Pregnancy and decaf: Is it a healthy caffeine alternative?
You just discovered you are going to have a baby and are likely overjoyed. But after the excitement is over, you now have to think about everything you should give up for nine months. That glass of wine, some spicy foods, or your favorite cup of joe.
While you can probably live without your wine and spicy foods, you may wonder how you’ll get by without caffeine due to the dangers associated with drinking it during pregnancy.
The dangers of caffeine for pregnant women
Caffeine is used by many people as a stimulant to get up and keep going throughout the day.
When many women are expecting, they crave caffeine a lot due to its ability to boost concentration. It helps to deal with the constant grogginess and exhaustion that come with pregnancy.
However, even if you enjoy your coffee, drinking it while pregnant may pose a health risk to you and your unborn child. According to health experts, it may take up to 3.5 times longer for a pregnant woman to metabolize caffeine than one who is not expecting.
As a mother’s body slowly metabolizes caffeine, it gets into the baby’s bloodstream, where it can’t be broken down. That raises the risks of miscarriages and babies being born underweight. It also extends into their childhood, causing obesity.
So what’s the alternative for pregnant women who can’t live without their beloved cup of joe? And how about those that are willing to let go of coffee but are wary of doing so cold turkey due to withdrawal symptoms? The Answer is Decaf.
Since scientists approve the intake of moderate amounts of caffeine during pregnancy, caffeine alternatives such as decaf that contain minimal amounts of the stimulant are a great solution.
What is decaf?
Decaf is coffee that’s stripped off caffeine. The process of making decaffeinated coffee removes 97 percent of caffeine from green coffee beans using substances such as water, Methylene Chloride, Ethyl acetate, activated charcoal, and Carbon-dioxide.
An 8-ounce cup of decaf contains up to 7 mg of caffeine, while a similar quantity of regular coffee contains between 70-140 mg. If you prefer decaf tea, it has even less caffeine, with a cup containing only 2 mg of caffeine.
Sometimes the content in various decaf brands differs. But the most caffeine you’ll find in a decaf brand is about 15 mg. The different levels of caffeine content in various brands may be because of the type of beans used to make it or the way it is decaffeinated.
Decaf doesn’t taste or smell like real coffee. In fact, if you are a regular coffee drinker, you may think it tastes flat or watery because it lacks the bold flavors associated with regular brews. But these mild flavors are appreciated by anyone who wants a lightly caffeinated drink.
Toxic substances in decaf
So, does that mean that decaf doesn’t have any negative aspects? Unfortunately, it does. And most of them are based on the way it is processed.
There have been reports of toxic substances in certain Decaf brands such as Methylated Chloride and Ethyl Acetate, which cause many people to be skeptical about its benefits.
Methylene Chloride and Ethyl Acetate are solvents found in vehicle cleaning products, paint strippers, nail polish removers, and adhesives. Taking them in large quantities may pose health risks to you and your unborn child.
Such harsh substances are used to process decaf because they hasten the process preventing the loss of other beneficial compounds in coffee such as sugars and proteins. Unfortunately, traces of these harsh chemicals remain in the coffee and pose a risk to drinkers.
For example, prolonged exposure to Methylene Chloride can negatively affect the central nervous system and cause cancer. It may also cause lightheadedness, headaches, and respiratory problems.
Other stimulants in decaf coffee
Even after caffeine is removed from decaf coffee, other stimulants like Theophylline and Theobromine remain. Although Theobromine can reduce the risk of preeclampsia in pregnant women, Theophylline may pose some danger to them.
Animal studies have shown that Theophylline has a negative effect on the fetus. Although it’s used by pregnant women to control severe Asthma, taking it in large quantities without a doctor’s supervision can lead to problems.
Since these stimulants found in decaf coffee freely find their way into the placenta when ingested, pregnant women should be cautious when taking it.
Decaf and cholesterol
Apart from the stimulants in decaf coffee, the type of bean used to process it may cause health problems to drinkers.
Decaf is usually made from Robusta coffee, which has a higher fat content and flavor than Arabica, a coffee bean commonly used to make regular brews.
Since stripping caffeine off decaf interferes with its taste, using Robusta ensures it retains some flavor. And as the decaffeination process takes away a lot of its fats, using Robusta beans(which have a higher fat content) helps to make it taste as close to regular coffee as possible.
Unfortunately, this higher fat content may trigger heart issues in people who drink a lot of decaf due to its ability to raise harmful cholesterol levels in the body.
When you are expecting, you don’t want to deal with increased cholesterol levels which may cause preeclampsia, gestational Diabetes, or trigger a pre-term delivery. Therefore, decaf can pose a health risk to you in this way.
Decaf and acidity.
Apart from raising cholesterol levels, decaf may also cause acidity in pregnant women. Although it contains fewer coffee acids than regular brews, it still contains some like Chlorogenic acid, which increases stomach acidity.
Add that to the heartburn normally experienced by expectant women, and you can see how taking decaf may add to your discomfort during pregnancy.
The increase in acidity associated with taking decaf may also cause the excretion of calcium in the body, interfering with your bone density and affecting your baby’s growth.
How to avoid toxic decaf coffee
After reading all these facts about decaf, you may be wary of taking it. Don’t be; you don’t have to avoid it altogether. Just find non-toxic brands that have been tested for chemicals and proven safe for pregnant women.
For example, you could pick coffee brands that have been approved by organizations like the Clean Label Project, which tests products for contaminants.
You’ll find many brands proven to have undetectable amounts of chemicals, such as Dunking Donuts, Decaffeinated Medium Roast, and Starbucks Decaffeinated House Blend.
Apart from picking such coffees that are given a clean bill of health by experts, choosing organic decaf brands is another way to avoid chemically processed ones.
A great example is Swiss water decaf which is decaffeinated using a chemical-free process.
It’s much better than the decaf made using harmful solvents, which strip the natural antioxidants and oils from coffee, leaving it with very little flavor and nutritional benefits.
While other decaffeination processes remove up to 97 percent of caffeine from coffee, the Swiss decaf method removes almost 99.9 percent, making it one of the safest and healthiest coffee alternatives in the market.
Therefore, if you are pregnant and looking for a good decaf brand, always choose those with the Swiss water process logo.
Harmful effects of coffee alternatives
Okay, decaf contains little caffeine, and so do coffee alternatives such as hot chocolate, but that doesn’t mean you can drink as much as you want of these drinks.
Every cup of decaf coffee you drink adds some caffeine to your system that your pregnant body has to process. Although some scientific research has proven that decaf is safe for expectant mothers, some claim it’s dangerous for them.
In fact, a study done in 1997 linked decaf coffee to miscarriages in pregnant women. According to the study, women who drank more than 3 cups of decaf coffee during their first trimester of pregnancy had a 2.4 percent chance of miscarrying their child than those who didn’t drink any.
More recent research, such as a Norwegian study published in the British Medical Journal, found that any caffeine intake during pregnancy can cause childhood obesity by modifying a child’s weight growth trajectory while in the womb.
Such studies make you wonder if taking caffeine during pregnancy (no matter how low the amount) is worth it.
However, since most experts say pregnant women can take 200mg of caffeine a day, you’re probably safe if you drink one or two cups of coffee a day.
So what have you learned about pregnancy and decaf? Is it an excellent alternative for caffeinated drinks when you are expecting, or should you cut out caffeine altogether?
Well, as you can see, although decaf is great, it does come with its side effects. If you choose to drink it, keeping your intake low may be the best route to take.
Also, since we’ve learned some decaf brands contain harmful chemicals, picking an organic decaf brand such as the one processed using the Swiss water method is the best choice.
If you drink decaf from coffee shops, you may want to frequent establishments that serve decaf with the least amount of caffeine.
Otherwise, if our information has made you skeptical about taking decaf, drinking caffeine-free alternatives such as herbal teas is not bad until you deliver your baby.
At least by doing that, you will be entirely sure that you are not risking your health and that of your child by taking caffeine. After all, it’s only 9 months until you take some real coffee. It’s not that long to wait.