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The Health Benefits of Real Tea


I usually talk and write about the benefits of herbal tisanes (aka herbal teas), but today I’d like to highlight some of the health benefits of drinking actual tea… (this will by no means be an exhaustive article).


I do enjoy the many therapeutic benefits and flavours of herbal tisanes, but most of the time I'm just a regular tea girl.


Black, green, white and oolong tea all come from the same plant – Camelia sinensis.  Today, I’m just going to focus on the first three, and particularly green and black.


The difference between white, green and black mostly comes down to the amount of oxidation of the leaves during processing.  In this processing, enzymes are used to trigger the natural oxidation process which dramatically impacts the chemical composition, caffeine level, flavour and colour of the leaves.  Oxidising the leaves also affects the antioxidants in the leaves – the amount and types of antioxidants (as these are used up in the oxidation process).


White tea (the least common of these 3) is the least processed and therefore contains the highest amount of antioxidants (it isn’t actually white – just lighter than black tea).  Green tea is slightly more oxidised than white tea but not so much as black.  Black tea (the most popular of the 3) is fully oxidised which creates its dark colour.


So what are the health benefits?  Well firstly as mentioned, tea is a great source of antioxidants (with white and green being the best), protecting against cellular damage and reducing inflammation.  They have all been found to lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.


Green tea is an excellent source of epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), a potent antioxidant which has protective benefits against cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and fatty liver disease.


One thing I really wanted to talk about today is l-theanine.  L-theanine is a non-protein amino acid found in tea with beautiful health benefits.  It is calming - reducing stress and anxiety, promotes the release of mood enhancing hormones and improves sleep, focus, attention, memory and learning.


L-theanine works synergistically with caffeine, so it basically balances the effects of the caffeine – enahancing alertness and cognition, while also enhancing calmness. White and green tea contain higher amounts of l-theanine than black tea. 


But, what are the down sides to consider?  Well, tea is obviously still a source of caffeine, so you don’t want to overdo consumption if you're someone who is especially sensitive to caffeine (bearing in mind as discussed that the l-theanine has a balancing effect on caffeine - with white and green being highest in l-theanine and lowest in caffeine). 


Tea (along with coffee, wine and chocolate) is also high in tannins (generally higher in black tea than green) which can interfere with the absorption of minerals such as iron, zinc and calcium.  So it may be best to avoid drinking tea with your meals, particularly if your iron levels are low or you have osteoporosis.


Overall green tea is slightly healthier than black although they each contain health benefits.

In summary:

White – highest antioxidants, lowest caffeine, higher l-theanine.

Green – slightly lower antioxidants including EGCG, slightly higher caffeine, higher l-theanine, lower tannins.

Black – lowest antioxidants, highest caffeine, highest tannins.

 

To get the most enjoyment and benefit out or your tea, boil the water and then take it off the heat and let it sit for 1-2 minutes before pouring. Then brew for 3-5 minutes. This will give you the best l-theanine extraction and keeps it from being bitter (especially green tea). 


And don’t discard your green tea leaves after the first brew – with multiple infusions you will maximise the l-theanine extraction, but will also bring out different flavours with each steep.


Vitamin C may also enhance the absorption of l-theanine, so adding a squeeze of citrus to your tea can have an added benefit.  


Enjoy!

 

 

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