Tea is among the most consumed beverages across the globe. People enjoy drinking tea as a way to quench their thirst, but little do they think about its constituents or healthy polyphenols, for example catechins or antioxidants. There is a belief that it is better for one to drink tea rather than water because water replaces fluid only, but with tea, the fluid is replaced and at the same time it contains antioxidants, thus offering two benefits in one drink. Let’s explore this…
Tea is very rich in antioxidants, which are very important in our bodies and in our health. Antioxidants play an important role in our health as they are generally known to reduce the chances of heart disease, stroke, and certain types of cancer.
Where are Antioxidants Found?
Antioxidants can also be found in vegetables and fruits, which is part of why nutritionists advise people to eat all colors of the rainbow: to provide a an array of antioxidant sources. The amount of antioxidants varies significantly in different foods and beverages. For example, the amount of antioxidants available in two cups of black tea is equivalent to a glass of red wine or seven glasses of orange juice or 20 glasses of apple juice.
Teas containing Antioxidants
There are various types of tea ranging from the well-known black and green to less common white and puerh tea. All these types are rich in antioxidants though the difference comes in on the amount and type each tea contains. On average, white tea contains three times times the amount that green tea contains. The reason behind this significant difference is that the white tea is dried in the natural sunlight, and is less processed and less oxidized, thus enabling the antioxidants to be preserved.
Antioxidants and Cancer Prevention
The claimed benefits of antioxidants have led many people to opt for tea over other beverages. One such benefit is the ability of antioxidants in tea to prevent cancer. While tea is indeed high in antioxidants, both clinical research and epidemiological studies have shown inconclusive results for drinking tea as a means to prevent cancer in humans.
Antioxidants and Free Radical Damage
Another benefit derived from the antioxidants is that they are responsible in protecting and healing cells. The cells are protected from the free radicals that are produced when normal bodily processes occur and interact with oxygen. Oxygen is necessary in breathing but at the same time, it is not good to the body as it causes oxidation making the body prone to the degenerative diseases that are associated with aging, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. Thus in reducing oxidative damage through the effect of antioxidants, tea can possibly slow the aging process.
In the same pathway, drinking three or more cups of tea per day has been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Tea and Weight Loss
Tea in general, but specifically green tea has been associated with enhanced weight loss. This is due to the presence of catechins–a specific group of polyphenols–found in tea. These catechins may work by increasing metabolism (caffeine), causing fat cell death (EGCG), or hastening breakdown and elimination of sugar and fat molecules (Kaempferol, EC, Chlorogenic acid). Kaempferol and chlorogenic acid are another type of polyphenol, called flavonols, especially found in pu-erh tea.
Evaluating Criticisms of Tea
Although many people believe that tea has health benefits only, other argue there are risks or dangers that result from too much consumption of tea.
One of the concerns with drinking too much tea is that it can cause dehydration. This is because it contains caffeine, a diuretic, know to be responsible for dehydration. However, the science doesn’t support this argument. Since a cup of tea contains less than 250 mg of caffeine, normal levels of hydration are maintained.
Inhibiting Iron Absorption
Another negative effect of drinking tea is due the flavonol found in black tea known as theaflavins. Theaflavins bind to the nonheme iron and prevent its absorption. The consumption of black tea, cocoa, chamomile tea and peppermint tea are all known to inhibit the absorption of iron into the body. While for men this may actually optimize their iron levels, for menstruating women, drinking black tea before or after meals, but not with, would be preferable to prevent too much loss of iron.
The Milk Problem
Many people love to have their tea with milk. Most of them do not take into consideration whether milk has any impact on the benefits of their tea. Based on research that’s been done, adding milk to tea has a negative impact on the effects of antioxidants. Milk proteins bind with certain antioxidants, therefore preventing the absorption of the antioxidants into the bloodstream.
Tea contains ten times the amount of antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables.
Tea or Fruit?
Drinking tea stands at a better position than eating fruit for antioxidant consumption and weight loss. This is because fruit contains a lot of sugars and with too much sugar intake, blood sugar will also be high. While mixing juice into tea for added flavor may be a popular option, the sugar in the fruit juice will add calories and raise blood sugar where a simple cup of tea won’t. Likewise, a person intent on losing weight should choose unsweetened tea, as it contains no calories. Similarly, honey is sometimes used in sweetening the tea, but note that it still contains a lot of simple sugars.
Another good source of the antioxidants is the herbal beverage, ‘rooibos,’ sometimes referred to as ‘red tea’. It is found in two varieties; red and green rooibos teas. It originates from the legume family and it is commonly referred to as ‘tea’. Rooibos, unlike tea, contains no caffeine at all but it has antioxidants that are considered to be helpful to women to protect and develop the womb. It is also known to treat the skin during the pregnancy. This is especially popular with Japanese women. In contrast with the tea, rooibos has low content of tannins, meaning less of a harsh and pungent taste sometimes associated with tea. This is considered to be a good alternative for people who have problems digesting beverages that are rich in tannins.
Though tea is rich in antioxidants, this does not mean that one has to use of a lot of loose tea leaves. The amount that is needed should be able to coat the bottom of the strainer and if making use of the tea bags, follow the instructions provided on the package.
Enjoy your tea, and keep in mind the health benefits that you can derive from its consumption.