We are about to explore the various claims made regarding which teas are the healthiest and why. The words "health" and "tea" have become synonymous in recent years due to the scientific studies and personal testimonials made about this natural, beneficial beverage. Some research reports that green tea is the healthiest, while others claim white tea as the best due to its antioxidant content.
Mr. Douglas Balentine is the director of nutrition and health at Unilever North America—the largest tea company in the world and maker of Lipton Tea. Balentine has spent years researching the numerous ways drinking tea benefits the human body.
What Makes a Tea Healthy?
When an individual seeks to find the healthiest tea, they should know that in order to be considered a "true tea" the tea such as black, green, oolong, and white must be harvested from the leaves of Camellia sinensis, states Balentine. "It is the manner in which the specific tea is processed or harvested that separate the various products that come from the same plant. This means that the antioxidant content can vary slightly in each type. White tea, for example, is known for having the highest concentration of antioxidants as it undergoes the least amount of processing. Therefore, using the processing standard, white tea would be considered the "healthiest" of them all. Teas containing the greatest amounts of antioxidants are:
- White tea
- Jasmine tea
- Green tea
- Black tea
Each of these teas also contain different amounts of caffeine, magnesium, and theanine (an amino acid or building block for proteins, found in green tea. Can be used in treating anxiety and high blood pressure, for preventing Alzheimer ’s disease, and for increasing the effectiveness of cancer drugs). Depending on the individual’s sensitivity to caffeine, some teas may not be considered “healthy.” Consult your doctor if you’re anticipating drinking large amounts of tea containing caffeine. Balentine, reports that "population-based studies and intervention studies have shown both green and black teas produce similar benefits for maintaining health and wellness."
What is Oxidation and How Does Tea Help Fight It?
Oxidative stress is a phenomenon that occurs when a molecule of oxygen splits into single atoms with unpaired electrons called free radicals. Electrons automatically seek to be in pairs, so the free radicals scour and scavenge the body seeking other electrons so they can pair with them. This pairing causes cell, protein and DNA damage. Free radicals are associated with aging plus diseases such as:
- Alzheimer's disease
- Parkinson's disease
Free radicals are found in the substances and foods we consume, prescription medications, the air around us and the water we drink including:
- Fried foods
- Tobacco smoke
- Air pollutants
Free radicals occur as waste byproducts of chemical processes, such as metabolism which can harm the body when there is an excess. The irony is, free radicals are critical for life. The body must be able to turn air and food into chemical energy which depends on the chain reaction of free radicals. Free radicals also comprise a vital component of the body’s immune system which are constantly searching for and destroying foreign invaders.
Green tea can protect your body from free radical damage by neutralizing the harmful particles before they gain entry into human genetic material, slowing the aging process and protecting the body from disease.
Protect Against DNA Damage
Drinking two cups of green tea every day proves effective in protecting the body against free radicals. The results were published in the British Journal of Nutrition showing that people who consumed just 2 cups of green tea each day for one month resulted in lower levels of DNA damage by 20%. ECGC (the natural polyphenol in green tea) has proven to be particularly effective in lowering the risk of certain cancer cell lines including:
The Journal of Clinical Cancer Research published findings on ECGC demonstrating that men with prostate cancer were successful in lowering predictive markers of cancer progression by as much as 30%. Participants were those who received 1.3 grams of green tea extract each day which is the equivalent of 12 cups of fresh brewed tea. ECGC is effective in protecting cells from DNA damage and may also lessen the formation of blood vessels necessary to feed cancer cells.
Flavonoids are plant based, dietary compounds found in tea, wine, cocoa, fruits, and vegetables. The flavonoids in tea help with normal blood vessel function and maintenance. All teas from the Camellia sinensis plant including oolong, green, black and white (but not herbal) teas, are natural sources of flavonoids containing between 100 to 300 milligrams per serving. According to Balentine, "All teas contain meaningful amounts of tea phytonutrients; choosing one over the other should be more about personal taste than flavonoid levels.”
- Teas do not all contain the identical attributes. The following is a list of the benefits all true teas provide:
- Tea drinking can contribute to proper hydration
- Improve focus and concentration
- Help maintain a positive mood throughout the day
- Zero calories aids in controlling caloric intake, which helps in managing weight
- May help maintain a healthy body composition
- Maintain cardiovascular health with 3+ cups per day
- Black tea has been associated with reducing risk of heart disease and risk of stroke
Extensive clinical studies by multiple organizations show that drinking two to three cups of black tea per day can help keep your blood pressure within normal limits while promoting normal blood vessel function. Adding probiotics to tea may sound like a good detox beverage, however there is little research proving its effectiveness and safety. Always consult your doctor when coming across claims that sound too good to be true. Certified organic teas are free of synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides. Drinking organic teas help sustain the health of soils, their ecosystems and the people who drink them. Organic tea, harvested using ecologically sound methods and processes, benefit everyone involved combining tradition, innovation and science together to promote good health and a better quality of life.