Who doesn’t enjoy an aromatic cup of hot tea? If you’re enthusiastic about tea, you’re in good company! Tea is the most popular beverage worldwide. Two-thirds of the world’s population consumes it regularly. Tea has been cultivated and enjoyed in Asia for thousands of years, and its popularity is spreading across the world as more individuals discover its diversity of nutritional and antioxidant benefits.
Where does this healthful beverage come from? Tea originates from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, a shrub that grows in East Asia. Although all tea comes from the Camellia sinensis plant, some have a slightly bitter, astringent taste, while others have a slightly sweet, grassy, or floral flavor.
Black tea is the type of tea most people consume in Western countries, while green tea and white tea are gaining popularity. Although less well-known, white tea has a delicate taste that appeals if you prefer lighter tea with a naturally sweet flavor.
Tea Is a Focus Beverage
Due to its caffeine content, drinking tea can help you focus and give you an extra jolt of motivation. However, high-quality green tea contains an amino acid called theanine that has a calming effect, so you’re less likely to get the jitters as you would from drinking coffee. Research shows theanine soothes the brain while boosting alertness. No wonder monks drank tea to stay alert but relaxed during long meditation sessions!
Caffeine makes up about 3% of tea’s dry weight, which is between 30 and 90 milligrams per 8 1⁄2 US fl. oz. cup depending on the type, brand, and brewing method. Black tea contains between 40 and 50 milligrams of caffeine per serving, compared to 100 milligrams for freshly brewed coffee.
Green tea contains around 30 milligrams of caffeine, and white tea typically has even less. Tea also contains modest quantities of theobromine and theophylline, a stimulant that’s also in coffee and chocolate. Black tea contains more theobromine than green or white tea.
The Nutritional Content of Tea
Tea is not a significant source of essential nutrients. However, it contains small quantities of manganese, vitamin C, and trace levels of other minerals. Tea can also contain significant amounts of fluoride, a mineral that helps protect against tooth decay, as the tea plant readily absorbs fluoride from the soil.
Some forms of tea, especially tea made from old stems and leaves, have high enough quantities of fluoride to pose a health risk if you drink it in excess. But there’s negligible risk of fluoride toxicity if you drink less than 6 cups per day.
The Antioxidant Benefits of Drinking Tea
Scientists believe most potential health benefits of tea come from the antioxidant polyphenols it contains. Polyphenols help reduce oxidative stress and have anti-inflammatory activity. Some health benefits of tea supported by preliminary research include protection against cardiovascular disease, arthritis, type 2 diabetes, and some forms of cancer. Research into the health benefits is ongoing.
Researchers believe the antioxidant effects of the polyphenols in tea may account for these health benefits. The polyphenols also explain the astringency of tea. Around 30% of a tea leaf is made up of polyphenols. One that scientists have studied most closely is epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), the focus of numerous studies. The quantity of EGCG and other antioxidants in tea depends on how the tea is grown and processed.
Antioxidant Content of Tea Varies by Type
The antioxidant content of tea varies by type of tea. Black tea is wilted and fully oxidized. The oxidation process converts some of its polyphenols to theaflavins, reducing its antioxidant activity. However, studies also suggest that flavins may have health benefits. Plus, black tea contains another antioxidant class called thearubigins.
What about less oxidized forms of tea? Oolong tea is wilted, bruised, and partially oxidized. Since it’s oxidized less than black tea, it contains more antioxidant activity than black tea.
Green tea is unwilted and not oxidized. Insufficient oxidation means it has higher levels of antioxidants than black and oolong tea.
White tea is also unwilted and unoxidized and has at least as much antioxidant power as green tea, but potentially more. Studies also show that white tea has anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties.
Tapping into the Health Benefits of Tea
Since green and white tea has higher levels of polyphenol antioxidants, these less oxidized forms of tea may have more health benefits. However, studies show that theaflavins and thearubigins in black tea help lower blood cholesterol and reduce blood glucose. Plus, studies link drinking black tea with a lower risk of Parkinson’s disease, even when researchers controlled for other factors that affect risk. It’s intriguing, but an area that needs more research.
Getting More Benefits from Your Next Glass of Tea
Would you like to get more health benefits from your next glass of tea? Add a squirt of lemon. Studies show the acidity of lemon increases the ability of your body to use the polyphenols in tea by five-fold.
Drink tea regularly too. Studies show the health benefits come from drinking 2 to 4 cups of tea per day, but don’t overdo it. The caffeine content adds up, especially if you also drink coffee.
Brew your own green tea at home. Research shows bottled tea you put at the grocery store contains few or no polyphenol antioxidants and is often high in sugar. It’s not hard to make your own tea at home from loose-leaf green tea or tea bags, and you’ll end up with a cup of hot tea rich in polyphenol antioxidants that tastes delicious too.
Regardless of which type of tea you choose, it’s healthier than sipping a soft drink or other sugar-sweetened beverages. Enjoy!
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