A tea timeout is my favorite way to de-stress a day. It feels so civilized to relax with a warm cup of jasmine-scented green tea or perhaps the traditional English treat, black tea with milk – “white,” as they say. Still, with all the myths we hear about nutrition, I’ve always wondered, is tea as healthful as many people believe?
Although tea has been enjoyed around the world for some 5,000 years, it wasn’t until relatively recently that scientists started searching for the facts.
And recent studies have been promising. What did they find? Just about every cell in the body could potentially benefit from tea – with virtually no downsides.
All true tea (white, green, oolong and black, as opposed to herbal varieties) comes from one plant: Camellia sinensis. The differences are in how they are processed, with white and green being the least processed, oolong in the middle and black the most processed. The processing changes the nutritional profile and some of the health effects. But no matter the process, all tea leaves are dense with flavonoids, health-promoting chemicals found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and most plants.
“A serving of tea is like adding a serving of fruits or vegetables to your diet.” said Jeffrey Blumberg, professor of nutrition science and policy at Tufts University and chairman of the tea symposium.
But can tea produce more health benefits than fruits or vegetables? Flavonoid research results are exciting but mixed, and there is still a lot to learn.
There are “small but possibly significant health effects, but study quality needs to improve…. The variety, geography, processing and brewing of tea must be considered since it will dramatically change flavonoid content and possibly associated health benefits,” Dwyer said. “Tea is not a drug, and to expect a drug-like effect is unrealistic.”
So, while not a miracle cure-all, there is some exciting news about tea:
• It helps your heart by keeping blood vessels unclogged and flexible. Blood pressure and stroke risk were reduced in epidemiological and clinical studies (even with sugar added).
Healthier blood vessels create better blood flow, which means all of your organs, including the brain, are receiving more blood, oxygen and nutrients, enhancing your body’s ability to fight disease. So, healthier blood vessel linings might be one reason why tea consumption seems associated with so many benefits.
• It improves bone health. After drinking four to six cups of green tea daily for six months, post-menopausal women with low bone mass (osteopenia) achieved improvement in certain short-term measures of bone health in a National Institutes of Health-funded study at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center.
• It can help your thinking. When your brain receives better blood flow and oxygen, and inflammation and oxidative stress are reduced, there is improved cognitive function, according to studies. • It can help you lose weight. Not only does tea have fewer calories than most beverages (zero without milk and sugar), but certain compounds in tea, and especially green tea, have been found to burn body fat. • It can help you de-stress. An amino acid called L-theanine, in combination with caffeine, might reduce stress.
A wealth of evidence seems to show that the British had the right idea. Perhaps it’s time we all had a tea habit.
Tallmadge is a registered dietitian and author of “Diet Simple: 195 Mental Tricks, Substitutions, Habits & Inspirations.”