Decaf coffee has been demonized and deemed unhealthy by many. The truth of the matter is that many of the health benefits for decaf coffee are the same as those for regular coffee. The key lies in choosing a coffee that has been safely decaffeinated.

How is coffee healthy?

Many doctors and specialists now agree that coffee in moderation (less than 5 cups a day) and without all the added flavorings, cream, and sugar provides some wonderful health benefits.

It is true that some of these benefits draw from preliminary results in experiments. Additionally, often-cited health benefits of coffee are difficult to prove the cause and effect. But one thing is for sure, the previously loud voice of the “coffee is unhealthy, no ifs, ands, or buts” contingent has quieted recently.

So lets check out some of the great health benefits of coffee:

  • antioxidants for fighting disease
  • anti-carcinogenic properties
  • links to reduced risk of diabetes II
  • may help lose weight
  • lowers risk of Alzheimer and Parkinson diseases

I don’t think anyone is suggesting that if there is just one thing you should do to live a long and healthy life it is drink lots of coffee. The point is that coffee can no longer be argued as bad for you. Besides, I’ll take my chances on a great tasting drink that might provide some of the above health benefits.

So what happens when one switches to decaf? Does coffee without the caffeine all of a sudden become unhealthy?

healthy decaf coffee beansCoffee in its natural form is a caffeinated plant. The most convincing arguments that coffee is unhealthy point to the harmful effects of caffeine on our nervous system and quality of sleep.  If that is true, then one would think everyone would be rushing to drink decaf coffee as the healthy alternative.

It turns out that the health concerns with decaf coffee stem from the controversial processes used to produce decaf coffee beans. The decaffeination process alters the natural state of the coffee we consume and can raise some eyebrows when examined closely.

How in the world do they make decaf coffee?

There are only a few ways to remove the caffeine from coffee beans.  Below are two of the most common.

Chemical Solvent Decaffeination Process

The first and most common way is to soak the beans in a chemical agent that removes the caffeine compounds. The beans are then steamed to clean off the solvent. When roasted, the resulting beans are caffeine-free (well at least 97% caffeine free according to FDA guidelines in the US).

Not only can this affect the final taste of the coffee but can also prove worrisome for people concerned with the use of chemicals in the coffee production process. Methylene chloride, ethyl acetate, dichloromethane, benzene are names of a few agents that either have been used or are still in use today to take the caffeine out of coffee beans.

Coffee companies that use this process claim that steaming the beans removes all the chemicals. Are trace elements of these chemicals in your cup of decaf coffee? Short answer, yes.  However, it would take drinking large quantities of this type of decaf coffee for any measurable effect on your health.

Swiss Water Decaffeination Process

If the chemical solvent process is the dark villain then the Swiss Water decaffeination process is the white knight riding onto the scene to save the day.

Swiss Water is a trademarked process and labeling system that removes caffeine from coffee without the use of chemicals. It is complex and involved (see video below) but can provide a suitable alternative to mainstream decaf coffees. For this reason, Swiss Water decaf coffees are notably higher in price.

Swiss water logo

The fresh beans are first cleaned to remove their outer skins. Soaking them in water causes the beans to expand preparing them for caffeine extraction. Next, a high concentrate green coffee extract (also used as a weight loss supplement) is run through the beans subsequently absorbing the caffeine elements from the coffee beans. A sophisticated carbon filtering system then recycles the green coffee extract creating a closed looped system. From start to finish the process is about 10 hours and results in a 99.9% caffeine free coffee.

Here is the full Swiss Water Decaffeination process explained in an animation video:

Making the Right Choice

Caffeine can be very disruptive to those with sensitive stomachs. It is why sodas, coffees, and even teas are on “do not eat” lists for people with GERD, IC, and other severe cases of acid reflux. The caffeine in those beverages stimulate the production of stomach acids which in turn leads to extreme discomfort.

Additionally, caffeine can be very disruptive to your sleep patterns. Keep your coffee consumption to the mornings. If you must have an afternoon taste, switch to decaf to limit the impact of caffeine on you later when its bedtime.

For some, simply switching to decaf can help reduce all the unwanted side effects associated with coffee. This is a healthy choice and a smart way to enjoy coffees that are easier on your stomach.

Just be careful in recognizing that the health benefits of decaf coffee may have changed during the decaffeination process. Choosing a decaf coffee that has been decaffeinated in a safe way will make sure you get the health benefits of coffee while avoiding the side effects caused by caffeine.

Keep drinking coffee not only because you love it but because of the added healthy benefits too.  Now you know that some decaf coffee is healthy too!

Which process produced your decaf coffee? Ask the manufacturer and let us know in the comments below.