Everyone knows that green tea is pretty awesome. It’s almost universally applauded by science for being The Right Stuff. So… does that mean that decaf green tea has benefits, too?
After all, decaf black teas are pretty popular and limit the amount of caffeine you have in your system. This means that you might even be able to get to sleep before 4 in the morning. Decaf green tea has gone through the same process of decaffeination — being soaked in a solution to remove the naturally occurring caffeine — before being boxed up and put on sale.
So how does decaf green tea fare when it comes to benefits, and how does it stack up against its caffeinated cousin?
Okay, the main reason that people get so hyped about green tea is that it has a whole host of potential health benefits. Some are more concrete than others, but here are three of the things that food boffins get most excited about.
The really good news is that green tea is absolutely chock-full of lovely, juicy antioxidants!
Free radicals are unstable molecules that form in your body when you’re exposed to cigarette smoke, air pollution, or too much sunlight.
They cause a process called “oxidative stress,” which is thought to play a role in all sorts of unpleasant diseases, including cancer, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s. Antioxidants can counteract the damage of oxidative stress.
A possible cancer-buster?
There’s some hope that drinking green tea may reduce your risk of developing cancer, thanks to those antioxidant superheroes.
There’s nothing set in stone yet, so more studies need to be carried out. The evidence mostly rests on lab results and the lower rates of cancer in countries that tend to have a lot of green tea drinkers.
But there’s hope that green tea could help to stop cancer cells from multiplying, which would be a massive win. (Remember though: the National Cancer Institute doesn’t recommend the use of tea as a treatment.)
It’s good for your heart!
Studies in Japan and China seemed to find that regular green tea drinkers have a slower decrease in HDL-C cholesterol. We’re used to thinking of all cholesterol as bad, but this is actually a “good” one that helps keep your heart healthy, meaning that green tea could possibly help you live longer.
But there’s always a catch, right?
Remember that all of the health benefits above are for regular green tea. The process of decaffeinating green tea takes out a sizable chunk of the antioxidants, meaning that the free-radical-clobbering benefits aren’t as potent in decaf versions.
But what about that decaf tea? There must be some benefits to it, right? Otherwise, why would they make it? That’d just be insanity!
Good news! Blessed are the teamakers, for decaf green tea can give you some pretty sweet health benefits.
1. Less caffeine
Kind of goes without saying, right? But if you’re one of the people cursed with a caffeine sensitivity (it gives you a racing heart, jitters, restlessness, and headaches) and you still want those nifty green tea health perks, decaf green tea is a fab way for you to get them without the negative caffeine effects.
2. It might improve your memory
A recent study in Japan looked at whether a daily intake of decaf green tea could improve memory — and so far, the results are looking pretty good! Researchers noticed that people being given a daily dose of the decaf green stuff did seem to improve working memory.
3. It may help with weight loss
Green tea quite commonly gets associated with helping weight loss, but the truth is that no one’s entirely sure. And even if it does, it might be partly thanks to the caffeine in regular green tea.
So what about decaf? Again, the jury’s out. Studies seem to suggest that there is some effect, both in humans and lab mice, but more studies need to take place before we can completely pin our weight management hopes on it. Bah!
4. It can relieve stress
Both caffeinated and decaffeinated green teas contain theanine, a lovely little chemical which studies show may help you reduce mental stress. Pour out a cuppa, and relax!
Okay, let’s go back to the decaf vs. regular green tea debate. We’ve already seen that decaf contains fewer antioxidants than caffeinated green tea — so why bother drinking it?
Well, the good news is that it isn’t all bad!
It’s true that the decaffeination process removes some antioxidants, as well as other healthy chemical compounds known as flavanols. But it doesn’t remove all of them. And some is better than none, right?
According to a 2003 study, antioxidant levels ranged from:
- 728 to 1,686 Trolox equivalents (the thing you measure antioxidants in) per gram in regular tea
- 507 to 845 Trolox equivalents per gram in decaf
So it’s a reduction, but you’re still getting a nice bounty of antioxidants in your mug.
It’s also worth remembering that caffeine slightly raises blood pressure, so if that’s something you’ve been having issues with, a switch to decaf can actually be better for you than drinking caffeinated green tea!
Okay, so going decaf isn’t all about the de-light. There’s a couple of things you should watch out for:
- Caffeine sensitivity. Decaffeination doesn’t totally get rid of caffeine from a drink. You’ll still experience some exposure. If your caffeine sensitivity is pretty severe, you may want to avoid tea completely.
- Liver damage. Studies have shown that there’s a very low risk of liver damage from green tea extract. The risk seems to be highest when you mix green tea with other ingredients in herbal remedies. Your morning cuppa shouldn’t do you any harm — just be wary of herbal supplements or discuss them with a healthcare pro before taking them.
- Overdoing it. It’s best not to drink more than 8 cups a day (or 6 if you’re pregnant).
Tempted to brew and decaffeinate your own green tea at home?
Bad news, we’re afraid — green tea is not an easy beast to wrangle! Some people decaffeinate at home using a hot water “rinse,” where you essentially boil your tea in water, before discarding the liquid and using the soggy leaves to make a cuppa with as normal.
The problem with this is that it does get rid of the caffeine. But it also gets rid of a lot of the nutrients. Oh, and the flavor. Oops.
You’re generally better off buying decaf from the store. You can also pick green tea based on its processing methods. Leaves soaked in ethyl acetate are generally considered to be “naturally decaffeinated.”
You can also buy green tea which has been processed with carbon dioxide. CO2 is the most effective method for removing caffeine while keeping flavor, but it tends to be more expensive.
Tips on storing/chilling
Once you’ve bought yourself some delicious decaf green tea, one question remains… where the heck do you store it?
Well, if you bought it from one of those fancy stores where they keep the tea in a glass jar… we’re really sorry to tell you, it might already be no bueno. It’s certainly drinkable, but light is not the friend of dried tea, and the sun’s rays passing through the jar have probably already degraded it a bit. Meh.
Instead, it’s best to choose tea that comes in a tin or box, and put it straight into the fridge. Don’t be tempted to open it: that lets oxygen in, and increases the chance of the tin getting condensation inside it — also no bueno.
Once you start using your tea, take it away from its cozy fridge home, and give it a new berth in a dry, dark cupboard. Avoid light and moisture, and your decaf green tea will have a much longer life.
Who wants to only use decaf green tea in a drink? Boring!
Green tea plays a role in a wide range of recipes, meaning that if you’re not a fan of hot drinks, you can still get all that antioxidant goodness without having to boil your kettle. Check out some of these ideas:
- Green tea rice. Want to jazz up your side dish? Add some decaf green tea and never look back.
- Green tea teriyaki chicken. Simple and quick to cook, this’ll be the star of your dinner parties.
- Matcha Brownies. Grind up some green tea, and troll your friends into thinking it’s something else that’s green and enjoyable.
- Green tea smoothie with bananas. You don’t even need fancy tea leaves for this — a decaf tea bag will do!
- Green tea soup with noodles. Quick, healthy, and fantastic for the Japanese cuisine lover in your life.
Is decaf green tea good for you? In a word: yes.
It’s got all the benefits of caffeinated green tea, without the restlessness and potential insomnia that caffeine brings. And the possible health benefits of green tea are pretty vast in scope.
With studies being conducted into whether it could reduce the risk of cancer and other diseases, decaf green tea is possibly much more than something to dunk your cookie in.
But remember that the decaffeinating process takes out some of the goodness, along with the caffeine. It’s certainly better than nothing, but if you’re interested in getting the most health-bang for your buck and caffeine isn’t an issue for you, you’re probably better off sticking to the regular stuff. It’s easy being green after all!