Tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world next to water. For all those that make tea drinking a regular part of their lives, its more than just a quick and convenient pick-me-up; it’s also an occasion, a deliberate pause for pleasure and relaxation. If only we could relax this much when we eat! Not only is it relaxing, it may also give your health a boost.
All tea leaves come from the same species of an evergreen shrub called Camelia sinensis, related to the magnolia. There are over 1500 varieties of tea worldwide but all can be divided into 3 basic types: black, green and oolong. The way the tea leaves are processed and their exposure to oxygen affects the taste and colour.
The leaves of black teas, such as Darjeeling, English Breakfast, and Lapsang Souchong, are fully oxidized, then heated and dried; they produce a dark red-brown brew. Green teas, such as Gunpowder, are heated shortly after harvesting to prevent oxidation. White tea is also only wilted and not oxidized. Oolong teas, such as Formosa Oolong, undergo partial oxidation and produce a brew with milder characteristics of both black and green teas.
Black tea and green tea are both rich in plant compounds called flavonoids. Flavonoids appear to help protect health by acting as antioxidants and preventing free radicals from damaging the cells in our bodies. Beyond the antioxidant benefits of flavonoids, new research shows that flavonoids in tea may help ward inflammation and vascular damage associated with aging, heart disease and cognition. To maximize the flavonoid content of your cup of tea consider steeping it for 3-5 minutes and dunking the tea bag several times.
New results from the Fifth International Scientific Symposium on Tea and Human Health held in 2012 and published in the Am J of Clin Nutr in Dec 2013 revealed:
- 1 cup of black tea per day may improve blood vessel function, lower blood pressure and reduce the incidence of heart attack and stroke by 10%.
- Drinking tea may help mitigate the negative effects of high-fat meals on blood vessel function
- Drinking several cups of tea per day may help burn 100 calories a day
- Tea has anti-cancer properties. Men who drank 1.5c green tea per day had a 70% lower risk of colon cancer
- 1-2 cups per day may help boost cognition, mental alertness, attention span and work performance.
- Green tea in combination with weight bearing exercise may help reduce the risk for osteoporosis and fractures.
A review of several studies linked the consumption of 3 cups of tea to an 11% lower risk of heart attack. The Rotterdam study from the Netherlands found that 4 cups of black tea per day was associated with significantly less plaque buildup on artery walls. Black tea may also help dilate arteries in patients suffering from heart disease.
A study of 900 Chinese women at the Curtin University of Technology in Australia found that the risk for ovarian cancer was 60% less in green tea drinkers than in non-tea drinkers. In Japan, breast cancer recurrence was lower in green tea drinkers, especially if they drank more than 5 cups per day, than in non-tea drinkers.
A typical cup of tea contains 40-55 mg caffeine and a cup of coffee contains about 125-150mg. Most health experts will recommend no more than 400mg caffeine daily which is about 8 cups of tea. Decaffeinated tea may contain up to 50% less flavonoids than regular tea. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should limit caffeine to 300mg/day and children should limit it to 45-85mg/day.
Tea can significantly inhibit the absorption of non-heme iron (iron from plant sources). Try to drink tea between meals instead of with them. If you really like your tea with breakfast, consider having a source of vitamin C such as an orange or strawberries to help improve iron absorption.
Tea bags were first invented by Americans in their search for something faster. They were also the first to drink tea on ice and now we find all sorts of ready-made tea. From the artificial sugar based iced tea crystals to iced tea in cans in our pop machines. With all the hype around the health benefits of tea, we see Snapple, Lipton’s and Nestea flying off the shelves, but don’t get sucked in, these beverages have nowhere near the health benefits of plain tea.
The Bottom Line:
Tea is a more healthful choice all sugar beverages.
Tea contains less caffeine than coffee
Aim to drink 3-6 cups per day for the health benefits
If you want iced tea, make your own from the tea bag
Don’t drink tea with your meals, especially if you are a vegetarian