Not all decaf coffee is created the same

The Deets on Decaf

Food

Whether you prefer to enjoy a hot cup o' Joe or a soothing cup of chai, both coffee and tea have become enshrined in many people's daily routines. Both drinks contain caffeine, a central nervous system stimulant known to increase alertness, improve focus, and reduce fatigue (1,2). However, not everyone always wants or needs that extra caffeine kick, and too much caffeine for those that are sensitive can result in adverse health effects like migraines, anxiety, insomnia, poor sleep quality, and gastroesophageal reflux (3-8). Thankfully, that's where decaf coffee comes in! While decaf coffee may not be 100% caffeine-free, more than 97% of the initial caffeine amount in green coffee beans needs to be removed before it can be labeled as decaffeinated in the US (10). Here's a breakdown of how decaf coffee is made (hint: sometimes harmful chemicals are used), the safest and healthiest methods, as well as a list of decaf coffee brands you can try for yourself.

Why Go Decaf?

Although many of us rely on a good caffeine kick in the morning to get us going, consuming excessive amounts of caffeine can lead to deleterious health effects like increased heart rate, blood pressure, headaches, nausea, hypertension, and restlessness (1). FDA guidelines recommend limiting caffeine consumption to 400 mg a day (approximately 3-4 cups of coffee) for healthy adults, although this may vary depending on other factors like a person's caffeine sensitivity, body weight, and rate of metabolism (9). For those not looking for that extra energy boost or just trying to limit overall caffeine intake but still crave the taste of java, there is the option of choosing a decaffeinated version with lower caffeine levels. It's a common choice for an afternoon or evening cup and even for pregnant women wanting to limit their intake. But do you know how they take the caffeine out of the coffee beans? And that some processes use chemicals?

Decaf Coffee with Solvents

Stumbled upon in the early 1900s by Ludwig Roselius, the initial decaffeination process utilized benzene as a solvent, or a substance that can dissolve other substances, to remove caffeine from steamed coffee beans before they are roasted (10). When the negative health effects of benzene were discovered (and now known to be carcinogenic), more than 30 other solvents were tested for use instead (10). Today, the majority of decaf coffee created via this method use either methylene chloride (also called dichloromethane) or ethyl acetate (10,15).

Although methylene chloride and ethyl acetate are safer solvents than benzene, their use in the decaffeination process has historically caused controversy. Methylene chloride is categorized as a probable human carcinogen and a potential hormone disruptor. Ethyl acetate has less hazardous categorizations, but its use can still be very irritating to those who work with it. FDA regulations allow both to be used in the coffee decaffeination process and cite their safety in minuscule trace amounts (10,15,16,18). Both the FDA and the European Union have developed limits on maximum residue content allowed in decaffeinated roasted coffee; the US FDA maximum residue limit is 10 mg/kg (ten parts per million or 0.001%), and the EU limit is 2 mg/kg (two parts per million or 0.0002%) (10). For decaffeination plants committed to good manufacturing practices, residue content is usually between 0.3-1 mg/kg (10,14). Due to public concerns over potential health effects, there has been a rise in demand for more natural decaffeination alternatives as well as the progressive replacement of methylene chloride to 100% natural solvents (10).

The two main ways that solvents can be used to extract caffeine from green coffee beans are via direct and indirect contact, aptly named the direct method and the indirect method (10-12).

Direct Solvent Method

In the direct method, solvents are in direct contact with coffee beans to extract caffeine. Here are the steps:

  1. Green coffee beans are steamed and submerged in hot water to increase bean moisture content, open their pores, release caffeine, and be more responsive to the solvent (10,12).
  2. Green coffee beans are repeatedly rinsed with the solvent to draw out and bind caffeine away from the beans (12).
  3. Beans are steam-treated to remove solvent residues (10,17).

Indirect Solvent Method

In the indirect method, solvents are not in direct contact with coffee beans but instead share an aqueous solution. Although similar, there are slight differences:

  1. Green coffee beans are first steamed and submerged in hot water to extract all the water-soluble components, including certain flavorings and caffeine (10-12).
  2. The solution is transferred to a different tank and treated with a solvent to remove the caffeine.
  3. After caffeine extraction, the solution is reintroduced to the green coffee beans to revive their flavors (11,12).

Decaf Coffee Without the Use of Chemicals

The good news is that techniques have evolved and there are now a variety of different methods used to decaffeinate coffee that don't use any chemicals.

Swiss Water Process

The Swiss water process is unique in that it is a chemical-free decaffeination process (11). Green coffee beans are first soaked in water and the resulting caffeine-and-flavor-rich solution is strained through activated carbon, which captures the larger caffeine molecules while letting the flavor stay intact (10-14). The resulting solution, which is full of flavor and has no caffeine, has been termed Green Coffee Extract and can be used on an entirely new batch of green coffee beans to extract caffeine without losing any flavorings due to solubility and osmosis (11,14). This process can be repeated for up to ten batches with the same Green Coffee Extract before a new solution has to be created (11). Although this method doesn't use any chemicals, it may seem a bit wasteful since one batch of coffee beans is discarded for every ten batches of decaf coffee created (11). Also, some say that flavors may get mixed up among batches since the green coffee extract can carry a previous batch's flavor (11).

Carbon Dioxide Process

The carbon dioxide process also does not use any chemicals, but it does rely on supercritical carbon dioxide that is under extremely high pressure (10). Green coffee beans are initially soaked in water to increase their water content before being placed in a stainless steel container, also known as the extraction vessel (11,12). The extraction vessel is then infused with liquid CO2 at 1,000 pounds of pressure per square inch and compressed to 200 times its normal atmospheric level (11,12). The CO2 solvent dissolves and removes the caffeine from the beans while leaving behind their flavor (12). Afterward, the caffeine-rich CO2 is moved to another container so that the CO2 can be used again after turning back into a gas and naturally separating from the caffeine (12).

Give These Decaf Roasts a Shot

With so many different kinds of decaf roasts and processes used, it might seem daunting to choose one you like. However, it just takes a bit of trial and error to find what should work for you. In general, we recommend purchasing decaf coffee that was processed without the use of chemicals and to look for bags that say Swiss Water Process or CO2 Process. While the chemicals used today in the Solvent Method are not as dangerous as past solvent chemicals used, like benzene, it's always a good idea to be aware of what goes into the process (12). Down below, we've listed a few brands that use the Swiss Water Process and Carbon Dioxide Process to decaffeinate their coffees. We hope you enjoy your next cup of decaf!


References

  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1043276014001283?casa_token=e66HlK4F27IAAAAA:0xdKHa_jGbpmcA0EZizpIYMinE0_1hdDjHb9gDJy7iguzzv1umM6hjqr6jWVfBaMGbQcquIGmg
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278691502000960?casa_token=et2m4wMH31wAAAAA:92vq0_u6ZxqA42zrk_gBQdEaro9zoHBCQi159h5_y9mewSRYk0Pn_YdciQ_HTb6IC23_W3rwfA
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7468766/
  4. https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/caffeine-and-migraine/
  5. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/nutrition/caffeine...:~:text=Can%20Caffeine%20Cause%20Insomnia%3F,and%20overall%20poorer%20sleep%20quality.
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6230475/
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7918922/
  8. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1046/j.1365-2036.1997.00161.x
  9. https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/spi...:~:text=For%20healthy%20adults%2C%20the%20FDA,it%20(break%20it%20down).
  10. https://www.google.com/books/edition/Coffee/SRSEDwAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1
  11. https://illumin.usc.edu/where-does-my-decaf-come-from/
  12. https://www.durangocoffee.com/decaffeination-proce...:~:text=Today%2C%20there%20are%20four%20major,the%20caffeine%20from%20the%20beans.
  13. https://www.coffeeandhealth.org/all-about-coffee/decaffeination/
  14. https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20180917-how-do-you-decaffeinate-coffee
  15. https://www.livescience.com/65278-how-decaf-coffee-is-made.html
  16. https://www.ncausa.org/Decaffeinated-Coffee
  17. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-is-caffeine-removed-t/
  18. https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/cfrsearch.cfm?fr=173.255
  19. https://www.swisswater.com/pages/coffee-decaffeination-process
  20. https://www.belco.fr/green-coffee-article.php?article=473
Roundups

Plastic Free Cold Brew Makers

Plus, an easy DIY cold brew recipe!

No matter the season, we love iced coffee and cold brew. Does anyone else feel like coffee just tastes better iced? Our love for iced coffee knows no bounds, but recently we started noticing a lot of cold brew makers are plastic. That's why we rounded up our favorite cold brew makers that contain no plastic, are easy to use, and create a great cup of joe!

a) Ovalware cold brew iced coffee maker airtight

b) Hario cold brew coffee jug

c) Kitchenaid cold brewer

d) DIY with a mason jar and stainless steel strainer


Looking for an easy cold brew recipe? We've got that covered too!

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Food

Canned Coffee is Convenient, But What About BPA?

Why they should be a treat instead of part of your daily routine

Now that we're all working from home, it's easy to get bored of our everyday homemade coffee routine. Sometimes we just want something different to wake us up in the morning or even a quick pick me up in the afternoon! That's where canned coffee comes into play. It's quick, convenient, and comes in a ton of flavors. But that convenience might come at a cost; there's been concerns surrounding the use of BPA in the lining of canned products. So, does canned coffee pose a risk to health? We looked at the research to find out.

The Problem With BPA in Cans

BPA, or bisphenol A, is a synthetic chemical that acts like estrogen in our bodies and it has been known to screw with important hormones like testosterone and thyroid hormones. Some of the common health problems associated with BPA include breast cancer, reduced sperm production, obesity, reproductive issues, disruption of brain development and function, and damaging effects to the liver (1). To make matters worse, there is more and more scientific evidence that even very low doses of BPA exposure can be harmful, especially for pregnant women and babies. Low doses of BPA exposure have been tied to abnormal liver function, chronic inflammation of the prostate, cysts on the thyroid and pituitary gland, and many more serious health effects during the early stages of life (5).

Even though BPA is definitely not a chemical we want to be exposed to, it's found basically everywhere, including our food. One common place to find BPA is the internal lining of canned foods or beverages. BPA can help prevent corrosion between the metal and the food or drink inside a can, but over time (or if stored under the wrong conditions like high temperatures), it can start to leach out and get into the food or drink (2). Even cans that say BPA free can have nasty BPA alternatives that have been shown to have similar hormone disrupting effects (7).

Studies have shown that canned soft drinks, beers, and energy drinks all had small traces of BPA in them. Beer was found with the highest concentration of BPA, followed by energy drinks. Soft drinks were found to have the lowest concentration of BPA. In order to find out where BPA in these drinks was coming from, researchers compared the canned drinks to the same drinks packaged in glass bottles. They found very little to no traces of BPA in the glass bottled drinks, which means that the source of BPA in the canned drinks was definitely coming from the cans themselves (2,3,4).

Even if there are only small traces of leachable BPA, it can still be harmful if we are consuming canned products on a regular basis.

Is Canned Coffee Safe?

With the recent increase in popularity of cold brew and other canned coffee drinks, there have not been extensive studies on BPA levels in canned coffee. However, one study of canned coffee drinks in Asia, where they have been popular for longer, did find that BPA was leaching into the coffee from the can. Interestingly, they also found that the more caffeine was in the coffee, the more BPA leached from the can into the drink. Meaning the more caffeine, the more BPA! (4,6) Now before you think you can get away with only drinking decaf canned coffee, keep in mind that caffeine only increases the leaching from the can, but it can still happen without it (6).

Even though the levels of BPA found in canned coffee were relatively small, because BPA is all around us in so many common products, we should try to limit our exposure as much as we can. This means that it's probably okay to drink a canned coffee every once in a while, but best practice is to not drink them every day. But if you're in the middle of a road trip and are desperate for some energy, don't get too stressed about grabbing a canned coffee!

Canned Coffee Alternatives

If you're starting to get worried about what coffee to buy when you're out and about or when you want something more than just plain coffee, don't stress! We thought of some easy and fun alternatives for your canned coffee fix that might make you forget all about it!

  1. Swap out the canned coffee for coffee in a glass bottle or tetrapaks whenever possible.
  2. Find some fun new ways to make coffee at home like using a Chemex or a nice French press!
  3. Go get a coffee at your local coffee shop. Support small businesses if you can!
  4. If you like canned coffee because of the flavors, try making your own caramel or mocha sauce at home. It's pretty easy and it saves money! For something icy and refreshing, we are partial to muddling some fresh mint with some cold brew.


References

vom Saal, F. S., & Vandenberg, L. N. (2021). Update on the Health Effects of Bisphenol A: Overwhelming Evidence of Harm. Endocrinology, 162(bqaa171). https://doi.org/10.1210/endocr/bqaa171 (1)

Cao, X.-L., Corriveau, J., & Popovic, S. (2010). Sources of Low Concentrations of Bisphenol A in Canned Beverage Products. Journal of Food Protection, 73(8), 1548–1551. https://doi.org/10.4315/0362-028X-73.8.1548 (2)

Determination of BPA, BPB, BPF, BADGE and BFDGE in canned energy drinks by molecularly imprinted polymer cleaning up and UPLC with fluorescence detection. (2017). Food Chemistry, 220, 406–412. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodchem.2016.10.005 (3)

Kang, J.-H., & Kondo, F. (2002). Bisphenol A migration from cans containing coffee and caffeine. Food Additives and Contaminants, 19(9), 886–890. https://doi.org/10.1080/02652030210147278 (4)

Prins, G. S., Patisaul, H. B., Belcher, S. M., & Vandenberg, L. N. (2019). CLARITY-BPA academic laboratory studies identify consistent low-dose Bisphenol A effects on multiple organ systems. Basic & Clinical Pharmacology & Toxicology, 125(S3), 14–31. https://doi.org/10.1111/bcpt.13125 (5)

Kang, J.-H., & Kondo, F. (2002). Bisphenol A migration from cans containing coffee and caffeine. Food Additives and Contaminants, 19(9), 886–890. https://doi.org/10.1080/02652030210147278 (6)

Pelch, K., Wignall, J. A., Goldstone, A. E., Ross, P. K., Blain, R. B., Shapiro, A. J., Holmgren, S. D., Hsieh, J.-H., Svoboda, D., Auerbach, S. S., Parham, F. M., Masten, S. A., Walker, V., Rooney, A., & Thayer, K. A. (2019). A scoping review of the health and toxicological activity of bisphenol A (BPA) structural analogues and functional alternatives. Toxicology, 424, 152235. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tox.2019.06.006 (7)

Food

Are Artificial Sweeteners Too Good To Be True?

The effect of these substances on your microbiome and health

Who else seems to have a sweet tooth that just won't quit? It is estimated that the average American consumes six cups of sugar a week (1). That's equal to 152 pounds a year! Our voracious appetite for sugar has resulted in the onset of many diseases like diabetes, tooth decay, obesity, and heart disease. Sugary drinks in particular, are responsible for over 180,000 deaths a year (2).

To replace sugar and combat these diseases, the food industry introduced artificial sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners offer the same taste of sugar, but without the calories. Many consider them to be safe, and even beneficial, due to their low caloric content. Artificial sweeteners are one of the most used food additives in the world, and can be found in sodas, baked goods, candies, puddings, canned foods, jams and jellies, and dairy products (3). For comparison, a can of regular soda has about 160 calories, whereas a can of diet soda with artificial sweeteners contain nearly zero (4).

So what's the catch?

Recent studies have shown that artificial sweeteners alter our gut microbiota that may result in adverse health outcomes (5). Scientists showed that these substances not only changed our gut microbiota, but were actually toxic to them (6). Specifically, when gut bacteria were exposed to artificial sweeteners, they stopped their healthy activity and grew at a slower rate. Artificial sweeteners also promoted the growth of certain gut bacteria that are highly efficient at converting food into fat.

The combined effects of artificial sweeteners on the gut microbiota are thought to cause a wide range of diseases from certain cancers to type-2 diabetes. One study found that individuals who used artificial sweeteners were more likely to be overweight than their counterparts (7). The effects of artificial sweeteners on the gut microbiome may be the reason why people who switch from regular soda to diet sodas in an effort to lose weight fail to do so.

Currently the FDA has approved six artificial sweeteners for consumption in the United States: saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame potassium (Ace-K), sucralose, neotame, and advantame (8). While scientists are still putting in the work to pinpoint the exact role artificial sweeteners have on the gut microbiome, we can take preventative measures to limit our exposure to these substances by being aware of what's in the ingredients list of the food items we consume.


References

  1. https://www.dhhs.nh.gov/dphs/nhp/documents/sugar.pdf
  2. https://www.livescience.com/51385-sugary-drinks-global-deaths.html
  3. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/artificial-sweeteners/art-20046936
  4. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/artificial-sweeteners/art-20046936#targetText=Artificial,sweeteners%20are%20synthetic%20sugar%20substitutes.&targetText=Artificial%20sweeteners%20are%20also%20known,no%20calories%20to%20your%20diet.
  5. https://academic.oup.com/advances/article/10/suppl_1/S31/5307224/
  6. https://neurosciencenews.com/artificial-sweetener-microbiome-9935/
  7. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/artificial-sweeteners-may-change-our-gut-bacteria-in-dangerous-ways/
  8. https://www.fda.gov/food/food-additives-petitions/high-intensity-sweeteners#targetText=Six%20high%2Dintensity%20sweeteners%20are,sucralose%2C%20neotame%2C%20and%20advantame.
Food

Care about Coffee?

Take 30 seconds to urge Starbucks to keep us feeling healthy and caffeinated

Be real, how often do you go to Starbucks in week? No matter what that number is - 10 or 1 or even just once a year- I'm sure you can get behind them living up to their promise. What promise am I talking about? It doesn't have anything to do with their secret menu or the precious PSL. It has to do with their promise to change their cups to ones that are healthier for you and the world.

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Food

Label Education: Coffee

What do all those labels on bags of coffee really mean?

Have you ever been standing in the aisle trying to pick out a bag of coffee and been completely overwhelmed by all the different bags touting different certifications that make them "better" than the other? Us too. So, we pulled together information on the most popular coffee certifications and figured out what they meant. Some have implications for your health, like whether the coffee was grown using pesticides or not, and others focus more on the sustainability of the practices and lives of the farmers. All are worth taking into consideration, and knowing all the facts can help you prioritize which certifications are more important to you.

Next time you're standing there, no need to be confused. We've broken it down for what each label means in terms of your health and any other ethical factors the certifications take into consideration.

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Roundups

8 Reusable Plastic Free Mugs

stainless steel, ceramic, and glass options for your hot drinks

Whether you like to make it at home or pick it up at your favorite coffee shop, everyone has their favorite hot beverage to get their mornings started. Help make a dent in the amount of trash created by to go cups, and improve your health a little bit in the process. Not to mention that these stainless steel, ceramic, and glass options are better at keeping your drinks hot throughout the morning. These options are highly reviewed and have a variety of shapes and sizes so you can pick your favorite. Also check out our picks for reusable water bottles. Many of the same brands also have insulated and tumbler versions that are perfect for coffee and tea.

Keep Reading Show Less
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