Regarded for thousands of years in the East as a key to good health, happiness, and wisdom, tea has caught the attention of researchers in the West, who are discovering the many health benefits of different types of teas. From green tea to hibiscus, from white tea to chamomile, teas are chock full of flavonoids and other healthy goodies.
Studies found that some teas may help with cancer, heart disease, and diabetes; encourage weight loss; lower cholesterol; and bring about mental alertness. Tea also appears to have antimicrobial qualities.
“There doesn’t seem to be a downside to tea,” says Katherine Tallmadge, MA, RD, LD. “I think it’s a great alternative to coffee drinking. First, tea has less caffeine. It’s pretty well established that the compounds in tea – their flavonoids – are good for the heart and may reduce cancer.”
Although a lot of questions remain about how long tea needs to be steeped for the most benefit, and how much you need to drink, nutritionists prefer brewed teas over bottled to avoid the extra calories and sweeteners.
Types of Tea
Green, Black, and White Tea
Tea is a name given to a lot of brews, but purists consider only green tea, black tea, white tea, oolong tea, and pu-erh tea the real thing. They are all derived from the Camellia sinensis plant, a shrub native to China and India, and contain unique antioxidants called flavonoids. The most potent of these, known as ECGC, may help against free radicals that can contribute to cancer, heart disease, and clogged arteries.
All of these teas also have caffeine and theanine, which affect the brain and seem to heighten mental alertness.
The more processed the tea leaves, usually the less polyphenol content. Polyphenols include flavonoids. Oolong and black teas are oxidized or fermented, so they have lower concentrations of polyphenols than green tea, but their antioxidizing power is still high.
These are made from herbs, fruits, seeds, or roots steeped in hot water, and have lower concentrations of antioxidants than green, white, black, and oolong teas. Their chemical compositions vary widely depending on the plant used.
Varieties include ginger, ginkgo biloba, ginseng, hibiscus, jasmine, rosehip, mint, rooibos (red tea), chamomile, and echinacea.
Limited research has been done on the health benefits of herbal teas, but antioxidants in chamomile tea may help prevent complications from diabetes, like loss of vision and nerve and kidney damage, and stunt the growth of cancer cells.
Instant tea may contain very little amounts of actual tea and plenty of sugars or artificial sweeteners. For health’s sake, check out the ingredients on the label.
My Favorite Tea
I enjoy “sweet tea” but prefer not to add sweeteners to my beverage. I found a brand of tea called Good Earth that makes a caffeine-free tea called Sweet & Spicy. It’s an herbal tea with natural sweet flavors and spice. Sometimes it is hard to find the Good Earth brand at grocery stores, but it’s also available online. Products similar to the Good Earth brand that can be found in local grocery stores include Meijer brand “cinnamon spice” and Kroger Private Selection brand “cinnamon hibiscus” herbal teas. In the colder months, I enjoy drinking my tea hot and in the warmer months the same tea can be made into an iced tea beverage.
– Bethany Kramer, M.A., R.D., is a registered dietitian with the Weight Control Center at Beaumont Health Center.