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Caffeinated vs. Decaf: Which is Better?


Whether or not you choose caffeinated or decaffeinated products like coffee or tea is often a matter of preference. Research has shown that caffeine, when used in moderation, can provide numerous health benefits. However, decaf may be a better choice for certain population groups.

Benefits of Caffeine

You may reap several health benefits from drinking caffeinated coffee or tea. For example, a review published in 2010 in the journal Nutrition found that drinking moderate amounts of caffeine boosts energy levels, increases the number of calories you burn throughout the day, lowers fatigue, enhances performance during physical activity, boosts mental performance and alertness, increases concentration and problem-solving abilities, improves neuromuscular coordination, quickens reaction time, and boosts overall brain function.

Drawbacks of Caffeine

While caffeine offers numerous potential health benefits, drawbacks exist as well. MedlinePlus notes that drinking too much caffeine can cause an elevated heart rate, anxiety, depression, increased urination, nausea, restlessness, and difficulty sleeping at night. A review published in 2009 in Polski Merkcuriusz Lekarski reports that in high doses, caffeine can increase the risk for miscarriage and slow fetal development in pregnant women. Furthermore, caffeine can be addictive and suddenly cutting it out of your diet can cause withdrawal symptoms -- such as headaches, irritability, nausea and drowsiness.

How Much Caffeine Is Safe?

Drinking caffeinated drinks in moderation -- about 300 milligrams of caffeine or 3 cups of caffeinated coffee daily -- is safe for most adults, according to the University of Illinois. One cup of coffee provides about 100 milligrams of caffeine, and tea usually contains 14 and 60 milligrams of caffeine per cup, MedlinePlus notes. If you're pregnant or breastfeeding, talk with your doctor about what amount of caffeine (if any) is safe for you and your baby. The American Pregnancy Association reports that the less caffeine your drink while pregnant the better, and some experts recommend limiting caffeine intake to just 150 milligrams per day while pregnant.

Which Is the Better Choice?

For many adults, the pros outweigh the cons when it comes to drinking caffeinated beverages. You may be able to reap more health benefits by choosing caffeinated products over decaf as long you're drinking caffeine in moderation. However, consuming more than 300 milligrams of caffeine daily could be problematic.

Decaf may be a better choice for people who drink more than three cups of coffee daily and are prone to anxiety, stress, depression, sleep problems, irregular heartbeats, chronic headaches and heartburn, notes MedlinePlus. Choose decaf if your doctor recommends you avoid caffeine due to medical conditions or because you're taking certain medications.

If you're pregnant, breastfeeding, or trying to become pregnant, decaf is the ideal choice. The American Pregnancy Association notes that caffeine has been shown to reduce fertility in animal studies. However, if you're pregnant or breastfeeding and can't give up caffeinated beverages, talk with your doctor to determine how much caffeine is a safe amount for you.


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An experienced health, nutrition and fitness writer, Erin Coleman is a registered and licensed dietitian and holds a dietetics degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She also has worked as a clinical dietitian and health educator in outpatient settings. Erin's work is published on popular health websites, such as and

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