A hot beverage and your favourite blanket can feel practically therapeutic when you’re tired, cold or feeling unwell. When done right, hot beverages can do far more for our health than we realise. Let’s have a look at some of the healthiest hot beverages and their effects on our body:
It’s widely known that coffee contains a stimulant called caffeine (and is the richest source of it), which helps us feel less tired and increases our energy level .
What you may not know, however, is caffeine’s true power over:
When caffeine enters our brain through the bloodstream, it attaches itself to certain receptors, and makes our neurons fire more rapidly. That explains its stimulating effects, where it improves brain functions such as memory, mood, vigilance, energy levels, reaction times and general cognition.
Caffeine boosts our metabolic rate (by up to 11%), which is possibly why it can help with fat loss. It releases fats from our fat cells into the blood, where they can be used as fuel . This, coupled with the fact that caffeine increases the production of our ‘fight or flight’ hormone, adrenaline, means that caffeine can dramatically improve our physical performance as well [3, 4, 5]!
Furthermore, a study also showed an association between regularly consuming a dark roast coffee blend and reduced DNA damage, indicating that coffee protects our DNA from breaking down. DNA damage, otherwise, is known to speed up ageing and also cause certain diseases like heart disease and even cancer .
Coffee contains some B-vitamins, potassium, and magnesium, and is loaded with antioxidants . It’s actually the western diet’s biggest source of antioxidants (including hydrocinnamic acids and polyphenols), which are known to fight free radicals . They’re also linked to the reduced risk of all sorts of serious diseases caused by today’s lifestyle (like cancer, some heart diseases, and premature ageing) [9, 10, 11]. Coffee has even been shown to reduce the risk of type-2 diabetes – possibly an effect of both its caffeine and antioxidants [12, 13, 14].
The caffeine content in tea is much lower than in coffee. Depending on the plant and its quantity, a strong cup of coffee can provide 100 to 300mg of caffeine , while a cup of tea may have just 20-60mg .
Here’s a surprising little fact about tea, though: it has three other stimulants [17, 18, 19]!
1] Theobromine, which may help to reduce blood pressure [20, 21, 22]
2] Theophylline, which makes breathing easier, by relaxing muscles in the airways 
3] L-Theanine, which generates brain waves called ‘alpha waves’ that make us feel relaxed without any sign of drowsiness. When combined with caffeine, L-theanine may even improve our attention and general cognition .
Although these three stimulants are found in very small quantities, they seem to work in conjunction with each other. That’s why the nature of a tea and a coffee “buzz” is quite different; tea is calming, while coffee makes you alert.
If you don’t have a particular preference between the two, here’s how to choose when to consume coffee vs tea: its various stimulants make tea a good choice for a stressful day, while coffee would be better when you’re very sleepy but need to focus on something.
And there’s also green tea.
The different varieties of green tea would in all likelihood go on to offer additional benefits, by virtue of their herbal infusions; they have a higher content of protective polyphenols (plant-based compounds) compared to regular tea . Even their antioxidants are more powerful; consuming them daily has been shown to protect our skin from the sun’s UV rays and free radical damage [26, 27, 28, 29].
Like other types of tea, green tea is also associated with positive effects on our health, especially in reducing the risk of lifestyle diseases .
And black tea.
The benefits of both black tea and green tea are pretty similar; where they differ is primarily in their caffeine content. Black tea has more caffeine than green tea, which makes the latter a better choice for people who are sensitive to caffeine (more details later) [31, 32, 33].
While green tea is known for its antioxidant properties, black tea has a different antioxidant known as ‘theaflavins’ . Apart from their ability to fight free radical damage, they are also associated with an increased production of our body’s own natural antioxidants . In addition, they have also been shown to reduce blood sugar and cholesterol levels significantly [35, 36].
Tea is a great drink. Having said that, it’s worth keeping in mind that both black and green tea contain a substance called tannins, which decrease our ability to digest protein and absorb iron and vitamin B12 [37, 38]. So, it’s best to have tea with some gap between our meals.
#3: Hot Chocolate
Not many people today know just how healthy the cocoa bean is, but if you were to trace its use back to ancient times, you’d see that Mayan and Aztec civilisations were well aware of and using cocoa primarily for its medicinal properties.
A study has found that cocoa has twice the antioxidant capacity of red wine, up to three times of green tea, and four to five times of black tea . These antioxidants come from flavonoids and some other phytonutrients.
Cocoa’s flavonoids are known to reduce the pressure on blood vessel walls, thereby preventing high blood pressure and hypertension. Also, free radical interaction with LDL (bad cholesterol) is believed to be an early event in heart diseases like atherosclerosis. Flavonoids can prevent this by neutralising the free radicals via their antioxidant activity . Other than this, chocolate also has caffeine.
A few notes on the healthy consumption of these beverages:
On hot chocolate:
Packaged hot chocolate mixes, tea or coffee mixes, or those found at coffee shops are all loaded with sugar. Its health effects which are associated with sugar addiction and obesity, would probably surpass the health benefits of these hot beverages. Less sugar, artificial sweeteners, or low-calorie drinks may be better alternatives.
Some people are quite sensitive to caffeine. The unnerving feeling of being overwhelmed by caffeine may cause restlessness, anxiety, digestive problems, heart arrhythmia and trouble sleeping. Pregnant women and people on certain medications do need to limit their coffee intake, too. In those cases, it’s probably best to avoid caffeine altogether or have decaffeinated options with only 0-7 mg of caffeine .
For caffeine-tolerant healthy people, about 400 mg of caffeine a day, which would translate to 4 cups of coffee (assuming 100 mg caffeine per cup), appears to be safe . However, don’t forget to take into account the many other sources of caffeine in our diet, including soft drinks, some protein shakes, energy drinks, and certain medications.
To sum up – while each of these soothingly hot beverages can be healthy to consume, moderation in consumption is key, as always. For now, though – cradle a warm mug and enjoy its evidence-based effects. :)
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