Good News for Tea Lovers
Tea is the world’s most popular prepared beverage. Chinese Emperor Shen Nung discovered it in 2737 BC when a leaf accidentally fell into his bowl of hot water. Canadians joined the craze in 1716 when the first shipment of tea was imported here by the Hudson’s Bay Company.
Tea is a pleasant, soothing, inexpensive drink. Two decades of research support its antioxidant protection against several cancers, heart disease and stroke. Tea is a rich source of flavonoids, an antioxidant that helps rid the body of disease-causing free radicals. Tea also contains fluoride, an important mineral that helps build bone and prevent tooth decay. Green tea has twice as much fluoride per cup as black tea.
Black vs. green tea
While all teas have health benefits, they are not created equal. All teas are brewed from the leaves of the plant camellia sinensis and are processed in different ways to produce three different types. Fresh tea leaves that are steamed, rolled and dried, produce a delicate tasting green tea. Fresh leaves that are partly fermented produce a fragrant oolong tea. Fresh leaves that are fully fermented produce a deep, rich-flavoured black tea. It is the fermentation process that distinguishes black teas from green.
Contrary to what many believe, both green and black teas contain similar amounts of caffeine. Caffeine content of green and black tea increases the longer it is brewed. Health Canada recommends a moderate daily intake of 400 mg caffeine, which works out to 5-10 cups of tea a day. Herbal teas are not included within this recommendation as they are not really teas at all. Herbal “infusions” do not come from the camellia sinensis plant, but are brewed from a single ingredient or blend of flowers, herbs, spices, fruits and berries. Herbal infusions are all caffeine free.
It is not currently known whether decaffeinated tea is as healthful as regular tea. Decaf tea may contain less protective flavonoids than regular, but may still offer other anti-cancer benefits. It’s hard to offer recommendations around decaf tea at this time, since most studies have looked at people who drink a lot of regular tea, not decaf.
While tea is a safe beverage for most, strict vegetarians and those with low blood iron need to consume it with caution. When taken with meals containing only plant-based foods, tea can reduce iron absorption in the gut. To prevent iron loss from food, the trick is to add lemon or milk to tea during meals. Another option is to enjoy tea in between meals.
So whether you prefer your tea green, black, hot, iced, sweet or milky, it may just do you some good. While no magic bullet exists for preventing disease, moderate tea consumption combined with smart nutrition, daily exercise and plenty of humour, can certainly enhance quality living. Enjoy.