The Real Reason Decaf Coffee Is Less Healthy Than Regular Coffee

While decaf coffee may not keep you up all night, research suggests that it might have an impact on your heart health. Scientists at the Piedmont Mercer Center for Health and Learning in Atlanta found that because caffeine-free coffee tends to be made from beans with a higher fat content than other coffee, it had a negative effect on the cardiovascular system (via The New Scientist).

While most regular coffee is made with a coffee bean species known as Arabica, decaf tends to be made with beans from the Robusta species. This is because given that the decaffeination process strips the beans of some of their flavor in addition to their caffeine, coffee manufacturers tend to use a stronger (more robust) bean to begin with. It just so happens that Robusta beans have a higher content of a compound called diptenes, which cause the body to create more fatty acids.

How the decaf coffee study was carried out

The study tracked 187 people who were split into thirds. One third drank three to six cups of decaf daily, one third drank three to six cups of regular coffee daily, and the last third abstained. The researchers were surprised to find that the decaf group had elevated levels of the fatty acids.

Because of the use of these fatty beans, consumption of decaffeinated coffee raised the non-esterified fatty acid and apolipoprotein B levels in the blood. Both of these are proteins associated with a type of cholesterol known to cause heart disease. Non-esterified fatty acid levels rose by 18 percent while apolipoprotien B rose by 8 percent.

"The heart risk is not great – the fatty acids can be burned off easily by exercising. But someone with high-cholesterol, who drinks four or five cups of decaffeinated coffee a day, might want to think about cutting down," study author Robert Superko explained.

On the flip side, scientists have found that regular coffee is quite beneficial for the heart.