The Benefits of Tea

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The benefits of including tea in your diet appear to be endless. To take advantage of these benefits you must choose the right tea and brew it properly. This is not easy for the untrained shopper ? there are so many varieties on the market, which one do you choose?

Follow our guidelines below.

1. Choose tea from the camellia sinensis plant. This special type of evergreen is the provider of three types of tea: black, green and oolong. It can be confusing to choose tea from this plant ? choices include: English Breakfast, Vanilla, Raspberry and many proprietary teas including Sleepy Time and Sweet Dreams. Basically, you need to look at the ingredient list to be sure that black tea, oolong tea or green tea are first on the list. There are a variety of herbal infusions available in the grocery store. While these are healthful choices, they do not contain the flavonoids or phytochemicals found in real tea from the camellia sinensis plant.

2. Choose green tea more often. The variation among the three main types of tea that are available lies within the processing of those teas. Black tea leaves are air-dried, crushed and then dried under high temperatures to give the leaves their characteristic color. This process alters the chemical structure of the catechins (chemicals with health-protective properties that may protect against cancer cells). Oolong tea undergoes a much briefer oxidation period, resulting in a peachy color and a more subtle flavor. Green tea is closest to its natural form. Its leaves are steamed for a very short time to prevent oxidation. This simple process allows the healthful polyphenols, including EGCG, to remain as active compounds in the beverage.

3. Steep your tea for an adequate amount of time. The amount of time the tea is steeped, or soaked in hot water, also has a significant effect on the total flavonoid content of each beverage. Tea steeped for 1 minute contains 208 mg of active flavonoids, while tea steeped for 4 minutes may yield 301 mg. As the flavonoid content increases, so does the caffeine from less than 20 mg in 1 minute to 100 mg in 4 minutes. If decaffeinated tea is your preference, remember that the decaffeination process is often accomplished with chemicals. These chemicals may alter or remove some of the healthful catechins. An educated consumer can look for decaffeinated green tea that has been decaffeinated without the use of chemicals. This information is not always easily accessible; however, Lipton varieties of tea are known to be processed without such chemicals.

4. Choose unsweetened tea, especially if you are trying to watch your weight. Sugar adds empty calories to tea and it has been shown to raise cholesterol. An 8-ounce glass of sweetened tea contains 90 calories. Most people drink more than 8 ounces. It is best to sweeten it yourself with a non-nutritive sweetener or just add a little lemon for flavor.

Enjoying the healthful benefits of tea can provide an alternative to higher-calorie beverages, while giving a few milligrams of cancer-fighting, cholesterol-lowering, immunity-improving flavonoids. The art of drinking tea can also help relieve the stress of the day and bring people together for meaningful conversation.

By Julie Feldman, MPH, RD.

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