Ever since 2737 B.C. when Chinese legend says leaves from an overhanging Camellia sinensis plant fell into Emperor Shen Nung’s cup of boiling water, tea has been recognized by cultures around the world for its capacity to soothe, restore and refresh. According to the Tea Association of the USA, the number of Americans who will drink tea today is about 160 million, about half of the U.S. population.
The main health-promoting substances in tea are polyphenols, in particular catechins and epicatechins. Studies say these molecules have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Harvard-led studies of large groups of people over time have found that tea or coffee drinkers are at lower risk for diabetes and possibly cardiovascular disease. It remains unclear whether the tea itself is the cause of these benefits and, if so, how it works its magic. The studies attempt to rule out the possibility that tea drinkers simply live healthier lifestyles, but it’s difficult to be sure. That said, tea itself appears to have no harmful effects except for a case of the jitters if you drink too much caffeinated brew. It fits in perfectly well with a heart-healthy lifestyle.
Here are some teas with health benefits to try:
Ginger, a light brown root with a distinctive taste, contains high levels of Vitamin C, magnesium and other minerals. Once made into tea, you can add peppermint, honey, lemon, or peppercorn to enhance the taste of the ginger. Watch this video for a hands-on demonstration of how to make ginger tea from fresh ginger.
The menthol that is naturally present in peppermint tea is a muscle relaxant, allowing for natural stress and anxiety relief. The consumption of any warm liquid, namely tea, helps to clear sinuses and soothe sore throats. Peppermint tea in particular is a known natural decongestant.
A favorite among South Africans for years, rooibos is said by some to have 50% more antioxidants than those found in green tea. Antioxidants are the organic substances believed to scavenge “free radicals,” the toxic by-product of natural biological processes that can damage cells and lead to cancer. Rooibos is also rich in vitamin C, caffeine-free, and low in tannins, the residue in teas that can sometimes cause digestive problems, according to WebMD.
Green tea has a more delicate flavor than black tea. The leaves are dried and heat-treated soon after they’re picked, which stops the fermentation process. It contains about 25 milligrams of caffeine per cup. Green tea is full of antioxidants called catechins; a subgroup known as EGCG may ward off everything from cancer to heart disease. One study found that each daily cup of green tea consumed may lower the risk of cardiovascular disease by 10 percent. In 2010, Japanese researchers reported at least one cup of green tea per day was associated with significantly decreased odds for tooth loss. Other studies have suggested tea may lower the pH of the tooth surface, suppressing the growth of periodontal bacteria. A more likely reason for tea’s anti-cariogenic effect is its fluoride content. Tea is usually brewed with fluoridated water and the tea plant naturally accumulates fluoride from the soil.
Black tea is the most common variety and accounts for about 75 percent of global tea consumption. Like many of the teas here, it’s made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, which are typically rolled and fermented, then dried and crushed. Black tea has a slightly bitter flavor and contains the most caffeine—about 40 milligrams per cup. (A cup of coffee has 50 to 100.) Flavonoids in both black and green tea prevent oxidation of LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, reduce blood clotting and improve widening of blood vessels in the heart. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ studies that looked at the relationship of black tea intake and heart health reported decreased incidence of heart attack, lower cholesterol levels and significantly lower blood pressure..
Oolong is similar to black tea, but it’s fermented for a shorter time which gives it a richer taste. It contains about 30 milligrams of caffeine per cup. Oolong activates an enzyme responsible for dissolving triglycerides, the form of dietary fat that’s stored in fat cells, thus aiding in weight loss. One study showed that women who drank oolong tea burned slightly more calories over a two-hour period than those who drank only water.
Yerba mate tea is a South American beverage made by steeping the ground leaves and stems of the yerba mate plant. Yerba mate contains caffeine, as well as a number of other nutrients including antioxidants, amino acids, polyphenols, vitamins and minerals.
Great news: Yerba Mate is available at the Dining Commons! Various types of Numi Tea, a USDA Certified Organic and certified Fair Trade brand, are also available.