Tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world, second only to water. There are three main types of tea, green, black, and oolong. Scientific studies suggest that green tea in particular has many health benefits. Researchers believe the antioxidants, which are mostly polyphenols, in the tea leaves are responsible for the health benefits.
Green, black, and oolong teas are all derived from the leaves of the Camellia synensis plant. This plant grows throughout Asia, parts of the Middle East, and Africa. Green tea is prepared from unfermented leaves. The leaves of oolong tea are partially fermented, and the leaves of black tea are fully fermented. The more the leaves are fermented, the lower the polyphenol content and the higher the caffeine content. Green tea has the highest polyphenol content, while black tea has 2 to 3 times the caffeine content of green tea. Therefore green teas have the most nutritional benefits, followed by oolong and black teas. You may have heard of white tea, which is simply the unfermented young leaves and buds of the Camellia synensis plant.
Reasons to Drink Green Tea
The health benefits of drinking green tea:
- Green tea is rich in antioxidants: The antioxidants found in green tea are mainly polyphenols. A particular polyphenol, EGCG has been studied extensively, can powerfully destroy free radicals (metabolic byproducts that are chemically reactive and that can damage cells). In research published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the polyphenols found in green tea are reported to be 6 times stronger than those found in black tea.
- Green tea lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol: Research shows that green tea lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol and raises HDL (good) cholesterol in people. One large-scale study found that men who drink green tea have lower total cholesterol than those who do not drink green tea.
- Green tea fights atherosclerosis: Large scale studies suggest the polyphenols in green tea help prevent atherosclerosis, the plaque buildup in your arteries. The researchers believe that green tea fights atherosclerosis by lowering cholesterol and triglycerides. Studies show that black tea has similar effects. In fact they estimate the rate of heart attacks decrease by 11 percent with consumption of three cups of tea daily.
- Green tea lowers risk of high blood pressure: A study published in 2004 reported that regular consumption of green and oolong tea reduced risk of developing hypertension. Another study published in 2012 reported that regular long-term consumption of black tea lowered blood pressure.
- Green tea lowers cardiovascular disease risk: In a large-scale study, drinking three cups of green tea or black tea is associated with a 20 percent reduction in stroke risk.
- Green tea lowers cancer risk: Risk of cancer of the GI tract has been shown to be 17 percent lower in women who drink at least 3 cups of green tea a week. There have also been lower risks associated with green tea consumption of the following cancers: bladder, breast, ovarian, lung, pancreatic, prostate, and skin.
- Green tea strengthens your bones: The Harvard School of Public Health states that the tea polyphenols are thought to strengthen bones and protect against fractures. Also a study published in Nutrition Research found the bioactive components of green tea may help decrease the risk of fractures by improving bone mineral density.
- Green tea helps protect your vision: A 2010 study reported that the components in green tea positively affected the tissues of the eyes, particularly the tissues of the retina.
- Green tea improves memory and cognitive function: Some of the compounds found in green tea boost certain brain tasks associated with working memory. Working memory is the brain function that keeps in mind and manipulates multiple pieces of information simultaneously, helping you to plan ahead, organize information, solve problems and retrieve information, such as names.
- Green tea calms and relaxes you: L-theanine is the standout ingredient in green tea that has been studied for its calming effects on the nervous system. A study published in Trends in Food Science & Technology found that green tea produces relaxing effects without drowsiness after just 40 minutes of ingestion.
Putting it into Practice
- Brew it yourself: For the biggest benefit, definitely brew it yourself. Bottled tea has significantly fewer polyphenols than home-steeped tea, plus added sugar that add unwanted calories. You can serve it hot, or make a pitcher of home-brewed iced tea during the warmer months.
- Watch the additives: It is not a good idea to resort to additives to make tea more palatable. Be careful not to add spoonfuls of sugar to make tea go down easier. The health benefits were observed for tea with little or no additives. So maybe try a little honey or lemon to taste without compromising the purity of your tea, but stop there.
- Daily dosage: The University of Maryland Medical Center recommends two to three cups of green tea per day. This provides about 240 to 320 mg of polyphenols.
- Try a healthy alternative: If you just can’t stomach green tea, you may want to try a healthy alternative – coffee. Coffee is a perfectly reasonable and possibly equally healthful alternative. Click here to read my article on coffee.
- Caution if you are pregnant: Because of its caffeine level, green tea can be unsafe for pregnant women and their babies. Always consult your doctor about consuming caffeinated beverages while pregnant.
- Problem with iron: Drinking green tea may cause your body to absorb less iron, so it is best not to drink green tea with an iron-rich meal. Rather drink green tea between meals. Consult your doctor if you are anemic.