Tea Anyone?

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For a drink that’s been around for thousands of years, tea only became popular in the U.S. within the last decade. Sales took off when convenient, ready-to-drink bottled teas, many with interesting additives, were introduced. Let’s take a closer look at these teas to see if they live up to the hype and what you should know before purchasing them.
What is Tea?
Most teas are made from the leaves of Camellia sinensis, a white-flowered evergreen. How the leaves are processed determines the type of tea produced.
• Black tea: leaves are rolled in special machines to release their juices, then they are fermented and dried.
• Green tea: leaves are steamed, then rolled and dried without fermentation.
• Oolong tea: leaves are partially fermented, then heated, rolled, and dried.
• Herbal “teas” are made from leaves, flowers, and roots of other plants.
What’s In Tea?
Tea contains powerful antioxidants, called flavonoids, that may help fight disease. Tea can contribute to the 8-10 cups of water you need daily. The caffeine content varies, but on average, a six-ounce serving of iced tea contains around 40 mg—less than half that of coffee but more than cola which has 25 mg. Decaffeinated teas are available.
“Green and black tea are about equal in antioxidant value,” says Doug Balentine, PhD, group manager of tea research with Lipton Tea. Oolong tea hasn’t been studied much because it simply isn’t as popular. Dr. Balentine says, “Clinical trials are now being conducted to study tea’s effects on the risk factors for cancer and heart disease.”
Basic Bottled Teas
“Basic” bottled teas come sweetened, unsweetened or diet and are mainly in 16-ounce bottles. The diet or unsweetened teas contain virtually no calories.
However, an 8-ounce serving of the sweetened variety contains an average of 90 calories and 22 g of sugars, mostly high fructose corn syrup, which is similar to soda. Eight ounces of cola provides 100 calories and 27 g of sugars. Drink the whole 16-ounce bottle of tea and you get about 10 teaspoons of sugar, the same amount as in a 12-ounce can of cola. People watching their weight should choose the calorie-free unsweetened or diet teas.
Bottled Teas with Zing
New Age teas are marketed to appeal to your desire for health and well-being. They come with flashy displays, colorful and curved bottles and catchy names, e.g. Moon, Power, Enlightenment. Most have added ingredients such as ginseng, guarana, lemon grass or kava kava. Most of the “New Age” teas are sweetened with high fructose corn syrup. They run an average of 80 calories and 20 g of sugars per 8 ounces. Caution: they come in 20-ounce bottles, so if you drink it all yourself you’ll get 2-1/2 servings, or 200 calories. Some tea beverages may interact with medication, check with your pharmacist to avoid nutrient drug interaction.
The Bottom Line
Tea may turn out to be a powerful ally in your healthful lifestyle, but it cannot substitute for a well-balanced diet and regular exercise. Your best bet is to stick with plain, diet or unsweetened teas, all of which are available in convenient bottles.
According to Dr. Balentine, tea made from “real brewed tea” or “brewed from tea leaves” has higher antioxidant levels than those formulated from powdered or instant tea. For example, Lipton’s bottled Iced Teas are made from real brewed tea, but its Brisk brand is made from powdered tea. Dr. Balentine says the teas are formulated to appeal to different taste preferences. Those with less real brewed tea (like Brisk) have a milder flavor but less antioxidant power. Representatives from Nestea, Snapple, Arizona Tea, and SoBe stated that their ready-to-drink teas are made from tea that is brewed from tea leaves.
By Hollis Bass, MEd, RD.

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