If your goal this new year is to give up soda or sugary drinks, you may be interested in switching to tea. From green tea to black, tea is a great beverage option to consider when plain old water just won’t cut it.
Tea has been around for thousands of years and has been associated with various health benefits for just as long. Depending on what tea you choose, some scientists believe that drinking this type of beverage can result in weight loss, stroke prevention, improved memory, reduction in cancer risk, improved cardiovascular health, better blood glucose control, osteoporosis prevention, less tooth decay, improved immune function, and decreased risk of certain neurological diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
Not all teas are created equally though and it’s important to know which teas are the most beneficial. Additionally, some of the health claims associated with tea still remain to be proven. As continued research develops, hopefully the exact benefits of all tea can be clearly identified. In the meantime, lets go with what we’ve got. Even if some of the health claims fall short as research progresses, most teas are low in calories, are hydrating, and are rich in antioxidants. This makes them a wonderful replacement for higher calorie beverages consumed throughout the day.
Many individuals consider five specific teas to be of the true and authentic variety: black, green, white, oolong, and pu-erh tea. Each is derived from the Camellia sinensis plant which originates from a type of shrub found in both China and India. Green tea is probably one of the better known teas in Western culture and has been studied the most extensively because of its EGCG (Epigallocatechin Gallate) content. EGCG is a catechin found in tea that was thought to aid in weight loss. As it turns out, this does not seem to be the case. Instead, it is now suggested that amount of polyphenols, a type of antioxidants found in tea, may increase endurance during exercise because of improved fat metabolism.
Green and white tea have higher polyphenol content than black, oolong, or pu-erh tea because their leaves are not processed. Nevertheless, the antioxidant power of oxidized and fermented teas are still high. Additionally, those with fermented leaves often have higher levels of caffeine which may be important for moments of approved mental alertness; however, caffeine in teas can also trigger IBS symptoms, insomnia and migraines. Individuals sensitive to caffeine and its affects should drink cautiously.
If you are looking for a caffeine-free tea option, herbal teas might be a great choice for you. Just like the traditional teas, herbal varieties are loaded with nutrients and are associated with a wide range of health benefits. From alleviating IBS symptoms to prevention dehydration, herbal tea is another great beverage choice.
Herbal teas are made from a variety of fruits, roots, herbs, and seeds that are steeped in hot water. Although they have less antioxidant concentrations than the “traditional” teas do, some research has shown a potential role for these types of teas in weight management, cold prevention, and better sleeping habits. Ginger, ginkgo biloba, ginseng, hibiscus, jasmine, rosehip, mint, rooibos, chamomile, and echnaciea are all common varieties of this type of tea. Of course, the research for these is much more limited and it is possible that the true health potential of herbal tea remedies has yet to be discovered.
Of all the various tea varieties available, instant tea is probably the least health-friendly. Some varieties actually contain very little tea and instead contain ingredients like added sugars and artificial sweeteners to enhance the taste. Always check your nutrition label and look for one of the traditional teas to be listed as the first ingredient. If you see the words “tea extracts” or “tea concentrate” it may not even be worth drinking for the health. More than likely, you would have to drink a lot of this beverage to see any sort of health benefit and calories would quickly add up – especially if added sugar is one of the more prominent ingredients.
Most bottled, ready-to-drink teas can also be problematic. They often contain quite a bit more calories and sweeteners than traditional or herbal teas. If you really like these types of beverages, know that you probably won’t see the same health benefits as you would from drinking the other tea varieties mentioned. Make sure you also drink these types of beverages in moderation.
The Scary Side of Teas
Although most teas are incredibly safe to drink, some of the teas available on the market geared towards weight loss contain added ingredients that may indeed be bad for you. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns against such teas that contain ingredients like aloe, senna, buckthorn and other plant-derived laxatives. Individuals should also be wary of any tea that contains ingredients claiming to kill pain or fight cancer. None of these claims are FDA approved and can lead to serious health problems.
Additionally, some teas are not appropriate for individuals with various health conditions or who may be on certain medications. Before drinking a cup, it may be beneficial to speak with your health care provider to make sure it’s something that will work well in your meal plan.
To get the biggest benefits from your tea, aim for about three cups a day. Additionally, allow tea to steep for about three to five minutes to bring out the catechins. Catechins are a form of polyphenols with both anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. Although traditional teas will have the highest concentrations of catechins, herbal teas also have their own unique benefits. Instant, decaffainated, and bottled ready-to-drink teas, on the other hand, won’t have as high concentrations of catechins and may not necessarily have the same antioxidant power herbal teas have. For maximum tea drinking benefits, stick to traditional and herbal tea options when possible.
January 5th, 2012