The Health Benefits of Tea

Something’s brewing. Every year, more and more research is being done on the health benefits of tea. While very little is known for sure, a growing body of evidence suggests that this age-old beverage is incredibly good for you.

“The number of studies behind tea has risen from three to four a year in 1990 to 300 a year,” says Joe Simrany, former president of the Tea Council of the USA. “Scientists are intrigued by what they are finding, and one study feeds another.”

What makes tea so compelling is that it is loaded with flavonoids, disease-fighting antioxidants. Scientists are trying to determine what role flavonoid-rich tea plays in protecting against heart disease, certain cancers and osteoporosis, as well as other conditions.

the 4 tea types

Steeped in History

Americans may tend to drink coffee, but around the world tea is the most popular beverage, second only to water. Tea originally came from China. Legend has it that a Chinese emperor accidentally discovered it some 5,000 years ago when leaves from a tea bush fell into his cup of water.

Today, tea is grown globally in thousands of tea estates or plantations, and there are thousands of variations, each with its own distinctive flavor.

There are four kinds of “true” tea:

  • White
  • Green
  • Oolong
  • Black

These four teas all come from the camellia sinensis plant, a warm-weather evergreen. What distinguishes them is how the fresh leaves are processed.

Herbal teas and other teas such as the popular South African bush tea Rooibos come from other plants, and while they may be beneficial in their way, they don’t deliver the same antioxidants that true tea does.

Reading the Tea Leaves

There is very little in nutrition and health that scientists can say definitively, and tea’s benefits are no exception, says Dr. Jeffrey Blumberg, a professor of nutrition at Tufts University in Boston and a well-known tea researcher.

“The evidence is strongest for reducing the risk of heart disease,” he tells. “There is a benefit.” The antioxidants in tea help your blood vessels function better, even in patients with heart disease.

Blumberg says the evidence is mixed but still provocative for cancer. For all other conditions, such as osteoporosis and weight management, it’s speculative.

While scientists continue to read the tea leaves, the professor encourages people to drink tea.

“This is a zero-calorie, natural beverage, and it has all these possible health benefits,” says Blumberg. “I think that as people try to make healthy changes to their diets, here’s another one that you can add to your repertoire and feel quite good about.”

How much tea should you drink?

Two cups of tea have as many flavonoids as a serving of many different fruits and vegetables. Decaf drinkers take note: The decaffeination process removes 10 to 15 percent of the flavonoids.

“One cup a day is good, two is better, and when you see the uppermost intake of four or more, you do hit a maximum,” says Blumberg. “If you are not a tea drinker, give tea a chance. Try a cup once and a while. There are lots of different kinds to taste. It’s a healthy beverage.”

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