The “Dark Side” of Decaf Coffees—and a Healthier Alternative

Filed Under: General Health, Food and Nutrition

The “Dark Side” of Decaf Coffees—and a Healthier Alternative

There’s no question that coffee provides some valuable health perks. In fact, a recent study showed that the polyphenols in coffee can extend your life. The good news is these life extending benefits are not related to the caffeine content in the coffee. So, even if you who shun caffeine because it triggers cardiac arrhythmias, elevates your blood pressure, or fuels your insomnia, you can still get these same health benefits from decaf coffee.

But, Is Switching to Decaf Coffee Really a Healthy Move?

Decaf coffees have a serious “dark side,” and I’m not talking about dark roast. Many decaf coffees are processed using methylene chloride, a known carcinogen.

While there are coffees on the market labeled “naturally decaffeinated,” they have a downside too. They're "natural" because they're decaffeinated using ethyl acetate, a natural solvent found in pears, bananas, and other fruits. But while ethyl acetate occurs in nature, many of these coffees are decaffeinated using synthetic ethyl acetate—the same chemical added to many perfumes, paint, nail polish removers, and printer ink.

I’m not convinced ethyl acetate is safe, although the FDA has classified it as “generally regarded as safe” (GRAS). Some studies have shown it has had an adverse effect in some animals, and I’m not aware of any human testing. Plus, its safety for use during pregnancy hasn’t been determined. To me this sounds a lot like the Wi-Fi and EMF rationale for safety—that if there’s no evidence of harm, it must be safe.

The Other problem is Many Decaf Coffees Aren’t Truly Caffeine-Free

U.S. guidelines state decaffeinated coffees need to be at least 97% caffeine-free—but this is a standard, not a requirement. So coffee roasters have some wiggle room. The European and Canadian standards, on the other hand, state coffee labeled “decaffeinated” must be 99.9% caffeine free.

In order to avoid the decaf minefield, I had resorted to enjoying a single cup of caffeinated coffee in the morning. But recently while visiting in the “green” state of Vermont, I indulged in a late afternoon decaf coffee. Why? Because I learned that it was made with the Swiss Water Method (SWM), which is the only decaffeinating method I’ve found that’s chemical-free.

The SWM was originally developed in Switzerland in the 1980’s. It’s based on the fact that caffeine is water soluble, so it can be extracted from the green coffee bean quite efficiently using pure water. The beans are cleaned and pre-soaked in highly-charged proprietary water which extracts the coffee solids and the caffeine. The beans are discarded before the green coffee extraction (GCE) is filtered with carbon to separate the caffeine from the liquid.

This complex, proprietary 10-hour process results in a decaffeinated coffee that's 99.9% caffeine free. And since the SWM process is trademarked by a Canadian company, it’s imperative for them to meet that higher European/Canadian standard. Plus, this process has received the seal of approval of the Organic Crop Improvement Association, so it truly is natural.

I’ve seen a variety of different decaf coffees on the market that carry the SWM label. But not all growers using the SWM method may be using organic beans, so check coffee labels carefully.

Now it’s your turn: Have you tried decaf coffee that uses the Swiss Water Method?

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DISCLAIMER: The content of is offered on an informational basis only, and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the guidance of a qualified health provider before making any adjustment to a medication or treatment you are currently using, and/or starting any new medication or treatment. All recommendations are "generally informational" and not specifically applicable to any individual's medical problems, concerns and/or needs.

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