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Question: What's better for me: coffee or tea?

Answer: Now that's a very good question. Studies have determined that both coffee and tea have health benefits. Providing you don't load your coffee – or tea – with sugar and cream, either can be a good source of certain nutrients and antioxidants linked to disease prevention.

Let's start with tea. Fresh tea leaves are an incredibly rich source of phytochemicals called catechins, which have potent antioxidant properties. In fact, tea is one of the highest sources of antioxidants in the North American diet. When it comes to health, most of the research has focused on green tea suggesting the beverage may help lower the risk of certain cancers (breast, ovarian) and heart disease. Regular black tea drinkers have also been found to have a lower risk of developing heart disease.

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The strongest evidence for coffee's health benefits centre around diabetes. Drinking coffee – at least three cups per day – has been linked to a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes in a number of studies. Coffee – caffeinated and decaffeinated – contains an antioxidant called chlorogenic acid, which has been shown to dampen inflammation in the body, reduce glucose (sugar) absorption and improve how the body uses insulin, the hormone that lowers blood glucose. Coffee also contains magnesium, a mineral linked to blood sugar regulation.

There is a downside with coffee for some people: its high caffeine content. (Tea contains much less caffeine than coffee.) Drinking too much coffee can result in a high intake of caffeine which can disrupt sleep and rob calcium from bones (if you consume too little calcium from foods). And some studies suggest that high intakes of caffeine during pregnancy can increase the risk of miscarriage.

Women of childbearing age should limit caffeine intake to 300 milligrams per day. Other healthy adults can safely consume 400 milligrams daily – almost 2.5 cups of coffee worth. (One eight ounce cup of regular coffee (filter drip) contains roughly 180 milligrams of caffeine.) One eight ounce cup of black tea has 43 milligrams of caffeine and green tea contains 30 milligrams.

Coffee – both regular a decaf – can also trigger heartburn if you have reflux (GERD).

So what's better for you – coffee or tea? That really depends on you. If you are not sensitive to caffeine and don't suffer heartburn, both coffee and tea are considered healthy especially if you skip the sugar.

If it's antioxidants you're after, go for green tea which contains about three times more catechins than black tea.

Send dietitian Leslie Beck your questions at dietitian@globeandmail.com. She will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on the Globe website. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

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The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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