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Decaf Coffee ... Is It Really Decaffeinated?

Myth: Decaffeinated coffees and teas contain no caffeine.

Facts: Decaf coffees and teas retain small amounts of caffeine, says Allison Hoffman, a program director for the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “If you have a coffee or tea that has been decaffeinated, more than 90 percent of the caffeine has been removed,” she says. “But there is no such thing as caffeine-free coffee.”

A 12-ounce cup of caffeinated coffee, equivalent to a “tall” at Starbucks, has between 200 and 400 milligrams of caffeine, Hoffman says. A 12-ounce cup of decaf coffee has between 8 and 12 milligrams of caffeine. A 6-ounce cup of caffeinated Lipton tea contains 38 milligrams of caffeine, and a 6-ounce decaf Lipton tea contains about 2.7 milligrams. Some herbal teas are completely free of caffeine.

Research has shown that there is enough caffeine in decaf coffee to interrupt a person’s sleeping patterns, particularly if the person is older, says Brock Beamer, a gerontologist at the Veterans’ Affairs Maryland Health Care System and the University of Maryland School of Medicine. If you experience tremors, Beamer says, even small amounts of caffeine in decaf coffee may worsen them.

Although most people are sensitive to caffeine, coffee has gotten a bad rap over the years, Beamer says. Many recent studies have shown that coffee can reduce the risks for heart disease, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and in some studies even Alzheimer’s disease. Plus, coffee and tea are the biggest sources of antioxidants for Americans today, Beamer says. “Overall, coffee is probably good for you at a limit of three or four cups a day,” he says.

Rebecca Kern is a Washington-based writer.

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