Written by Adda Bjarnadottir, MS, RDN (Ice)
Medically reviewed by Adrienne Seitz, MS, RD, LDN
Updated on July 29, 2020
Coffee is one of the world’s most popular beverages.
Many people enjoy drinking coffee, but they want to limit their caffeine intake for personal preferences or health reasons.
For these people, decaf coffee is an excellent alternative.
Decaf coffee is just like regular coffee, except the caffeine has been removed.
This article takes a detailed look at decaf coffee and its health effects, both good and bad.
What is decaf coffee and how is it made?
Decaf is short for decaffeinated coffee.
It’s coffee from coffee beans that have had at least 97% of their caffeine removed.
There are many ways to remove caffeine from coffee beans. Most of them include water, organic solvents, or carbon dioxide (1).
Coffee beans are washed in the solvent until the caffeine has been extracted from it, then the solvent is removed.
Caffeine can also be removed using carbon dioxide or a charcoal filter — a method known as the Swiss Water Process.
The beans are decaffeinated before they’re roasted and ground. The nutritional value of decaf coffee should be almost identical to regular coffee, apart from the caffeine content.
However, the taste and smell may become a little milder, and the color may change, depending on the method used (1).
This can make decaf coffee more pleasing to those who are sensitive to the bitter taste and smell of regular coffee.
Decaf coffee beans are washed in solvents to remove 97% of the caffeine content prior to roasting.
Aside from the caffeine, the nutritional value of decaf coffee should be almost identical to that of regular coffee.
How much caffeine is in decaf coffee?
Decaf coffee is not completely caffeine free.
It actually contains varying amounts of caffeine, usually about 3 mg per cup (2).
One study found that each 6 ounces (180 mL) cup of decaf contained 0–7 mg of caffeine (3).
On the other hand, an average cup of regular coffee contains about 70–140 mg of caffeine, depending on coffee type, preparation method, and cup size (4).
So, even if decaf is not completely caffeine free, the amount of caffeine is usually very small.
Decaf coffee is not caffeine free, as each cup contains about 0–7 mg. However, this is much less than the amount found in regular coffee.
Decaf coffee is loaded with antioxidants and contains nutrients
Coffee is not the devil it’s been made out to be.
It’s actually the single biggest source of antioxidants in the Western diet (5,6,7).
Decaf usually contains similar amounts of antioxidants as regular coffee, although they may be up to 15% lower (8, 9, 10, 11).
This difference is most likely caused by a small loss of antioxidants during the decaffeination process.
The main antioxidants in regular and decaf coffee are hydrocinnamic acids and polyphenols (1, 12).
Antioxidants are very effective at neutralizing reactive compounds called free radicals.
This reduces oxidative damage and may help prevent diseases like heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes (13, 14, 15, 16).
In addition to the antioxidants, decaf also contains minor amounts of some nutrients.
One cup of brewed decaf coffee provides 2.4% of the recommended daily intake of magnesium, 4.8% of potassium, and 2.5% of niacin, or vitamin B3 (1).
This may not seem like a lot of nutrients, but the amounts add up quickly if you drink 2–3 (or more) cups of coffee per day.