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Do you love tea? You probably should!
Since we already showed you the surprising health benefits of coffee, we felt it only fair that tea lovers – and I must admit to being one of the biggest – had the opportunity to learn more about their favorite beverage.
Although tea isn’t scheduled into breaks or morning routines in the same way as coffee in the United States, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t widely consumed. In fact, 158 million Americans drink tea every day, and consume an incredible 3.6 billion gallons each year. One of the key reasons for such high levels of tea consumption is its variety. Unlike the studies we looked at for coffee, which use the term as a catch-all for espresso, filter-coffee, iced coffee, and even decaf, research into tea is often divided into different areas. Not only can it be served hot or iced, but there are over 3,000 different varieties of the Camellia Sinensis plant grown across the world.
The sheer number of different tea types, as well as regional variations in its production and consumption, make it unsurprising that tea is the most consumed beverage in the world after water.
Worth an estimated $10 billion, the tea industry is big business.
The Camellia Sinensis plant – from which all true tea is derived – is grown all over the world. While it can be grown here in the US states of Hawaii and South Carolina, the main tea producing countries are China, India, Sri Lanka, Japan, and Taiwan. Over the years, they have attracted considerable renown for producing not only the highest quantities of tea, but teas of the highest quality. Though China is still recognized as the birthplace of tea, we can thank the British – a tea loving nation if ever there was one – for establishing tea plantations in both India and Sri Lanka in the early 19th century.
There are 5 main types of tea – white, green, oolong, black, and pu’erh – that come in a range of forms: loose leaf, teabags, pre-made, or as a powder.
All types come from the same plant. What makes them different is the length of time the leaves are oxidized (that is, the browning of the tea leaves due to oxygen exposure) and the processing style, which could mean roasting, steaming, and pan-firing. Whether you’re a sucker for matcha, love a cup of oolong, or just can’t get through the afternoon without a pot of Earl Grey, you’ll want to brew up a cup of the good stuff and settle in to read all about the health benefits of tea.
It keeps you hydrated
There’s a reason that tea is the second-most consumed beverage in the world after water: it tastes great, and it keeps you hydrated. There have always been myths circulating around whether the diuretic effect of caffeine – found in both tea and coffee – effectively cancels out the positive effects of its water content.
Researchers are now beginning to debunk these claims, and are happy to report that – far from causing dehydration – these beverages can and should be included in your daily water intake.
While it is true that caffeine causes your kidneys to flush extra sodium and water from the body through urine, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you will become dehydrated. Dr. Daniel Vigil, an associate clinical professor of family medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California Los Angeles, says: “When you drink a cup of coffee or you drink a glass of iced tea, you are necessarily taking in a volume of fluid along with that dose of caffeine.” However, it is pretty much impossible to lose more fluid through urine than you take in by drinking a caffeinated beverage, because your body is able to absorb as much fluid as it needs and expel the rest.
Fans of iced tea will know all about the thirst-quenching satisfaction of drinking a long tall glass of the stuff on a hot day. Pre-made iced tea contains anywhere between 30-50mg of caffeine per 8oz serving, so you’d have to drink plenty of it to reach the 400mg daily safe zone.
It’s a great and tasty way of staying hydrated, especially when it’s warm outside – just make sure you watch your sugar intake. Unsweetened iced tea is best, but if you have to add a little sweetness, it’s best to use a low-calorie sugar alternative. Pre-made sweet tea – especially the kind you find in restaurants – contains as much, if not more, sugar than a soda!
It’s great for your oral health
You aren’t the only one who benefits when you choose a cup of tea over another drink – your dentist does, too! Researchers now suggest that, in addition to other health benefits, drinking green tea regularly has been found to improve your oral health.
Ancient Chinese and Japanese medicine both suggested that green tea consumption could cure disease and heal wounds, but a 2009 study in the Journal of Periodontology applied the theory to the teeth and gums. Researchers found that routine intake of green tea had a positive effect on oral health: helping to prevent cavities, gum disease, and bad breath. The study analyzed the periodontal health of 940 men, and found that those who drank green tea on a regular basis had superior gum health than subjects who consumed less, or no, green tea.
“It has been long speculated that green tea possesses a host of health benefits,” said study author Dr. Yoshihiro Shimazaki of Kyushu University in Fukuoka, Japan. “And since many of us enjoy green tea on a regular basis, my colleagues and I were eager to investigate the impact of green tea consumption on periodontal health, especially considering the escalating emphasis on the connection between periodontal health and overall health.”
The team observed that for every cup of green tea they consumed, the incidence of gum disease in the participants was less – and the reason for that was the presence of the antioxidant catechin. Building on previous research on catechin’s ability to reduce inflammation in the body, Dr. Shimazaki’s team suggests that green tea interferes with the body’s inflammatory response to periodontal bacteria, thus resulting in better oral health.
Periodontists believe that having healthy gums is vital for the overall health of your body – so it might be time to add a daily cup of green tea to your regular routine of brushing and flossing.
It can regulate your blood sugar
Though it might seem that green tea has become the poster boy for the health benefits of tea, fans of black tea also have reason to rejoice. While green tea is more commonly consumed in China and Japan, when people in the US, UK, or Europe refer simply to “tea,” they are usually talking about black tea.
Centuries ago, as tea culture spread and tea was processed for export across oceans, it was discovered that black tea – which had been oxidized – would retain its freshness and flavor better over long journeys than green tea. Most of the black tea produced in China is still exported, but black tea (particularly the strong Assam variety) is also produced in India. It comes in a whole host of varieties and strengths, and is what you’re drinking when you sip on a cold glass of iced tea.
Research into the health benefits of black tea is ongoing, but one of the most recent forward leaps suggests that it can help prevent significant increases in blood sugar. Dr. Peter Clifton, Professor of Nutrition at the University of South Australia recently conducted a review of the role of dietary antioxidants in regulating glucose levels and insulin sensitivity. His research found that black tea reduces spikes in the glucose levels of healthy and pre-diabetic adults. By getting participants to consume a sugar-laden soda before a cup of black tea, Dr. Clifton proved that drinking tea led to a significant reduction in their blood glucose levels. What’s more, compared to the placebo test, the tea actually kept working – keeping blood sugar from rising for over two hours after the soda was consumed.
This is a great side effect when you think that most of us consume tea alongside some kind of meal or snack. By pairing the two together, you’ll be doing what you can to avoid a spike in your blood sugar levels. The connection between blood sugar and antioxidants (more on those below) is one of the reasons scientists have been able to establish the existence of lower rates of diabetes among people who drink tea and coffee than those who don’t.
More research needs to be done to establish the link between diabetes and tea, but for now it can’t hurt to enjoy a cup of the good stuff alongside your breakfast or afternoon snack.
It could help you lose weight
If you’ve been trying to lose weight – perhaps it was a new years resolution that hasn’t quite worked out – it’s tempting to try supplements or fad diets that promise amazing instant results. Unfortunately, the only real way to lose weight and keep it off is to eat well and exercise moderately.
However, there are things that can support your efforts – and tea is one of them. For decades, green tea has been celebrated as a slimming drink that can boost your metabolism and prevent fat storage. But recent research suggests that another tea might be even better for you.
Sharon Moalem, PhD, the geneticist behind The DNA Restart, travelled to Japan to work with some of the world’s leading tea researchers. Dr. Moalem was shocked to find that none of the researchers were actually drinking green tea. That’s because, while green tea has great effects in lab trials, the amount needed to actually deliver the benefits listed above causes real digestive distress.
Instead, the scientists preferred drinking oolong tea. “When I asked them why, they said it’s easier on the stomach and richer in polyphenols,” said Dr. Moalem. Polyphenols are micronutrients found in certain plant-based foods. They’re packed with antioxidants, and research claims that they can improve or help treat digestion issues, weight management difficulties, diabetes, neurodegenerative disease, and cardiovascular diseases.
The unique blend of polyphenols found in oolong tea encourages the cells in your body to burn calories in a more effective way. Japanese researchers found that oolong tea boosts metabolism by up to 20% for two hours – making it the perfect accompaniment to breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
That means that just one cup of oolong tea is nearly twice as effective as three strong cups of green tea.
What’s more, while green tea encourages less fat storage, oolong actually promotes the burning of belly fat. In one study, those who drank oolong lost two times more midsection fat than those who didn’t – a statistic many of us can get behind!
If you want to lose weight and keep it off, it seems oolong tea could definitely be your friend. This type of tea prevents the release of the enzymes that break down fats so they can be stored. Dr. Moalem says: “Instead, the fats pass through you, undigested. As you absorb less dietary fat, the body burns its supply of stored fat for energy.”
Though that doesn’t mean you can eat whatever you want, as often as you want, it could certainly help maintain a healthy weight when you get there. Finally, oolong can reduce hunger levels 36% for up to 24 hours, ad has been found to lower bad (LDL) cholesterol by 29%.
It can prevent disease
Both the catechin and polyphenols we’ve already talked about are different types of antioxidant, and it’s true that tea is absolutely stuffed full of them.
But these antioxidants do far more than just fighting belly fat and keeping your smile healthy.
Antioxidants latch on to and neutralize chemicals called oxidants, which cells make as they go about their normal business. When levels of oxidants rise, they can cause harm. John Weisburger, PhD, senior researcher at the Institute for Cancer Prevention in Valhalla, N.Y. is 82 years old. He drinks 10 cups of tea per day, and has published more than 500 papers – many of which are about the health benefits of tea.
He was the first American researcher to show that tea has an effect on metabolism and is capable of detoxifying harmful chemicals. Weisburger calls polyphenols “wonder nutrients” that “scavenge for cell-damaging free radicals in the body and detoxify them.” The antioxidant power of tea is, he says, “astounding.” Whether you prefer your leaves green or black, tea contains 8 to 10 times more polyphenols than fruits and vegetables.
Weisburger’s lab found that green and black teas had nearly identical amounts of polyphenols and flavonoids – more specifically, thearubigins, epicatechins, and catechins – just in different quantities. Whatever their make up, both types of tea are capable of blocking the damage to DNA that is associated with the use (or exposure to) tobacco and other toxic chemicals. Rates of heart disease and certain cancers are much lower in Japan and China than in the Western world, and Weisburger makes a compelling case that their consumption of tea is responsible.
The effect produced by the antioxidants in tea protects cells from free radicals, which cause the kind of damage in the body that can lead to blood clot formation, clogged arteries, and cancer.
Much of the research on the detoxifying effect of tea shows that regular tea drinkers – those who drink two or more cups per day – have less heart disease, a lower risk of stroke, lower cholesterol, and recover from heart attacks faster.
The metabolism boosting qualities that have made tea a valuable weight loss aid are also more complex than first thought. A faster metabolic rate is vital in blocking allergic response, slowing the growth of tumors, protecting your bones, improving skin health, protecting against Parkinson’s disease, and delaying the onset of diabetes.
More specific research into the effects of tea on cancer cells has generated interesting and valuable results. While green tea extract made bladder cancer cells mature more rapidly, it also bound them together and effectively prevented them from multiplying – and, therefore, spreading.
Smaller studies have also found that the antioxidants we consume when we drink tea can help prevent skin cancer; and that applying tea extracts directly to the skin (in a lotion) can block the sun damage that leads to it.
Lots of varieties, lots of benefits
Think you aren’t really a tea drinker? Don’t worry – I can guarantee that, whatever you’ve tried before, there is in fact a tea out there for you. Within the five main groups of tea – white, green, oolong, black, and pu’erh – there are many sub-varieties, tastes, and flavors. What’s more, as specialist tea shops continue to open, and more and more knowledge is disseminated online, other types of “tea” – and I use quotation marks, because they may not be true teas made with the leaves of the Camellia Sinensis plant – become available and grow in popularity.
Chai is one example of a tea that has become increasingly popular, and is now available everywhere – even in Starbucks. Chai is a true tea, and is made from a combination of black tea, steamed milk, and Indian spices like cinnamon, cardamom, fennel, cloves, black pepper, and ginger. It’s a good entry-level option because the overwhelming flavor isn’t actually the tea itself. It’s creamy, spicy, and warming – the perfect drink for a cold afternoon. What’s more, Chai tea has many of its own health benefits, as it combines the antioxidants of tea (more on that shortly) with spices that can help control blood sugar, improve heart health, reduce nausea, and promote digestion. Its low caffeine content also makes it a great option for moms-to-be who are missing their daily latte.
Unlike green teas, which can taste grassy, white tea has light and fragrant notes that really help other flavors to shine. Flavored teas are now widely available, but some of them don’t contain any tea at all. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they aren’t good for you.
Hibiscus tea is made using the petals of the roselle flower, which have a distinctive floral smell and mildly acidic flavor, and has been found to be a good source of Vitamin C and a natural way to reduce blood pressure. Likewise, chamomile tea is made from the edible flowers of the matricaria chamomilla plant, which taste light, floral, and slightly sweet. Chamomile tea has long been used to help us settle down for the night, but recent research suggests that it could also be helpful in treating anxiety and sleep problems like insomnia.
While not all the teas that are available in your local tea shop or grocery store are “true” teas, there are so many varieties it’s almost impossible to get bored! Pick up something new, or treat a friend… after all, tea tastes best when it’s made in a tea pot for two or more to share.
One important thing to remember – tea tastes better if prepared with care and the right equipment. Try to use loose leaf tea whenever possible, as it is made from the highest quality leaves and stays fresher for longer.
You can then use it in a mesh strainer – or even make your own teabags! An electric kettle is the best way to get the best out of loose leaf tea and teabags. If your love for tea transcends varieties, you might want to think about a kettle that heats water to a variety of different temperatures. It’s the ultimate tea-lovers gift!
What’s your favorite tea? Share it with us in the comments below.