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Tea vs coffee: which is better for you?

Daniel Couglin / 02 August 2016

Whether you're a tea lover, coffee fan or partial to both, you may be wondering which beverage is healthier. Read on to discover the pros and cons of each.

Tea and coffee
Both tea and coffee offer a range of health benefits and the odd risk.

As a nation, we quaff a staggering 165 million cups of tea and 70 million cups of coffee a day, but which is better for you?

Learn more about the health properties of tea and coffee 

Heart health

Studies suggest drinking several cups of tea a day, especially green tea which is higher in antioxidants, can reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.

There is no strong evidence that coffee boosts cardiovascular health, but according to British Heart Foundation dietitian Victoria Taylor, moderate consumption of around four to five cups a day won't do your ticker any harm, either.

Just watch your intake. The average cup of coffee contains 80mg of caffeine, double the amount of the average cup of tea, and excessive amounts can increase heart rate and trigger palpitations in susceptible people.

The healthier option: tea.

The heart-healthy foods we love

Diabetes protection

An increasing number of studies indicate that tea can help prevent type-2 diabetes.

Last year, researchers at Framingham State University in the US found that black tea slows the absorption of glucose, helping to regulate blood sugar. While the findings are backed up by an earlier Japanese study, there simply isn't enough convincing evidence of a link at present.

Some studies have shown that coffee may protect against type-2 diabetes but others have indicated that it might actually increase the risk.

An influential 2015 study from Harvard University found that drinking three to four cups of coffee a day may help prevent diabetes, but again, the evidence isn't conclusive.

“At the moment we simply cannot say that it will make the slightest difference,” says Tracy Kelly, clinical advisor at Diabetes UK.

The healthier option: neither, more studies are needed.

Dental health

Wondering which beverage is best for your pearlies? As you're probably well aware, both coffee and tea are notorious for staining teeth but contrary to popular belief, tea is actually more staining than coffee because of its high tannin content.

Although tea is more staining than coffee, it does have one thing in its favour – fluoride.  Mature black tea leaves in particular contain relatively high levels of fluoride, which helps keep teeth healthy and cavities at bay – as long as you go easy on the sugar of course. However, you'll have to put up with gnashers that may not be as dazzlingly white as you'd like.

The healthier option: tea to help prevent cavities, coffee to minimise staining.

10 foods that help make your teeth whiter

Liver support

It has long been thought that regular consumption of coffee can help protect the liver, and the very latest research confirms this.

An all-encompassing review by the British Liver Trust, which was published last month, analysed every single relevant study. It found that coffee does indeed protect against fatty liver disease, cirrhosis and liver cancer, and may slow the progression of chronic liver disease.

There is also evidence that the antioxidants in green tea may help protect the liver, but the British Liver Trust states that more studies are needed to confirm this.

The healthier option: coffee.

10 ways to look after your liver

Cancer prevention

Green tea, thanks to its high levels of antioxidants, has been shown in a number of studies to protect against cancers of the breast, mouth, prostate, lung and digestive tract, but the evidence is mixed and Cancer Research UK warns that more research is required before we really know whether tea can help prevent these illnesses.

Coffee was once thought to up the risk of cancer, but the latest evidence indicates exactly the opposite.

As well as offering protection against liver cancer, studies show that regular consumption of coffee may lessen the risk of cancer of the womb. Again, this isn't 100% conclusive.

On another note, scalding drinks of 65C or hotter can increase the risk of cancer of the oesophagus. Fortunately, we don't tend to drink tea or coffee at such dangerously high temperatures in the UK.

The healthier option: both tea and coffee have potential anti-cancer benefits.

Mental health

Most coffee drinkers have experienced that jittery feeling when they've drank too many espressos. Caffeine speeds up the heart rate and excessive amounts can disrupt sleep and increase feelings of anxiety in some people. Tea can have the same effect, but its lower caffeine content makes this less likely. On the other hand, studies suggest that drinking coffee can increase mental alertness and clarity, and help protect against age-related mental decline.

Tea contains theanine, an amino acid that may boost cognitive performance, and green tea especially has been linked with improved memory and a lower risk of Alzheimer's disease. Both tea and coffee have been associated with a reduced risk of depression.

The healthier option: both drinks offer mental health benefits, though tea may have the edge.

Foods for mental alertness

The winner?

There isn't one. Both beverages offer a range of health benefits and the odd risk, especially if you go overboard. Our advice is to drink tea or coffee in moderation – no more than eight cups of tea or four or five cups of coffee a day – and ditch or cut down on the sugar if you can.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.