Decaf coffee might not give you the same jolt of energy as caffeinated coffee, but it's certainly not bad for your health. In fact, many of the health benefits attributed to coffee are derived from the compounds in the beverage, rather than the caffeine.
However, it's important to note that decaf coffee is not 100 percent free from caffeine. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires at least 97 percent of caffeine to be removed from coffee that's marketed as "decaf," but there can still be between 3 and 12 milligrams of caffeine per cup of decaf coffee. Therefore, if you're trying to rid caffeine from your diet entirely, you should skip decaf coffee—benefits or no benefits.
Decaf coffee, along with its caffeinated brethren, has been found to provide health benefits, not risks. Therefore, you can consider decaf coffee to be good for your health.
The Process of Decaffeinating Coffee
Manufacturers remove caffeine from coffee in one of three ways: with liquid carbon dioxide, with water or with a chemical solvent such as methylene chloride or ethyl acetate. The latter is derived from fruit, so it's often described as "natural" decaffeination.
However, the use of methylene chloride has been controversial throughout the years, though no research has linked its use to negative health effects, according to Berkeley Wellness. The FDA approves the use of the chemical to decaffeinate coffee.
Nutrients in Decaf Coffee
Decaffeinated coffee isn't a significant source of any certain nutrients, but it does have small amounts that can add up if you drink multiple cups a day, making an overall impact on your daily effort to get enough vitamins and minerals. For example, each 8-ounce cup of decaf coffee has 12 milligrams of magnesium, which is 3.8 percent of the recommended daily intake (RDI) for women. If you drink three or four cups, though, you'll get between 11 percent and 15 percent of the RDI.
Decaf coffee also contains 5 milligrams of calcium, 0.12 milligrams of iron, 128 milligrams of potassium and 0.526 milligrams of niacin (vitamin B-3) in each 8-ounce serving.
Antioxidants in Decaf Coffee
Coffee — in all its forms — is a significant source of dietary antioxidants, according to research published in November 2014 in Molecules. Antioxidants fight against the attacks of free radicals, which are chemicals generated that damage your cells and genetic material. Free radicals come from nearly everywhere, including from the damaging rays of the sun to pollution in the air. They are even generated by your body as a result of turning food into energy.
Antioxidants, though, defend your body against these free radicals. While there is little supporting evidence that antioxidants can decrease the risk of developing chronic diseases, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, they do help minimize the impact of free radicals in your body.
Decaf Coffee and All-Cause Mortality
The term "all-cause mortality" refers to your risk of dying from any cause, whether it's cancer, Alzheimer's or otherwise. A previous study, published in August 2017 in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, had established a link between caffeine consumption and a decreased risk of all-cause mortality, but didn't go far enough as to establish that same link with decaf coffee.
However, researchers reviewed 21 studies and published a meta-analysis in February 2019 in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics. They determined that there's a nonlinear association between coffee consumption — both decaf and caffeinated—and all-cause mortality. The analysis concluded that drinking three cups of coffee a day, whether caffeinated or decaffeinated, could reduce all-cause mortality by up to 13 percent.
Decaf Coffee and Diabetes Risk
Diving further into research on decaf coffee consumption finds that the beverage can reduce the risk of specific diseases, too. A meta-analysis of studies published in February 2014 in Diabetes Care determined that every cup of decaffeinated coffee consumed in a day was associated with a 6 percent lower risk of Type 2 diabetes.
Additionally, a March 2018 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that decaffeinated coffee improved insulin sensitivity in men, which plays a role in Type 2 diabetes. The study specifically looked at the effect of decaffeinated coffee.
Benefits of Caffeine-Free Coffee
For most people, drinking caffeine is no big deal — in fact, some people might consider it necessary to get through the day. However, those who are sensitive to caffeine could benefit from switching to decaf coffee to avoid any negative reactions to the compound.
Caffeine is a natural stimulant, so it boosts your alertness — how much of an effect the caffeine has, though, depends on how sensitive you are and how quickly your body adjusts to it. Caffeine can, according to Harvard Health Publishing, temporarily raise heart rate and blood pressure. This can pose a problem for people who have high blood pressure already or those who have suffered from a heart attack previously. Additionally, while some caffeine is considered OK for women who are pregnant, the compound crosses the placenta to reach the fetus. Therefore, health professionals recommend limiting caffeine or avoiding it entirely.
Keeping Decaf Coffee Healthy
Keep in mind that decaf coffee is considered good for your health only when it's consumed black or with just a small amount of low-fat milk or sugar. Adding too much cream and sugar will boost the calorie, fat and carb count and, when taken too far, the drawbacks can begin to outweigh the proven health benefits.
Even when made with decaf coffee, fancy coffee drinks have unfortunate nutritional facts. For example, a 16-ounce Starbucks' Iced White Chocolate Mocha contains 420 calories, 20 grams of fat and 50 grams of carbohydrates (the company doesn't list grams of sugar). If you must add anything to your decaf coffee to make it palatable, choose a sweetener such as stevia and low-fat milk, almond milk or soy milk.
- Diabetes Care: "Caffeinated and Decaffeinated Coffee Consumption and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: A Systematic Review and a Dose-Response Meta-Analysis"
- British Journal of Nutrition: "Decaffeinated Coffee Improves Insulin Sensitivity in Healthy Men"
- Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics: "Caffeinated and Decaffeinated Coffee Consumption and Risk of All‐Cause Mortality: A Dose–Response Meta‐Analysis of Cohort Studies"
- Mayo Clinic Proceedings: "Association Between Caffeine Intake and All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality: A Population-Based Prospective Cohort Study"
- Consumer Reports: "Is Decaffeinated Coffee Bad for You?"
- Berkeley Wellness: Decaf: "A Healthy Choice?"
- Molecules: "Antioxidant Property of Coffee Components: Assessment of Methods That Define Mechanisms of Action"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Antioxidants: Beyond the Hype"
- USDA National Nutrient Database: "Basic Report: 14201, Beverages, Coffee, Brewed, Prepared With Tap Water, Decaffeinated"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "The Buzz About Caffeine and Health"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Ask the Expert: Coffee and Health"