Green tea is regarded as one of the healthiest beverages in the entire universe! It is sky high in antioxidants, which have a variety of health benefits, including enhanced mental performance, weight loss, protection from cancer, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and many more health advantages. Read on!
Do you like drinking tea? In caffeine we spoke about coffee, energy drinks and how caffeine generally can affect your health. In this article I’d like to explore tea, especially green tea and give you some options on how to reduce and your caffeine intake as well as detoxify from caffeine.
About half of all the population drink coffee, and by the end of the year you will have consumed over 5 kilos of the stuff. At over 400 billion cups consumed annually, coffee is the most popular drink in the world according to the Top 100 Espresso Coffee Statistics Report. But why has a drink which places an enormous metabolic burden on your body and offers no nutritional value at all – no vitamins, no minerals, no enzymes – become so widely used throughout the world?
I do, and have enjoyed black tea for many years. Do you have a camellia shrub at home with those nice pink flowers? Well then you have a relation to Camelia sinensis, the shrub which produces that hot cup of tea you like to have in the morning with your toast. Tea is produced from the dried plant called the Camelia sinensis. Tea comes generally from India or China, and I prefer the Indian teas, especially the Darjeeling, considered the finest of Indian teas. Assam is nice too, but has a richer and malty flavour. Nilgiri is the third tea from India and is more refined with a delicate flavour and often used in blends. Green tea originally comes from China with many cultures enjoying it including the Japanese and those in the Middle East. Tea is a bit like a single malt whiskey, there are so many different types, colours and flavours which come from many different parts of Asia and if you just drink the regular “gumboot” black supermarket variety then you are really missing out.
About 78% of the worlds tea production involves black tea, and about 20% involves green tea production but this is changing fast as more people start to learn about the healthy benefits of green tea . Black Tea is made by allowing a chemical process called enzymatic oxidation of the fresh tea leaf to occur. This process is responsible for the characteristic strong rich flavour and the black colour of tea. You will probably have been told that the leaves are “fermented” for black tea and not for green tea which accounts for the black colour of conventional tea. This is in fact incorrect, the black colour of tea leaf is due to auto-oxidation, not a fermentation process. (in other words the enzymes that are present in tea leaf that cause auto-oxidation, and these processes are inactivated with green tea, stopping the leaf from going black.
And it is this enzymatic oxidation process which accounts for the health benefits which a cup of black tea confers, but the therapeutic activity of black tea is approximately one sixth of the potency of that of green tea. The enzymatic oxidation that reduces the polyphenol content of black tea is not permitted to occur in green tea, we will talk a lot more about polyphenols soon. Auto-oxidation normally occurs in the freshly-harvested leaves of tea, and in black tea, this natural process is allowed to occur without intervention. In green tea, this process is however deliberately halted by the application of lightly steaming the leaves which inactivates the enzymes in tea leaf that lead to this auto-oxidation. It is this lack of auto-oxidation which accounts for the high tea polyphenol (antioxidant) content of green tea. So now you know why green tea is healthier for you than black tea.
Many people have told me that they “don’t like the taste” of green tea, or that it is too weak or rather “insipid” for them to enjoy. A bit like avocado, green tea is an acquired taste, but this acquisition only comes from giving it a try on many occasions. I can remember when I first started eating avocados and thought that they have little flavour and were rather bland, but nothing could be further than the truth.
The mighty green avocado, like green tea, has its own particular flavour you really begin to appreciate after awhile. I have learned to love green tea and its subtle flavour. If you begin to learn how beneficial green tea is for your health, particularly the exciting research which has come out the past several years, you will love it not just for the health promoting benefits but for its true subtlety. Why drink water when you can drink green tea only a lot healthier? You can enjoy green tea hot or cold, try it in summer with a little added lemon juice served cold, it is most refreshing.
I recommend two cups a day of green tea, and one of the black. That way you can enjoy the strong body of a “good cuppa” of your conventional black tea with a higher caffeine content and also get the higher polyphenol content of the green tea along with the health benefits. I find the best time for the strong (black) cup is before lunchtime, and to have the green tea in the afternoon and in the evening. If you find yourself liking three to five cups of “normal” tea daily then try this trick: for each cup of normal tea, make the next cup one of green tea. You will slash your caffeine intake and within two weeks will have reduced your daily caffeine intake significantly. I guarantee that you will NOT miss all those endless cups of tea during the day and actually get to like the taste of green tea. Make sure you buy a good reputable brand of green tea, and do try many different green teas as their flavours can vary widely like conventional teas do.
I have mentioned the word polyphenols, but what are they? Polyphenols are a group of chemical compounds known as flavonoids, lignans and tannins and are probably the most important healthy ingredients in your cup of green or black tea. Tea polyphenols are also known as catechins, and there are several different catechins with the most important one called epigallo-catechin-gallate,(EGCG). A cup of good quality green tea supplies about 20-35 mcg of EGCG. Much of the research done on the health benefits of green tea has been measured at three cups per day, so that’s a good number to keep in mind. Make sure not to counter the benefits derived from your green tea by adding sugar, milk, or other “embellishments.” Drink your green tea straight and a good tip is NOT to use boiling water, but to leave it cool for just 5 minutes after boiling, the green tea will taste better. Green tea can get bitter if the water is too hot.
Remember, green tea is six times better for you than black tea, and the benefits of drinking black tea with milk are nowhere near as good as drinking straight black tea. Why is this? Because the tannins (that dark stuff that makes your cup hard to clean if you drink black tea) and the other polyphenols bind to the milk, making them a lot harder to digest and absorb into your body.
To give you an example of the health benefits, EGCG is a powerful antioxidant which is quite effective at destroying free radicals which cause strange cell changes (mutations) that can lead to cancer. EGCG has also shown remarkable health-promoting properties in laboratory studies. Included are anti-viral actions, and it is believed that the chemicals in tea stimulate white blood cells (T-cells) that boost your body’s own natural immunity against both bacteria and viruses. Tooth decay or gingivitis causing bacteria are also wiped out by EGCG. Maybe you should drink a cup or two a day of the green stuff?
It is of such high quality it can contain over 100 times the EGCG found in regular brewed green tea. It is of much higher quality than most other green teas, and you can be assured you’re not consuming fluoride or other toxic substances found in lesser quality teas. Drinking two to three cups of tea each day can provide many health benefits, but be careful with some of the claims made about green tea. Green tea has also been claimed as useful for “weight loss management” — a claim with absolutely no scientific support according to one of the world’s most respected medical databases, PubMed, even though some British research begs to differ. If it sounds too good to be true it usually is.
Although green tea itself does contain caffeine, the length of infusion with hot water can greatly alter caffeine intake. Using a given amount of green tea leaves steeped in 100 mL of water, experiments have shown that after the first 5 minutes of brewing, the tea contains about 30 mg of caffeine. But if the same leaves are then used for a second and then a third five minute brew, the caffeine drops to 12 mg and then 4 mg, respectively. Japanese can drink over one liter of green tea daily, but they use the green tea leaves a few times before throwing them out and therefore derive plenty of health benefits without all the extra caffeine intake. While coffee and tea are both sources of caffeine, the amounts of caffeine in any single serving of these beverages varies significantly. An average serving of coffee contains the most caffeine, the same serving size of tea provides 1/2 to 1/3 as much. The caffeine content of a prepared cup of coffee is significantly higher than the caffeine content of a prepared cup of tea.
Green teas contain two caffeine-like substances which are also found in chocolate: theophylline (which is actually a stronger stimulant than caffeine) and theobromine, which is slightly weaker than caffeine. Did you know that theophylline used to be used as a drug years ago for asthma because it relaxes the smooth muscles of the bronchial tubes? But they stopped using it, it created to many side effects like high blood pressure. And it also was used as a diuretic back as far as 1902. Same old story, you take one chemical in isolation which occurs naturally and bingo – side effects.
Have you noticed how tea can make you want to pee, especially black tea? I have found that black tea drinkers seem to have more of an issue going to the toilet to pass urine regularly than those who drink tea with milk. I like to caution patients who have hypothyroidism, as research has shown that their clearance of theophylline is decreased and they may find that if they consume too much tea (or chocolate) their blood pressure could suffer, and so could their fluid retention. Theobromine is quite similar to theophylline, it acts like a diuretic, a vasodilator (blood vessel widener) and a heart stimulant. As you can see – tea can make you want to urinate and it may even effect your blood pressure due the effects of theophylline, which if you recall is actually a little stronger than caffeine.
Test tube and animal studies as well as preliminary observational and clinical studies of humans suggest that green tea can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer as well as beneficially impact bone density, cognitive (brain) function, reduce dental cavities and kidney stones as well. However, the human studies are sometimes mixed and inconsistent. Black and green tea also contains carotenoids, tocopherols, vitamin C, minerals such as chromium, manganese, selenium or zinc, and certain other phytochemical compounds. Green tea consumption is associated with reduced heart disease in studies.
In 2006, researchers at Yale University School of Medicine looked at more than 100 studies on the health benefits of green tea. They pointed to what they called an “Asian paradox,” which refers to lower rates of heart disease and cancer in Asia despite high rates of cigarette smoking. They theorised that the 1.2 liters of green tea consumed by many Asians each day provides high levels of polyphenols and other antioxidants. These compounds may work in several ways to improve cardiovascular health, including preventing blood platelets from sticking together and improving cholesterol levels. This anticoagulant effect is the reason that many doctors are now warning patients who are going into surgery to avoid green tea prior to procedures that rely on a patient’s clotting ability said researchers, whose study appeared in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons. Green tea may even prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol (the “bad” type), which, in turn, can reduce the buildup of plaque in arteries, researchers say. In a recent case-control study of the eating habits of 2,018 women, consumption of a combination of mushrooms and green tea was linked to a 90% lower occurrence of breast cancer.
Some health experts feel that if you are to drink a cup of coffee a day, you should do it in the mid to late afternoon. For the English, this is teatime. This best fits your body’s natural cycle, as it does not interfere with the usually “up,” high-adrenal morning hours. Your adrenal gland produces cortisol from waking until about 9.00 am and this is your natural time to be “up”, trying to boost or artificially increase this up can bring you down in the afternoon. A cup of coffee or tea in the afternoon mildly supports your time of the day while you still have work to do, yet it is not too late interfere with sleep for most people. As mentioned earlier, those who are sensitive to caffeine’s effects may not relax or sleep well after using it; they should consider avoiding it totally or using it only rarely.
The pleasures of coffee or tea drinking are related to your culture, taste preferences, and conditioning. All of these are developed, not inherent, and any habit you learn you can also unlearn or re-learn. This is often what it takes to change your regular drinking of beverages laden with caffeine to more healthy practices regarding beverages and “energy generation”. Do enjoy your cup, but as usual – moderation is key and try to experiment!