By Alex Zorach of RateTea.net
The internet is filled with websites making claims about how tea is good for you–especially green tea and white tea.
The science of tea is young, and the health effects of tea are not fully understood, but there is a large and increasing body of evidence suggesting that tea has a number of health benefits.
What are these benefits, and are certain types of teas really better for you than others?
Health Benefits of Tea:
Alertness & mental state: Like coffee, tea contains caffeine, which can improve mental focus.
However, tea contains less caffeine than coffee, and also contains other chemicals such as theanine which enhance the positive effects of caffeine while also having a relaxing effect. One study found that tea improves alertness equally well as coffee, but with less disruption of sleep, due to its lower caffeine levels.
There is also some evidence that tea may have other benefits for the mind and nervous system, including staving off Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Cholesterol & Heart Disease: There is growing evidence, mostly from studies in rats, that chemicals in tea lower total cholesterol levels, as well as improving the balance of HDL to LDL cholesterol.
Both total cholesterol levels and balance of HDL and LDL cholesterol are important in the prevention of heart disease.
Antioxidants & Cancer Prevention: Tea is a rich source of antioxidants, chemicals which have been found to play a role in the prevention of cancer, heart disease, and other diseases.
Varieties of Tea:
Tea comes in many varieties. Tea is usually classified as green, black, white, oolong, and pu-erh, and these types are further divided into hundreds of different varieties of tea, each with their own unique aroma, appearance, and chemical composition. Green and white tea tend to be the least processed.
But all of these teas are made from the same plant, Camellia sinensis, and for the most part, they have similar chemistry and health benefits.
Marketing would have us believe that the different varieties of tea are more specialized in their health effects than they actually are.
Oolong or wu long tea is marketed as a weight-loss product, and has been traditionally used for this purpose in China.
White tea is presented as having more antioxidants than other teas. Pu-erh is widely used for lowering cholesterol.
Black tea gets less attention, but it makes up most of the tea people drink in the U.S. and other countries outside southeast Asia.
The scientific evidence doesn’t back up the idea that certain types of tea are better for you than others.
WebMD’s page on types of tea and their health benefits explains that all types of tea made from the tea plant have benefits. The cholesterol-lowering and balancing effects mentioned above have been shown for green, black, oolong, and pu-erh teas. Antioxidants are present in all teas.
Green tea is richest in catechins, one class of antioxidants. In black tea and oolong tea, some of these chemicals are broken down, but this process creates new antioxidants unique to these oxidized teas.
While the science of tea is still inconclusive and many questions have yet to be fully explored, there is growing evidence suggesting that tea is good for you in a variety of ways.
Tea is a widely-consumed beverage and its consumption has few downsides and many potential benefits.
Herbal teas are a completely different subject, however, as they are made from different plants!
While many herbal teas have benefits too, they are very diverse. Some herbal teas are safe for consumption as beverages, but other herbs are powerful medicines and, like any medicines, can have side effects and drawbacks.
But true tea from the tea plant, regardless of which variety, is a great choice of beverage that can contribute to overall health and well-being in a variety of different ways.