2013-03-07 / Community

Just for the "Well" of it

Healthy benefits of tea


Cathy Kaltz Cathy Kaltz First of all, let’s clear up some confusion. Not all “tea” is true tea. There are many varieties of “tea” in grocery and specialty stores, but they differ in many ways you may not be aware of. All true tea comes from one plant – the camellia sinesis plant. There are four types of tea that come from this plant, white tea, green tea, oolong tea, and black (or red) tea. The difference in these four teas is in the ways the leaves and buds are processed. We’ll discuss that more later.

Other beverages commonly being sold as “tea” are known as tisanes or herbal drinks. These products contain chamomile, peppermint, lemon verbena or any number of blends of leaves, bark, roots, seeds, and/or flowers of many different plants. Some also contain spices, but none of these herbal blends contain Camellia sinesis. Tisanes generally do not contain caffeine. These products often look, smell, or taste like tea, and may be marketed as tea, but do not offer the possible health benefits of true tea.

White tea is the mildest tasting and the least processed of the four teas. The leaves of the camellia sinesis plant are harvested, cleaned and dried. White tea has a very low caffeine content. Green tea also has a low caffeine content and tastes fresh, green and somewhat “grassy”. The camellia sinesis leaves undergo a steaming process after being harvested, cleaned, and dried. There are somewhere between 12,500 and 20,000 different varieties of green tea produced in China. Next is oolong tea in which the leaves go through an oxidation process to deepen the flavor. And finally, black (or sometimes called red) tea which is allowed to oxidize for a longer period, producing a darker color and richer flavor. Black tea contains the most caffeine.

So now we know that the more the leaves are processed, the more caffeine the tea will contain and a darker, richer color will result. Again, these four teas, which all come from the same plant, are the only true teas.

Most tea consumed in America is black tea, but the use of green tea is increasing dramatically. The average cup of tea contains between 15mg and 60mg of caffeine while home brewed coffee contains about 120mg.

Tea is rich in antioxidants and polyphenols are the important antioxidants found in all four types of true tea. Green tea contains the most antioxidants, in particular one type of polyphenol known as epigallocatechin-3 (EGCG) and is being studied the most for its health benefits. A 2009 review of 51 different green tea studies found that it may lower the risk of some cancers, but not others. Green tea has been linked to lower risk of Parkinson’s disease, lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol, and research suggests that the catechins and caffeine in green tea may give dieters a small metabolic boost that could result in burning a few extra calories. If you are pregnant or nursing, please check with your doctor.

All true teas are beneficial to our health if they are replacing sugary drinks, alcohol or coffee. According to the National Institutes of Health, tea may lower your risk for heart attack and clogged arteries could help prevent colds and flu and may ease some menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and sleep issues.

However, they also state that more research needs to be done to support these claims. Of course, the research that has been done so far has been observational and scientists aren’t sure if the benefits are the direct result of consuming tea or related to some other factors.

What it boils down to is a cup or three of tea a day won’t hurt and could possibly help fight many diseases. It doesn’t matter whether it is hot or cold, regular or decaf, plain or sweetened … just enjoy!

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You can reach Cathy Kaltz, Certified Worksite Wellness Specialist, at (906) 286-0985.

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