Time for Tea
While we are all trying in earnest to maintain or restore our health by eating a whole-food-plant based diet, a wonderful beverage, tea, is often forgotten. With over 3,000 varieties and over 2,000 bioactive compounds, this simple beverage has much to offer.
White, green oolong, and black teas each come from the Camellia Sinensis plant. The difference between these teas is the maturity of the tea leaves and how the leaves are processed. Tender buds are picked from the plant for white tea which is the least processed tea, green tea leaves are either steamed or heated, leaves that make up oolong tea are partially fermented, and black tea leaves are fully fermented. Teas sometimes include not only the leaves, but stems, flowers, and roots as well, which adds to the flavor and medicinal quality of the tea.
“Herbal teas are not made from the Camellia plant but from dried herbs, spices, flowers, fruit, seeds, roots, or leaves of other plants; they do not typically contain caffeine as do traditional teas.”[i]
All teas contain flavonoids including catechins – antioxidants that protect against oxidative damage caused by free radicals. These anti-oxidants boost our immune system, lower cholesterol, and reduce the risk of some cancers. More antioxidants are present in a cup of tea than in a serving of carrots, strawberries, broccoli, or spinach.[ii]
The flavonoids in tea (also found in red grapes, dark chocolate, apples, wine, and red onions) reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, and stroke. They may also improve cardiovascular function by improving blood vessel function and reducing inflammation. Flavonoids may also play a role in protecting the brain.[iii]
Epigallocatechin gallate (ECGC), a powerful antioxidant and catechin found in tea, is 20 times more potent than the antioxidants found in Vitamin C. White tea has the most EGCG, followed by green and black. Jasmine tea has nearly the same EGCG content as green, but has a higher lignin content, giving it stronger antioxidant properties. A study at the University of the Ryukyus concluded jasmine tea could lower cholesterol.[iv] EGCG in green tea dampens the ability for cancer to form by blocking cancer-causing compounds, reducing the risk of several cancers including stomach, colon, long, pancreas, breast and prostate cancer.[v]
EGCG also helps our oral hygiene by preventing plaque from forming on teeth, reduces the risk of cavities, and helps prevent gum disease by inhibiting the growth of bacteria in our mouth. [vi]
When drinking black tea with a meal, studies found compounds in tea may help control blood sugar spikes that occur after eating. Enzymes that break down starches in the intestine are blocked by polysaccharides found in tea and cannot be absorbed[vii]. Polysaccharides also protect cells from free radical damage.
Oolong, green, and back teas are beneficial to the gut microbiome, increasing specific good bacteria and suppressing specific harmful bacteria.
Some of my favorite teas are:
- Dandelion Tea – Cleanses the liver and aids in digestion.
- Hibiscus Tea – Supports cardiovascular system. Caffeine-free and is tart and tangy.
- White Tea – Delicate flavor. Highest ranking tea EGCG content.
- Chamomile Tea – Calming and relaxing. Wonderful for settling upset stomach. Anti- A great evening beverage.
- Green Tea – Mild flavor. Contains anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds.
How to Brew Tea Using 1 teaspoon tea per 8 oz. of water:
- Green Tea – Heat water to 190º. Steep for 3 – 4 minutes.
- Black Tea. Heat water to 200º. Steep 3 – 4 minutes.
- Herbal Tea – Heat water to 190º. Steep 4 – 5 minutes.
- White Tea – Heat water to190º. Steep 2 – 3 minutes.
Refrain from steeping tea for more than 5 minutes . Steeping any longer will cause the tea to taste bitter. Herbals may be steeped longer without the infusion becoming bitter. Sometimes longer infusion time makes for stronger medicinal qualities. Milk added to tea reduces the antioxidant capacity of tea (another reason to avoid dairy!).
- Buy loose tea leaves rather than tea in bags. Loose tea is generally of better quality. Tea sold in tea bags often is a combination of poorer quality tea leaves and tea dust.
- Put loose tea leaves in a tea ball and drop it in hot water. Make sure the tea ball is large enough for the water to circulate around the leaves.
- Squeeze the brewed tea leaves to extract the most polyphenol content of the leaves.
- The same tea leaves can be used to make a second cup of tea.
- Choose organic when possible. A 2012 Greenpeace study found some Chinese teas had unhealthy levels of pesticides.[viii]
- Pour freshly brewed tea over ice for a cool thirst-quenching drink on a warm summer day.
- Adding fresh mint or a squeeze of lemon juice is refreshing and adds to the flavor of the tea.
Try a variety of kinds and brands of tea to find the ones you like. You can find many flavored teas as well including vanilla, pomegranate, lemon, caramel, orange coconut, lavender, cinnamon, and even chocolate. But buyer beware. Like with all packaged goods, we need to read the label. Is the flavor from an actual plant or is it an “added flavor” made from artificial ingredients?
If you’re not a tea drinker yet but would like to start, substitute one cup of tea for your morning coffee. Tea is healing, calming, and soothing to drink. Taking time for a cup of tea mid-day too is a great way to take a break and relax.
[i] Teas. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (n.d.)
[ii] Quigley, D. 2008. Everything Superfood Book. Avon.MA. Adams Media.
[iii] Strand, E. July 8, 2003. Flavonoids: Antioxidants Help the Mind. Psychology Today.
[iv] Sho. H.1988. Minami no Shima no Eiyougaka (Nutritional Science in the Southern Islands). Naha: Okinawa Publishing: Bronner, W.E. and G. R. Beecher. 1988. Method of determining the content of catechins in tea infusions by high-performance liquid chromatography. J.Chromatogr A 805, 137-42.
[v] Murray, M. 2005. The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. New York, NY. Atria Books.
[vi] Khamverdi, Z, Azarsina. M. The Beneficial Effects of Green Tea in Oral Health and Dentistry. Biomed J Sci & Tech Res 19(4)-2019. BJSTR. MS.ID.003333.
[vii] FC & A Editors. 2012. Super Abundant Health: Foods ad Spices That Protect Against Heart Disease, Memory Loss, Diabetes, Chronic Pain, and 48 Other Conditions. Peachtree City, GA. FC&A Medical Publishing.
[viii] Greenpeace. Pesticide pollution: Chinese tea may not be safe to drink. April 16, 2012.