Nutrition: The health benefits of tea
IF IRELAND has a 'national drink', then arguably it has to be a good cup of tea: whether in times of grief and sadness or happiness and celebration, it is what we turn to for comfort.
Tea drinking has been considered a healthy habit since ancient times, and now there is a mass of evidence to support its benefits to everything from weight loss to cancer protection.
:: How do you take it?
Green tea and black tea are from the same plant. Camellia sinensis leaves (or 'tea leaves' to you and me!) are simply processed in different ways to produce these different types of tea.
Green tea is dried young tea leaves and black tea is allowed to ferment and oxidise for longer before being dried to intensify the flavour.
Although we hear more about the health benefits of green tea, thanks to its particularly high levels of antioxidants, emerging research shows that a regular cup of black tea as its advantages too, although these could be negligible if we add milk to our tea as the beneficial flavonoids are thought to be inactivated by milk.
:: What's in your cuppa?
The active ingredients in your morning cuppa are a bunch of plant chemicals called polyphenols, catechins and flavonols that have potent antioxidant activity and contribute most of the health benefits of tea drinking.
These are similar ingredients attributed to the health benefits of ‘superfoods' like blueberries, red wine and dark chocolate. An ingredient called epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) has been associated with the cancer protective effects of green tea.
Although it does contain small amounts of caffeine, green tea consumption has been associated with more health benefits than even some of the healthiest foods in our diets, with more healing compounds than many other herbs, spices, fruits and vegetables, truly making it a powerful 'superfood'.
It is estimated that drinking about three cups of green tea a day is enough to gain some benefits to your diet.
:: The health benefits of tea
Green tea is often included as an ingredient in nutritional supplements for skin support as it is thought that the EGCG and other antioxidants may help protect collagen from damage to reduce wrinkles.
Green tea has been associated with reduced blood pressure and cholesterol. It seems that green tea has an ACE-inhibiting effect that increases the amount of blood the heart is able to pump, which results in reduced blood pressure.
The antioxidants in tea are thought to protect the brain from oxidative stress associated with memory loss. Some studies have also shown that tea could be an important ingredient to protect against Alzheimers.
Blood sugar balance
Green tea has been shown to improve insulin balance and may reduce risk of type 2 diabetes. This also has potential for weight management too.
Green tea could have a small effect on weight loss, but of course, it depends on what else you have with your cup of tea!
An amino acid called theanine, found in green tea, has been shown to have a calming and relaxing effect, which could be why green tea is less likely to give us the ‘caffeine jitters' than too much tea or coffee.
It goes without saying that no matter how promising the evidence, a cup of tea is not going to be the answer to all our health problems – but it might just make you feel a bit better.
So, go and put the kettle on, sit down and enjoy the health benefits of taking five minutes for yourself.