting. How they are roasted is also known as grading, which are labelled as light, medium-light, medium, medium-dark, dark, or very dark. The difference in grading will also mean a difference in flavour, and aroma.
However, roasting does not change the caffeine content in the beans. This is a common misconception because beans usually have less caffeine content when they are measured in volume because the beans swell up during the roasting process.
But if you measure the caffeine content of a single bean after roasting, the caffeine content will still remain the same.
How Much Caffeine Is in Decaf Coffee?
Caffeine content will differ from one bean to another. A Robusta bean will contain twice the amount of caffeine than Arabica beans, so if you want to choose a coffee with less caffeine content, choose based on their beans.
Decaf coffee may not be entirely caffeine-free. In a 6 oz cup of decaf coffee, caffeine content measures at about 0 to 7mg. Regular coffee measures at about 70 to 140mg of caffeine per 6oz.
How Much Cups of Decaf Coffee Equals to a Cup of Regular Coffee?
Assuming that the decaf coffee you are drinking as 7mg of caffeine per 6oz, you’ll need to drink about 10 to 20 cups of decaf coffee to match the caffeine content of one cup of regular coffee.
Now for health reasons, it’s completely unreasonable to drink that amount of decaf coffee because the only thing that’s missing from decaf coffee is caffeine. All the other factors that make up coffee, such as acidity, are still present in decaf coffee.
Is Decaf Coffee More Acidic than Regular Coffee?
On the topic of acidity, decaf coffee is known to be more acidic than regular coffee, mostly due to the type of beans that are prepared for decaffeination which is Robusta. Robusta beans have higher caffeine content and higher acidity levels compared to other types of beans.
Acidity is measured using Ph levels. Ph levels at 7 or higher means lower acidity levels, while lower than 7 means higher acidity. If the acidity level is 7, then it’s neutral. Decaf coffee measures at 5.0 to 5.1 Ph levels. However, regular coffee made from Robusta beans measures at about 5.0 Ph level, while Arabica beans measure lower than that.
Does Decaf Coffee Have Higher Antioxidants Than Regular Coffee?
There’s no notable difference in terms of antioxidants between regular coffee and decaf coffee. Coffee, even with or without caffeine, is still loaded with active biological elements.
Polyphenols and Hydro cinnamic acids are the main types of antioxidants found in both coffees. These are responsible for lowering the risks of heart diseases and Type 2 diabetes.
Another antioxidant called Ferulic acid is responsible for preventing oxidative damages to our body and helps in reducing brain inflammation. To put it simply, this is responsible for reducing the risks of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease.
But when we’re talking about antioxidant content, decaf coffee contains 15% lower antioxidants than regular coffee. This is due to the fact that some of these elements are lost during the decaffeination process.
Does Decaf Coffee Have the Same Health Benefits as Regular Coffee?
Coffee, regardless if it’s decaf or regular, will have health benefits, especially if you consume it regularly (i.e. a cup of coffee a day). The decaffeination process only takes out the caffeine content of a coffee bean, but it doesn’t affect the other biological elements that are responsible for its health benefits.
But there are notable differences in terms of health benefits, mostly because of the presence and absence of caffeine content and the differences in their acidity levels.
Health Benefits of Decaf Coffee and Regular Coffee
Decaf coffee is actually good for you, especially with regular consumption. It’s linked to numerous health benefits that regular coffee can’t provide. However, it’s hard to pinpoint their specific health benefits that decaf coffee can provide due to the fact that there’s a limited number of studies done on decaf coffee.
What are these benefits?
Reduces the Risks of Type 2 Diabetes, Liver Function, and Premature Death
Both decaf and regular coffee are linked to reducing the risks of Type 2 Diabetes. The effects of decaf coffee on the liver and its function are not so well-studied compared to regular coffee, but one observational study noted that decaf coffee reduced liver enzyme levels, which indicates a protective effect as opposed to a preventive effect.
There’s also a small but significant reduced risk of premature death (a stroke or heart disease) and Type 2 Diabetes.
Reduces the Risks of Aging and Neurodegenerative Diseases
Regular and decaf coffee is linked to preventing ageing and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Much like decaf’s effect on the liver enzymes, it also has the same protective effect on brain’s neurons, which is why it could prevent the onset of the neurodegenerative disease. Another study also suggests that the reason for this is the chlorogenic acid found in coffee, rather than caffeine, that’s responsible for this protective effect.
Regular Coffee Has Advantages Over Decaf
Coffee is best known for its stimulating effects, brought about by caffeine. This makes us perk up when we’re almost about to doze off at 2:00PM in the office, or when we want a quick energy boost for a presentation.
But some benefits of coffee are directly attributed to the presence of caffeine, which decaf doesn’t have.
Here are some benefits of drinking regular coffee that decaf coffee can’t provide:
- Better and improved mood, memory and mental function, and reaction time
- Increased metabolism and fat burning
- Enhanced athletic performance
- Reduced risks of mild depression and suicidal tendencies in women
- Lower risks of liver cirrhosis
This is not to discredit decaf coffee at all given the fact that research on its health benefits are limited compared to researches done on regular coffee.
Is Decaf Coffee Safe for Pregnant Women?
It’s obvious that caffeine, especially regular coffee, is a big no-no for pregnant women. According to the American Pregnancy Association, caffeine reduces fertility in animals, so it’s wise to reduce your caffeine intake if you’re pregnant.
You may not need to cut down on the intake completely, but there should be a limit. According to research done by California’s San Joaquin Valley, decaf coffee is not harmful to mothers and does not hinder fetal development during pregnancy.
But it’s always safe to ask your physician first for clarifications before you grab a cup of Joe.
Is Decaf Good for Losing Weight?
Decaffeinated coffee is a great alternative for those who want to lose weight but not want to cut out coffee out of their diet entirely. However, just like regular coffee, decaf coffee can affect your weight loss program if you consider additives such as cream or sugar.
Weight Loss and Decaffeination
Decaf coffee contains minimal amount of caffeine, of which 97% is removed from the beans. Some decaf coffee may still have traces of caffeine in them, so you get to enjoy the weight loss benefits that’s associated with caffeine.
According to a 12-year study published in 2006 in the “American Society for Clinical Nutrition”, it found that increasing caffeine intake could lead to lower chances of weight gain in the long run. But the effects of caffeine on weight loss and lowered weight gain were slight, so drinking decaffeinated coffee will not greatly affect your weight loss.
Counting Calories in Decaf Coffee
Decaffeinated coffee contains no calories in an 8-ounce serving, so drinking it can help build up calorie deficit over time, which could eventually result in weight loss. Drinking decaf coffee one cup per day for 5 days a week for a year may lead to almost 8 pounds of body weight lost.
Watch What You Add!
A research done by the University of Rochester Medical Center showed that what you drink can significantly affect the amount of weight you lose. High-calorie drinks such as a lemon-lime soda provide you with little to no nutritional value at all. Coffee is considered calorie-free, but the added calories can come from what you add to it, such as cream and sugar.
A single teaspoon of sugar has about 4 calories per serving while a tablespoon of light cream contains about 29 calories and 3 grams of fat per serving. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, added sugar is the primary cause of weight gain and obesity, and sugar-sweetened beverages are the sources of added sugar.
Does Decaf Coffee Have Diuretic Properties?
Caffeine makes you pee a lot due to its diuretic properties, and if you don’t drink enough water, you may end up getting dehydrated. When people tell you that caffeine causes dehydration, that’s not entirely true. Dehydration is a result of the diuretic properties of caffeine.
Now caffeine in its entirety is a mild diuretic, so you’re not exactly urinating in gallons thereby risking dehydration. The safe amount of caffeine intake per day borders between 500mg to 600mg, which is about 5 to 6 cups of coffee.
Because decaf coffee doesn’t have caffeine, it has no diuretic effect on the body.
Does Decaf Coffee Taste the Same as Regular Coffee?
There’s a difference in taste between regular coffee and decaf coffee.
The decaffeination process is done on green coffee beans to remove the caffeine content, but this process greatly affects flavour, aroma, and other chemicals. To put it simply, decaf coffee tastes flatter or weaker than regular coffee due to the absence of caffeine and other chemicals lost due to the decaffeination process.
How Many People Drink Decaf Coffee Over Regular Coffee?
In the USA alone, the National Coffee Association revealed that in 2018, the US per capita coffee consumption of decaf coffee was 0.24 cups per day. The same survey also found that 72% of decaf coffee consumers were aged 60 and above. It’s clear that people who
However, it’s difficult to determine the exact number of decaf coffee drinkers in the USA or in the world for that matter.
What Are the Side Effects of Drinking Decaf Coffee?
Decaf coffee is not without side effects just because the caffeine content has been completely removed. Remember, there are other biological elements that are responsible for our body’s reactions to coffee. Decaf coffee only removed one element, and the rest are still there.
Increases bad cholesterol
Research done at Piedmont-Mercer Center for Health and Learning in Atlanta suggests that drinking decaf increases cholesterol levels due to the decaffeination process. The process in removing caffeine is responsible for the likelihood of increasing the non-esterified fatty acids in the blood by 18 percent. Those who drink 3 to 4 cups of decaf coffee a day showed an increase in apolipoprotein B, which is a protein associated with bad cholesterol.
However, findings are not conclusive. The British Heart Foundation said that the mentioned study was limited to those who drank coffee at least 3 times a day and had no bearings to those who drank 2 cups only.
However, in another study done by the American Heart Association, it suggested that decaf coffee raises bad cholesterol and lowers good cholesterol. Now higher LDL is harmful unless the numbers go up and when your doctor starts to prescribe cholesterol medications. When this happens, cut out decaf and replace with tea instead.
Higher acidity levels
Higher acidity levels in decaf coffee can lead to the following conditions:
- Gastrointestinal disease
- Mineral loss
- High cortisol levels
This acidity is because of the type of bean used in decaffeinated coffee, which is Robusta. Compared to other beans, Robusta has the highest caffeine content and higher acidity levels. In the decaffeination process, only the caffeine content is reduced or removed. The acidity levels remain unchanged.
Who Should Choose Decaf Over Regular Coffee?
It still boils down to preference, but the biggest factor here is tolerance. For some people who can’t tolerate a single cup of regular coffee but still want to enjoy the flavour, decaf coffee is the best alternative.
For health reasons, decaf coffee is usually recommended to those who’re prone to anxiety and nervousness since caffeine has anxiogenic effects. This means that caffeine can aggravate your restlessness or anxiety at any given time.
Decaf coffee is also suggested as an alternative to people who want to quit their caffeine addiction. Decaf still provides them with the same aroma and taste that regular coffee can provide, but now with lesser or removed caffeine.
Decaffeinated coffee has its own purposes and benefits that makes it completely different from regular coffee. Apart from the processes and preparations involved, decaf coffee is still a cup of coffee when you think really hard about it.
If you want to enjoy a cup of coffee for its stimulating effects, drink regular coffee. However, if you want to enjoy a cup after dinner or before going to bed, then decaf coffee is the better choice.
If your caffeine tolerance is low but you still want to enjoy the aroma and flavour of coffee, decaf coffee is the best choice.