By Amanada N. Wegner
Whether it is to bring people together, serve as the centerpiece of traditions, provide nourishment, calm nerves or heal ailments, tea has been integral to many cultures for centuries. Yet only in recent years has the scientific community started to look into the many benefits of tea that generations before have claimed. Thanks to this research, the cup runneth over with accolades for one particular type of tea: Green tea.
“Green tea is good for you for so many reasons,” says Susan Cwik, owner of Burlington Natural Foods and a certified nutritionist. “I really encourage people to make it part of their daily routine, their daily ritual.”
What makes green tea a smart, healthful beverage of choice?
Green tea’s health benefits, says Kayla VanBergen, a registered dietician at Aurora Lakeland Medical Center in Elkhorn, are largely due to green tea’s high content of polyphenols, which are plant-derived antioxidant compounds. In particular, green tea is the best source of a group of antioxidants called catechins. Catechins are extremely powerful in halting oxidative damage to cells, even more powerful than vitamins C and E, and appear to have disease-fighting properties.
“Green tea’s high antioxidant levels,” adds Cwik, “provide numerous protections, but especially protections from free radicals.” Free radicals are damaging compounds that essentially “steal” electrons from other cells, causing damage in the body. This damage contributes to aging and can lead to a long list of issues and diseases, including cancer and heart disease.
“The body is under attack each day, and green tea provides a backstop to some of the cascading effects of free radicals in the body,” says Cwik.
Adds Cindy Campbell, MSOM, LAC, a licensed acupuncturist and owner of Acupuncture Wellness Center in Lake Geneva, “all the polyphenols, catechins and flavonoids work against free radicals. It is both protection and prevention.”
GREEN TEA: A STUDY IN HEALTH
With green tea, fighting free radicals is just the first line of defense. Studies have found that green tea offers a myriad of other health benefits as well.
Reduced risk of cancer: Because green tea is chockfull of antioxidants, it makes sense that it may reduce the risk of cancer.
“Studies have found an association between drinking green tea and a reduced risk for several cancers, including, skin, breast, lung, colon, esophageal and bladder,” says VanBergen.
For instance, one study found that men who drink green tea had a 48 percent lower risk of developing prostate cancer, the most common cancer in men. Another study of almost 70,000 Chinese women found that those who drank green tea had a 57 percent lower risk of colorectal cancer.
Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease: Studies show that green tea may provide another line of defense against cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease and stroke, the top causes of death in the world. The antioxidants in green tea beneficially affect total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.
“The antioxidants in green tea can help block the oxidation of LDL, or bad cholesterol, increase HDL (good) cholesterol and improve artery function,” says VanBergen.
Thanks to these positive benefits, studies show that green tea drinkers have up to a 31 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
Lower risk of type II diabetes: Affecting nearly 300 million people worldwide, type II diabetes has reached epidemic proportions. Thankfully, green tea can play a role in protecting against this growing disease as studies show that green tea can improve insulin sensitivity and reduce blood sugar levels.
Cwik cites a Japanese study that showed a 42 percent reduction in the risk of getting type II diabetes for those who drink green tea regularly. “There are so many great reasons to drink green tea.”
Reduced arthritis and osteoporosis: A study done at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio found that green tea’s antioxidants reduce the incidence and severity of rheumatoid arthritis; British researchers also found that green tea helps prevent osteoporosis in post-menopausal women. As a note, India, China and Japan, where large amounts of green tea are consumed, have much lower rates of arthritis than other countries of the world.
Calms and relaxes the mind and body: Green tea contains L-theanine, an amino acid that increases dopamine levels in the brain and helps reduce stress, anxiety and more. One study found green tea produces relaxing effects without drowsiness just 40 minutes after consumed.
“It is so great for stress and relaxation,” says Campbell. “The relaxation that comes from holding a hot cup of tea can’t be beat.”
When it comes to how much green tea to drink each day, Cwik simply says “The more, the better.” But for those who prefer something more precise, the University of Maryland Medical Center recommends two to three cups of green tea per day for a total of 240 to 320 mg polyphenols or 100 to 750 mg per day of standardized green tea extract for adults.
Admittedly though, any tea is an acquired taste. Luckily, says VanBergen, there are alternative ways to incorporate green tea into your diet. “Sometimes, all tea needs is a bit of sprucing up. If someone does not care for the plain taste of tea, try adding milk, almond milk or soy milk with a bit of honey for enhanced flavor,” he says.
If sweetness is an issue, Cwik strongly cautions against artificial sweeteners.
“You don’t want to put a whole bunch of junk in your tea, especially artificial sweeteners that negate the health benefits,” says Cwik. For a lower-calorie sweetener, she suggests stevia.
Another way to introduce green tea to the diet is by adding it to smoothies. Most smoothies, says VanBergen, require a liquid component to blend well; try adding green tea instead of the usual juice, milk or water.
Baking with green tea is another option. “There are a plethora of cake, cookie, cupcake, brownie recipes online that require green tea; all the green tea benefits without the green tea taste,” says VanBergen.
Finally, alternative forms of green tea, such as supplements or matcha, a green tea powder, provide many of the same health benefits as drinking green tea. “Matcha green tea is easy to mix in with other ingredients and still get the benefits,” says Campbell.
When buying green tea, Cwik recommends buying organic. “I always have a preference for organic. Organic teas are grown without pesticides, which would negate the health benefits of the tea. Plus you know the company spent more time on testing and certification, so it’s a better product.”