How to choose the best tea for you
Is green tea better for you than black? Does either tea contain caffeine? What are the health benefits? How do I choose the best tea for me?
Here I examine the benefits and downsides of different types of tea. Then you’ll be able to choose the best tea for you.
The history of tea
Legend has it that the use of tea as a beverage was discovered in 2737 B.C.E. by Shen Nung, a Chinese emperor and herbalist. Leaves from a nearby tree accidentally blew into a pot of boiling water; the rest is history. Drinking tea increased in popularity within China, eventually becoming a formal ceremony during the Han Dynasty (206-220 AD). The Chinese kept their tea leaves secret for hundreds of years, until the early 1600s when Dutch traders started bringing it to Europe in large quantities. Tea in Britain started out as a drink that very few people consumed. It is now the most common drink of choice after water.
Both black and green tea are made from the leaves of the same plant, a shrub called Camellia sinensis. Differences in manufacturing processes are what sets green and black tea apart.
Green tea is produced by lightly steaming freshly cut leaves. Steaming prevents oxidation from occurring, keeping the leaves their delicate green colour. A plethora of different types of green tea exist, all originating from the same plant. China Gunpowder tea leaves are rolled into tiny balls straight after the leaves are fired. Japanese Sencha is exposed to direct sunlight during the last few weeks of its growing period. The differences in the way the plants and leaves are treated give each variety of green tea unique taste and colour.
Black tea, in contrast to green tea, is produced by taking the freshly picked tea leaves through four stages. Withering, rolling, oxidation and drying. It is the oxidation process which determines the tea’s colour, taste, and strength. Enzymes inside the leaves react with the air around them. The leaves’ colour gradually change from green to beige, to a rich, deep brown. The final colour of the tea leaves indicates how oxidised the tea is and what its flavour will be like.
Health benefits of tea
Knowing the health benefits of green and black tea you are empowered to choose the best tea for you.
Research shows that drinking black tea has a range of health benefits. The powerful antioxidants and other compounds black tea contains have potential to decrease inflammation and reduce the risk for the onset of chronic conditions. Studies have found that drinking black tea on a regular basis may help with chronic conditions. These include cardiovascular disorders, improving blood pressure, and reduce the risk of stroke. If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure then black tea could be the best tea for you.
Black tea naturally contains a whole host of vital vitamins and minerals. Firstly, there is the potent antioxidant vitamin C. Also, fluoride, which has a positive effect on preventing tooth decay and gum disease. Black tea also contains flavonoids, natural antioxidants, particularly the complex varieties called theaflavins and thearubigins which may be bone and heart protective.
Green tea also has a range of health benefits, with many studies claiming greater health benefits than black tea because of the higher levels of polyphenols it contains. Studies on green tea have shown that the active polyphenols may increase the activity of antioxidant enzymes in the liver, small intestine, and lungs. Studies show that long-term consumption of green tea catechins, a type of polyphenol, could be beneficial against obesity and type II diabetes, and has the potential to reduce the risk of heart disease.
One component of green tea that is present in much greater quantities than in black tea is L-theanine. L-theanine is an amino acid that can help to give the tea drinker a sense of relaxation and ease anxiety. L-theanine affects levels of certain chemicals in the brain, influencing mood, emotion, and sleep, which helps the body deal with stress. Studies also report that L-theanine in green tea may support the body in fighting off illness, partly due to its anti-inflammatory effects. Read more here about other foods to support immunity.
Matcha tea is type of green tea that in recent years has become extremely popular in the health industry. It is a Japanese green tea powder made from finely powdered dried tea leaves. This gives matcha its distinctive bright green colour and slightly bitter taste. Matcha tea has the same health benefits as any green tea however studies report that levels of a catechin called EGCG, a powerful antioxidant, may be up to 100 times higher than in green tea. Antioxidants including catechins can help reduce cell damage and prevent chronic disease.
Downsides of tea
Know the downsides of tea in order to choose the best tea for you.
All varieties of tea naturally contain caffeine, a natural stimulant perhaps most famously found in coffee beans. Caffeine works by stimulating the brain and central nervous system. This helps you stay alert and prevent the onset of tiredness. For some people consuming caffeinated drinks like tea provides a boost of energy. However, in some people consuming an excess of caffeine can result in poor quality sleep and feeling jittery and unable to relax.
Caffeine content in tea varies. Studies report that black tea contains the highest levels of caffeine at 60-90mg per cup, while green tea contains 35-70mg per cup. Both teas contain significantly less caffeine than coffee, which can provide up to 200mg per cup.
Both black and green tea contain oxalates, a compound found naturally in some foods. Research shows that consuming excessive oxalates results in kidney stones in some people. Oxalates also bind to minerals in the body meaning that minerals, particularly calcium, are less able to be absorbed and utilised. Tea also contains tannins, which research suggests may inhibit iron absorption. It is good practice to leave half an hour between eating a meal and drinking a cup of tea. Doing this lowers the risk of mineral absorption being reduced.
Some studies report that drinking excessive amounts of tea (more than 6 cups a day) can cause anxiety, headaches, and disrupted sleep patterns. Other studies are firm on the downsides of drinking tea for your teeth. Tannins in tea are known to discolour teeth. And if you add sugar to your tea you’re increasing your risk of dental cavities.
Choose the best tea for you
In short. whatever type of tea you prefer, enjoy it as a healthy beverage, in moderation. Keep in mind that tea will not give you perfect health on its own. No one single food or drink that can solve all health problems.
If you know that you are sensitive to caffeine then be careful of how much tea you drink. Consider implementing a ‘caffeine curfew’, when you switch to caffeine-free drinks such as herbals teas and water.
If you tend to feel anxious and on edge during the day, then try swapping out a cup of black tea for a more calming green tea.
Remember – there are always options, whatever your health needs and taste preferences.
To receive individual guidance on the best food, drink and lifestyle for you please get in touch. Working on a 1:1 basis with a BANT and CNHC registered Nutritional Therapist is the best way to get to the root cause of what’s going for you. I evaluate your individual needs using evidence-based personalised nutrition.