That decaf version of your favorite tea or coffee may spare you a case of the jitters, but it can have some nasty side effects of its own. Conventional decaffeination processes often use methylene chloride to expel the caffeine from beans and leaves. Trace amounts of this solvent (which the National Cancer Institute has shown to be carcinogenic in lab animals) may be left behind after decaffeination. Another method uses ethyl acetate, which destroys many of the healthful antioxidants found in coffee and tea. It’s classified as a volatile organic compound (VOC) and treated as hazardous waste when discarded.
For a safer alternative, look for products that are decaffeinated using carbon dioxide or the Swiss Water Process, both of which leave no residual chemicals and have a negligible environmental impact. Or switch to organic herbal teas and coffee alternatives (like dandelion root) that are 100 percent caffeine- and chemical-free. For more on Swiss Water decaffeination and to find a retailer near you that sells chemical-free decaf, go to www.swisswater.com.