Nowadays, pretty much everyone has accepted that tea (especially the green kind) confers some tremendous health benefits. Indeed, as recent as two years ago, you could hardly find green tea in most grocery stories, convenience stores, or restaurants. Now, the stuff is ubiquitous. Anywhere you turn, if you want a green tea, you can find it. You can even find it in some fast food restaurants.
So in this newsletter, we’d like to talk about tea – what it is, why it’s good for you, and what benefits it offers.
What is tea?
Tea is a beverage made by steeping leaves, twigs, or buds of Camellia sinensis, the common tea plant, in hot water for 1 to 5 minutes.
The fermentation of a tea determines its color. White tea is the least fermented form. Black tea is the most fermented form. Interestingly, when the tea is fully dried, fermentation stops, and that’s how tea leaves retain their color (white, green, black) once dried.
So how does a tea leaf go from its natural state to your tea cup? Well, the leaves undergo fermentation, and are then heated and dried. During this process, flavor enhancers such as herbs, spices, fruits and flowers can also be added.
Note: when the label describes the tea as “herbal tea,” it’s referring to a beverage that contains only fruits and/or herbs with no actual tea leaves. So don’t get duped. Most “herbal teas” contain no actual tea.
Tea contains no calories and is a rich source of phytochemicals as well as a specific group of chemicals called methylxanthines (e.g., theophylline, caffeine, etc – although the methylxanthine content is much lower than in coffee and other caffeinated beverages).
How tea works in the body
Tea offers a host of health benefits, which will be outlined shortly. Many of the beneficial effects of tea are due to the flavonoids it contains. Flavonoids belong to a grouping of chemicals that have strong antioxidant properties and can reduce free radical damage (free radicals produce what we call “oxidative stress” and can contribute to chronic disease).
When thinking flavonoids, think of catechins, specifically EGCG. The catechins are one type of powerful flavoniods that occur naturally in tea. And many believe it’s these flavonoids that contribute most of the benefits associated with tea.
In addition to the flavonoids, as mentioned above, tea contains methylxanthines (caffeine is a methylxanthine). The caffeine content in tea is lower than that of coffee and does not have an abrupt effect. Prospective jitters and withdrawal symptoms are unlikely.
How milk may ruin tea
Interestingly, milk has long been added to tea to neutralize tannins (which are the most bitter components of tea) and reduce their acidity – leading to a smoother taste. However, research has indicated that casein in milk will negate many of the beneficial components of tea. So don’t ruin your tea by adding milk. Order it straight up. And if you don’t like the flavor, mix your regular tea with a mint or herbal tea.
My favorite is a mixture of loose green tea leaves and a bag of mint or pear flavored green tea.
Loose tea vs. bags
Tea is commonly packaged in “tea bags” for convenience. Among tea experts, this tea is known as “dust,” due to its poor quality. The tea in bags is considered a waste product left over from sorting the higher quality loose leaf teas. Furthermore, tea in bags may be prone to oxidation and not steep as well due to the restricted form of the bag.
Now, if you enjoy tea that comes in bags – don’t stress – it can still offer similar benefits. However, we encourage you to try loose tea (or some combination of loose and bagged) to see how you like it. If you’re new to loose tea, look into a tea infuser or even a tea press; they’ll help you avoid picking leaves out of your teeth!
The shelf life of tea varies based on the degree of processing. Black tea has a longer shelf life than green tea. The shelf life of herbal tea is usually the shortest. To prevent oxidation, tea should be stored in an air-tight container and placed in a dry, cool and dark location.
Recommended water temperatures for steeping tea are as follows:
Don’t get stressed if you don’t feel like breaking out the thermometer every morning. Bring water just short of boiling. That will usually do the trick.
Note: The more fermented teas require higher water temperatures. When water temperatures are too low, the leaves can be devoid of oxygen and the taste can be bland and flat.
Supplements and extracts
While we’re not against using green tea supplements, we want to make sure you don’t go getting too happy with green tea extract consumption. Case reports have been published indicating that a very high consumption of these extracts can induce liver damage. This has yet to be validated in well-controlled studies but it’s worth thinking about.
The benefits of regular tea consumption
Now, let’s outline some of the benefits attributed to regular tea consumption.
Note: These benefits were outlined at the 2007 “Tea and Health” symposium, a conference in which tea researchers world-wide got together and provided some definitive answers on what tea does and what it doesn’t do – at least, according to what we know today.
We’ll list these benefits by category…
Tea and body composition
- Green tea increased 24-hour energy expenditure and fat oxidation
- 3-months of tea consumption decreased waist circumference by 4.5%
Tea and cardiovascular health
- Tea increased lipid oxidation
- Tea improved blood vessel function
- Those who consumed 3 or more cups of black tea per day had a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke
- Drinking 6 or more cups of black tea per day was associated with decreased serum cholesterol and triglycerides
- Those who drank a cup or more of black tea daily had a 44% reduction in the risk of heart attack compared to non-tea drinkers
- Those who consumed tea during the year prior to a heart attack were up to 44% more likely to survive following the cardiac event
- Japanese men and women who consumed just over 2 cups of green tea per day reduced their risk of death from cardiovascular disease by 22 – 33%
- 5 cups of black tea per day reduced LDL cholesterol by 11% and total cholesterol by 6.5% compared to placebo beverages
- Those who consumed 4 cups of tea per day had a 69% lower risk of atherosclerosis
- Tea restored blood vessel function in those with coronary artery disease
- Tea helped to prevent atherosclerosis
- Tea enhanced dilation of blood vessels
- Regular tea drinkers had a 65% reduced risk of developing high blood pressure
Tea and cancer
- Tea inhibited oxidative damage
- Tea decreased the growth of abnormal cells and inhibited uncontrolled cell growth
- Drinking tea combated free radical damage
- Tea boosted the immune system
- Tea helped prevent prostate cancer
- Those who drank tea had a reduced risk of skin cancer
- Tea assisted in the regression of oral cancer
- Tea drinkers had decreased ovarian cancer risk
Tea and immune function
- Tea boosted natural resistance to microbial infection
Tea and oral health
- Tea inhibited the plaque forming ability of oral bacteria
Tea and bone health
- Although caffeine intake has been suggested to be a risk factor for reduced bone mineral density, research indicated that drinking tea does not negatively affect bone mineral density
- Older women who drank tea had a higher bone mineral density than those who did not drink tea
Tea and kidney stones
- Those who drank tea had a lower risk of developing kidney stones
Tea and neurological decline
- Drinking tea resulted in a reduced risk of Parkinsons disease
Tea and spouse selection
- Those who drank 5 cups of green tea each day had a more attractive spouse (are you still paying attention to my article? This one has yet to be confirmed by research – but you never know).
When talking to folks who don’t consume enough tea, their excuse is usually that they don’t like the taste. However, this excuse is fairly lame. Just like with other healthy meals and drinks, you’ve gotta be a little creative. To this end, here are a few recipes that can make including tea in your diet a delicious proposition:
1/2 cup strongly brewed green tea with mint
1 cup ice
2 scoops chocolate whey protein
1 cup low-fat plain yogurt
1 tbsp flaxseed oil or vanilla flavored fish oil
1 tbsp semi-sweet chocolate chips or cocoa nibs
- Prepare green tea by steeping for 5 minutes or using tea press/infuser. Allow to cool.
- Pour tea in the blender and add 1 cup of ice.
- Add to the blender, protein, yogurt, oil, and chocolate.
- Blend on high until mixture is smooth and creamy.
Makes 1 large 593kcal shake (22fat, 36carb, 61 protein) or 2 small 296kcal shakes (11fat, 18carb, 30 protein).
1/2 cup strongly brewed green tea with berry flavor
1 cup of water
1/2 cup Old fashioned large flake oats
2 tbsp ground flax seeds
1 tbsp pure honey
1/4 cup low fat milk or soy milk
1 scoop vanilla protein
1/4 cup frozen berries
- Prepare green tea by steeping for 5 minutes or using tea press/infuser. Allow to cool.
- Pour tea and 1 cup water into a pot.
- Bring pot to a boil on high heat and add the oats.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until liquid is absorbed (approx 7-10 mins).
- Remove from heat and stir in flax and honey.
- Combine milk and protein in a blender and pour over oatmeal.
- Add frozen berries.
Makes 1 large 472kcal serving (10fat, 60carb, 35 protein) or 2 small 236kcal servings (5fat, 30carb, 15 protein).
Most benefits are seen with around 3 – 4 cups of green or black tea per day. So make sure you start there there. In the research, regularly steeped tea was used in most trials. To this end, be careful with pre-bottled teas as they may have excessive amounts of added sweeteners and degraded beneficial compounds. Therefore they may not offer the same benefits as regularly stepped tea.
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