Ask the Dietitian: Tea & Health Benefits

Jessica Jones-Hughes
March 21, 2011
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Tea 101
The first recorded cup of tea was sipped in China more than 4,000 years ago. Since that time tea consumption has become a worldwide trend, for its taste and health properties. In fact, next to water it is the most consumed beverage in the world! Tea leaves come from the Camellia sinensis plant, grown at high altitudes, mostly in China, Japan, India and Africa.

Black, oolong and green tea are the three traditional types made from the tea leaves. Peppermint, chamomile and rooibos are actually herbs.

Soil, climate and elevation contribute to the quality, flavor and nutrient properties of tea. Tea leaves are also very susceptible to environmental pollutants. This means that buying tea grown using good growing practices, such as organic certification is important. Proper brewing and storage of tea is also necessary to get the most health benefits and best taste.

Health benefits
There are over 700 nutrients in tea that contribute to its health properties. What are these health effects? We could give an entire class looking at the numerous benefits of tea. Instead, I broke down some of the most studied and important potential impacts for you here:
 

  • Alert mind. The average cup of tea has 40mg of caffeine, which causes you to be more alert.
     
  • Diuretic. Theophylline, a nutrient in tea that works with caffeine, acts as a diuretic in tea (this is why you usually need to use the bathroom more when you drink tea vs. water). Caffeine acts as a diuretic only when you consume over 300mg.
     
  • Relaxation. Theophylline also causes your lung muscles and blood vessels to relax, which can increase the ease of breathing and blood flow.
     
  • Easier digestion. Essential oils in tea help with digestion. Green tea packs more essential oils. Extended brewing time can cause essential oils to evaporate.
     
  • Cancer prevention. Although there is still some debate around this claim, many studies show decreased risk of cancer with tea consumption.
     
  • Healthier heart. Black and green tea have both shown the ability to decrease the risk of developing various heart conditions.
     
  • Improved blood sugar regulation. This benefit is under heavy debate, but a few studies indicate that individuals who drink tea may have better blood sugar control.
     
  • Other possible, but less studied benefits: fewer cavities due to decreased mouth bacteria, increased "good" intestinal bacteria, protection against Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.

While there still needs to be more research done, there is enough evidence to say that drinking tea has a major positive impact on your health. Grab a box of Equal Exchange tea, brew it as directed and happily drink up (iced or hot)!

*Learn more here.