Drink More Tea!

Tea is moving up in the drink popularity contest! Already coming in second for most-consumed drink in the U.S. (water is in first place), Americans are continuing to increase their consumption as a body of epidemiological studies show that tea can increase cardiovascular health, burn calories, and fight against a variety of cancers.

According to the Tea Association of the USA, tea consumption has risen steadily for the past 20 years, with tea sales surpassing $2.2 billion and consumption while dining out rising 10% every year for the past 10 years. And with the most recent studies boasting the health-promoting properties of tea, it appears as though tea consumption will continue to increase. An interesting change occurring with this increase is the decrease in coffee consumption. The USDA reports that coffee consumption was 23.3 gallons per person in 2009, down from 26.7 gallons per person in 1980 (which is also about half of what it was in 1940).

So, what are the health-promoting properties of tea that have Americans sipping more? Several studies have recently shown tea’s benefits in lowering cholesterol. The mechanism for this lowering effect is not entirely clear. Some give credit to tea’s high antioxidant levels, but a recent study showed that black tea lowered LDL cholesterol effectively. Black tea has a significantly lower amount of antioxidants than green or white tea. These teas are all from the same leaf (camellia sinensis); however, processing differences produce black, white, green, oolong, and puerh types, each with different tastes and antioxidant levels. Antioxidant levels are highest in white and green teas, which is what makes the study cited above interesting. Additionally, several studies show black tea’s benefits in lowering blood pressure, and the more that participants drink, the greater the benefits! So, are tea’s cardio-protective effects the product of some compound(s) other than antioxidants?

Green tea has long been touted for its anti-cancer compounds and antioxidants. And most  studies today show that green tea continues to take the cake for anti-cancer properties. The Journal of Cancer Research and Clinical Oncology released a review of several studies, promoting the consumption of Japanese green tea to protect against a variety of cancers, including colorectal cancer. Additionally, the Journal of the American College of Nutrition released a 2006 review of studies showing the effects of green tea intake with reduced risk for ovarian, prostate, and breast cancers.

Weight loss and digestive health are also potential benefits of drinking tea (green and black). Green tea contains caffeine, theanine (an amino acid), and some other compounds that may be responsible for suppressed fat accumulation, and therefore weight gain, in tea drinkers. Green tea has also shown to be beneficial in controlling glucose and insulin, and promoting smooth movement of the gastointestinal tract. The anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial compounds are most likely responsible for these health benefits.

While many health foods and superfoods are objectionable in taste or texture or aroma, tea’s soothing aroma and flavor make it an easy way to increase consumption of antioxidants and other health-promoting compounds. Just including 2-3 cups daily can decrease your risk for chronic disease and boost your cardiovascular and digestive health, while supporting sustained energy throughout your day. Of course, one caution is to limit any added sugar and milk or cream. Milk and cream can actually interfere with antioxidant absorption (and add calories), so a more nutritious approach is to drink your tea plain, or with one teaspoon of honey or agave nectar.

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