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Ask Tufts Experts July 2017 Issue

Q. Is decaffeinated black tea equally as beneficial as regular black tea?

A. Diane McKay, PhD, an assistant professor at Tufts' Friedman School and a scientist in the HNRCA Antioxidants Research Laboratory, responds: "The potential health benefits of regularly consuming black tea, such as lower risk of heart disease, certain cancers and osteoporosis, are likely due to the polyphenols it provides. Polyphenols may help protect our body in several ways, such as by helping prevent cell damage, supporting the immune system and fighting inflammation, among other mechanisms.

"The decaffeination process slightly reduces the polyphenol content of black tea and may affect polyphenol absorption. One human study showed the polyphenols in decaffeinated black tea are absorbed, but to a lesser extent than either regular black or green tea. And in some, but not all, animal studies, decaffeinated black tea was slightly less effective at inhibiting cancer development than regular black tea. However, no studies have directly compared the health effects of regular versus decaffeinated black tea in people, so we really cannot say for sure if they differ significantly.

"Regardless of which tea you prefer, it will still contribute to your polyphenol intake, and it's a great way to stay hydrated. A bonus: If you skip add-ins like sugar, your tea also will be calorie-free and a much better choice than sugar-sweetened drinks."

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