Coffee is one of the luxuries that we are often advised to give up when we are pregnant, and many pregnant women turn to decaffeinated beverages. Because we are more aware of what we are consuming when we are pregnant, many women want more information on their food and beverages, the processing procedure and its nutritional value.
Can I Drink Decaffeinated Coffee While Pregnant? Answer: In Moderation
In order for a coffee to qualify as decaffeinated, it must have 97% of its caffeine removed. To give you an idea, an 8 ounce cup of decaf coffee should have no more than 5 milligrams of caffeine. An 8 ounce cup of regular coffee would have anywhere in the range of 40 – 180mg of caffeine depending on whether it was brewed, dripped or percolated. Bear in mind that the advised amount of caffeine for pregnant women is actually 200mg per day. The question many women have is how that 97% is actually removed and processed before they drink it.
How Is The Caffeine Removed?
There are a few different methods to remove caffeine from your coffee beans. The goal is to remove the caffeine but leave the flavor and it’s a delicate operation. To start the process off, coffee beans are soaked in water and allowed to soften. A substance must then be used to remove the caffeine as using water alone strips away too much of the flavor. Substances to remove the caffeine may come into contact with the beans directly or indirectly and are referred to as direct or indirect decaffeination.
What Is The Indirect Decaffeination Process?
The beans are soaked in water to soften and dissolve the caffeine. This will also remove the flavor from the beans, and so this water – containing both the caffeine and the flavor of the beans is taken and treated before being returned to the beans. The water which is removed is treated with a solvent to remove the caffeine then returned to the beans where the flavor is reabsorbed. The beans are dried and are now decaffeinated. Because the beans are never in direct contact with the solvent, this process is known as “indirect decaffeination”.
Another indirect decaffeination process again soaks the beans in water to soften them and remove the caffeine. This water is taken and run through activated charcoal or carbon filters to remove the caffeine. The fluid which retains the flavor of the coffee is returned to the beans, dried and ready for consumption. This carbon process is often labelled “Swiss Water Process” as it was developed by a Swiss company and if your decaffeinated coffee is labelled as Swiss water processed you can be assured that no harmful chemicals were used in the process.
What Is The Direct Decaffeination Process?
When coffee beans are decaffeinated using a direct process, carbon dioxide is used as a solvent. The coffee beans are soaked in compressed CO2 which removes 97% of the caffeine. The beans are returned to room temperature and as they do so the carbon dioxide which contains the caffeine evaporates. Because the solvent comes into direct contact with the beans, this process is known as a “direct decaffeination” process.
What Types Of Solvents Are Used?
Ethyl Acetate is the most widely used solvent used in the decaffeination process. It is a substance occurring naturally in many fruits, and as such when your coffee is labelled “naturally decaffeinated” it refers to this process in particular because the solvent used occurs in nature. Although this solvent does occur naturally, please note that it is also used in nail polish remover, glues and cigarettes as well as other industrial processes.
Previously some of the solvents used in the decaffeination process were found to be carcinogenic. These nastier solvents include methylene chloride and trichloroethylene. Neither of these substances is used now as they have been found to be a health risk.
What Is All The Fuss About Caffeine And Decaffeinated Coffee?
There are no definitive case studies or tests about the links to pregnancy health and caffeine, but it is a generally accepted rule of thumb that we should limit consumption to 200mg per day. This is about one 12 ounce cup of coffee or an 8 ounce cup and a chocolate bar. There are links between high caffeine consumption and miscarriage, links between still birth and caffeine consumption and other research which indicates that there is a link between infants with faster heart rates with mothers who consume high quantities of caffeine. The good news is that there does not seem to be a link between caffeine consumption and preterm birth or pre-eclampsia.
Other research shows no such links. We advise that you speak with your professional health care provider and discuss the risks of caffeine when making your decision on coffee consumption.
What Are The Side Effects Of Coffee?
If you don’t overdo the caffeine and limit your consumption, we do know that you’ll feel better. For starters it’s a stimulant, the reason so many of us kick start our day with a cup of java. This means that it raises your heart rate and can leave you feeling jittery. Caffeine can cause insomnia and can contribute to heartburn by increasing your secretion of stomach acid.
As your pregnancy progresses, your body’s ability to break down coffee slows. It takes almost twice as long to clear the caffeine from your body and as you make your way into the third trimester its three times as long. That means the caffeine is in your blood stream for longer periods and it crosses the placenta and reaches your baby.
The last reason we advise to cut back on tea or coffee – both caffeinated and decaffeinated is that both of these beverages contain phenols. Phenols make it more difficult for your body to absorb iron – something many pregnant women are already short on.