Drinking coffee or tea may be how you start your mornings, but is one healthier for you than the other?

When balanced with a healthy diet and lifestyle, both of these drinks have potential health benefits.

“Coffee and tea are two of the world’s most beloved beverages, cherished for their rich flavors, stimulating effects and the comfort they bring. Beyond their taste and aroma, research has shown that coffee and tea offer a range of health benefits, and they may even help reduce the risk of cancer,” Nichole Andrews, a registered dietitian nutritionist from Tri-Cities, Washington, told Fox News Digital.

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Both coffee and tea are rich sources of antioxidants, which are compounds that protect our cells from damage caused by free radicals.

“Free radicals can harm DNA and other cellular components, potentially leading to cancer development,” said Andrews, who’s known as “The Oncology Dietitian,” as she addresses the way people view food and its impact on cancer risk and management. 

The antioxidants found in coffee and tea, such as polyphenols and catechins, neutralize these free radicals, she said, reducing the risk of cellular damage. 

Keep in mind what you add to your beverage, though.

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“While coffee and tea offer a range of health benefits when consumed in moderation, it’s essential to acknowledge the potential downsides associated with additives like syrup, sugar, excessive cream and other calorie-laden ingredients,” said Andrews. 

The battle of coffee vs. tea is underway — and nutritionists have stepped in to share their thoughts on the caffeinated beverages. (iStock)

Andrews cautioned that these additions can turn otherwise healthy beverages into unhealthy choices, primarily due to the increase in daily calorie intake. 

Dan Gallagher, a registered dietitian with Aegle Nutrition in Texas, said that like most foods, coffee and tea can be made unhealthy depending on what is added to them. 

“By themselves, both coffee and tea are considered healthy for similar reasons. Both have beneficial effects on your body when consumed regularly,” he said, reiterating that both can become unhealthy when items like sugar are added to them.

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Ahead, here’s a look at the nutritional differences between coffee and tea.

steaming cup of hot drink

Coffee and tea each come with health benefits and potential detriments. Which one do you favor? (iStock)

Why coffee and tea could be bad for your health

When coffee or tea is loaded with sweeteners, milks, creams and other ingredients, they could sabotage your health.

Andrews broke down the reasons that jazzed-up coffee and tea beverages could be detrimental.

1. Excessive calories and weight gain

Added sugars: Syrups and sugar are common additions to coffee and tea, and they can significantly increase the calorie content of your drink. Consuming excessive added sugars can lead to weight gain over time.

Cream and milk: While a splash of cream or milk can enhance the taste and texture of your coffee or tea, overdoing it can contribute to excess calorie intake, particularly if you use high-fat dairy products.

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2. Obesity and cancer risk

Excess calorie consumption can lead to weight gain and the accumulation of adipose tissue (body fat). Obesity is a well-established risk factor for several types of cancer, as it can lead to chronic inflammation and hormonal changes that promote cancer development. 

Obesity is associated with an increased risk of at least 13 different cancers, including breast, colorectal and kidney cancer, the American Cancer Society.

Why coffee and tea could be good for your health

If you’re drinking coffee or tea in its pure form and/or just adding a splash of, say, almond or oat milk to your cuppa, the benefits of these beverages can be numerous. 

gilr drinking cup of hot drink

It is easy to add different sweeteners or creams to your coffea and tea, but make sure that you are not adding too much, as that can ultimately sabotage your health. (iStock)

Potential health benefits of coffee

You’re tired. You need to be wired. A cup of coffee can help.

One reason coffee can be good for you is that it helps boost mental alertness. 

“The caffeine in coffee can improve mental alertness and concentration, making it an effective pick-me-up,” said Andrews. 

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Along those lines, coffee may also help with enhanced physical performance.

hot pot of coffee

Coffee that contains caffeine can improve your mood and mental alertness. (iStock)

As Andrews explained, caffeine in coffee can enhance physical performance by increasing adrenaline levels, making it a popular choice among athletes.

In addition, “coffee is rich in antioxidants, which help protect cells from damage caused by free radicals, potentially reducing the risk of various diseases, including cancer,” said Andrews.

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And one more note: Coffee can make you go. Both coffee and caffeinated tea can have a natural laxative effect for some people.

Potential health benefits of tea

The antioxidants’ content in tea is one of the main reasons it can be so good for you. 

“Tea is rich in antioxidants like catechins, which help protect cells from damage caused by free radicals, potentially reducing the risk of chronic diseases, including cancer and heart disease,” said Andrews.

Tea may also be good for your heart health.

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“Regular tea consumption has been associated with improved cardiovascular health, including reduced risk factors for heart disease like high blood pressure and cholesterol levels,” said Andrews. 

tea cup on saucer

Tea is full of antioxidants that can reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease. (iStock)

And when it comes to digestive health, herbal teas like peppermint and ginger tea can aid in digestion and soothe digestive discomfort, added Andrews.

What are the serving size guidelines for coffee and tea?

Everybody reacts differently to caffeine (some have higher tolerance levels, while others feel jittery after just one cup of coffee or tea). 

Serving size guidelines for tea and coffee can vary depending on individual preferences and tolerance to caffeine, said Andrews. 

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Still, here are her general recommendations.

Coffee

Moderation: It’s generally recommended that adults consume no more than 400 milligrams (about four cups of brewed coffee) of caffeine per day. This limit takes into account caffeine from all sources, including coffee, tea and other beverages or foods.

Individual tolerance: Some individuals are more sensitive to caffeine than others. If you are sensitive to caffeine or have certain health conditions, you may need to limit your coffee intake further.

Cup size: A standard cup of coffee is typically considered to be 8 ounces (240 ml). However, many coffee shops serve larger sizes, so it’s essential to be mindful of the actual volume you’re consuming.

A cup of black coffee, shot from the top on an abstract gray background with copyspace

It is recommended that adults not consume more than 400 milligrams of coffee a day — equivalent to four cups. (iStock)

Tea

Caffeine content: Tea generally contains less caffeine than coffee. An 8-ounce (240 ml) cup of tea typically contains about 20-45 milligrams of caffeine, depending on the type and brewing method.

Green tea: Green tea tends to have a lower caffeine content than black tea. If you’re looking to reduce caffeine intake, opt for green tea.

Herbal tea: Herbal teas, such as chamomile, peppermint or hibiscus, are naturally caffeine-free and can be consumed more liberally throughout the day.

Moderation: While tea is often considered a healthier beverage choice, it’s still advisable to consume it in moderation and be mindful of your caffeine intake if you are sensitive to caffeine or have specific dietary restrictions.

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So is coffee or tea healthier?

Cup of tea on a blue stone background. Copy space. Top view.

If you want to reduce your caffeine intake, look at drinking green tea over black tea. (iStock)

Alas, this isn’t the only nutrition debate in which the answer is nuanced.

Tea and coffee are both popular and healthy beverages, but they offer distinct sets of health benefits due to their unique compositions and properties,” said Andrews.

To summarize, tea is rich in antioxidants and lower in caffeine — and there are a variety of types, each with its unique profile and health benefits. 

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Coffee, meanwhile, is great to consume for mental alertness, improving mood, and athletic performance. It also comes in a wide range of flavors and intensities, per Andrews. 

Consuming both coffee and tea may lower your risk of contracting some diseases, but experts say further research is needed to draw any definitive conclusions. 

Refreshing hot cup of coffee at a cafe

Coffee and tea could lower your risk of contracting diseases, though more research is needed. (iStock)

“When it comes to reducing the risk of cancer, tea contains compounds showing the potential to protect against cancer through antioxidant defenses and influences on cell growth, though human evidence is limited whereas coffee’s phytocompounds are likely responsible for the lower risk of some forms of cancer among people who drink coffee,” she said. 

How can I make my coffee or tea healthier?

Andrews said making coffee or tea healthier can be as simple as a few mindful choices. 

She recommended reducing or eliminating added sugars and syrups, as excess sugar can contribute to weight gain and negate health benefits of these beverages. 

Instead, use smaller amounts of added sugars or opt for zero-calorie sweeteners if you’d like to sweeten these beverages.

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Portion size is another consideration to keep in mind when trying to lighten your caloric load at the java shop or when brewing your morning mug at home. 

woman drinking cup of hot drink

The best thing you can do is reduce your caloric intake by eliminating excess sugars and creams in your coffee and tea. (iStock)

To that point, Andrews said to pay attention to portion sizes.

Another thing you can do is try to limit the use of excessive cream or milk, particularly high-fat versions, said Andrews.  

“Experiment with lower-fat or plant-based milk alternatives to save on calories while maintaining flavor,” she added. 

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Last but not least, remember what you’re putting in the cup.

coffee and tea side-by-side split

Prioritize your health by making small, simple adjustments to your coffee and tea — without having to get rid of the drink altogether. (iStock)

“Focus on the quality of your coffee or tea by choosing high-quality beans or tea leaves and opting for brewing methods that preserve their natural flavors,” said Andrews. 

“By making these small adjustments, you can savor your coffee or tea while prioritizing your health,” she added.

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