Apparently, tea is the most commonly consumed beverage in the world, after water.
In recent years we've certainly become much more experimental with other kinds of tea. But, is tea simply a delicious drink? Or, are there also health benefits to be gained?
How is tea produced?
Black, white, green or red teas come from the same plant, the Camellia sinenses. However, what makes them differ in taste is the process they undergo:
White tea comes from the young plant leaves; these are then steamed and dried.
Green tea is made from the older leaf, and undergoes the least amount of processing; they are simply steamed quickly.
Black and red (oolong) teas also come from the older leaf; they are then partially dried, crushed and lastly fermented.
Health benefits of tea
Regardless of the processing method, all tea contains beneficial polyphenols, and it is these polyphenols that give tea its antioxidant properties.
In fact, white tea has the highest level of antioxidants, followed by green, red and then black tea.
Tea has been attributed to many health benefits, among which it is suggested to reduce the risk of stroke, some cancers and heart disease. The American Dietetic Association state that,
"While research is still preliminary, studies show some benefit from consuming tea, both green and black, in the prevention of cancer and heart disease."
A review carried out in 2001 of ten follow-up studies, found that the risk of heart attack was reduced by 11% when 3 cups of tea per day were consumed (237ml).
Does drinking tea cause dehydration?
Research from the UK suggests that, contrary to popular opinion, tea doesn't dehydrate. One of the study researchers, Dr Claire Ruxton, said:
"Studies on caffeine have found very high doses dehydrate and everyone assumes that caffeine-containing beverages dehydrate. But even if you had a really, really strong cup of tea or coffee, which is quite hard to make, you would still have a net gain of fluid."
If we compare the caffeine content in tea to that of coffee, tea contains much less.
Milk: to have, or not to have?
It was previously thought that milk would bind to the flavonoids in tea, therefore reducing availability for absorption in the body.
However, a study carried out in 2007 found that adding milk did not affect the concentration of flavonoids in the blood.
There are many lifestyle and medical risk factors that contribute to heart disease, therefore it's important that you continue to follow a healthy diet, and take regular exercise. Thankfully, though, the evidence also indicates a positive role for tea in heart health.
- Drink 3-4 cups of tea each day.
- Brew for 3-5 minutes to bring out the beneficial polyphenols.
- Save calories by skipping the sugar.
- Avoid iced tea products, which are laden with sugar.
Melanie Thomassian is a professional dietitian, and author of the award winning Dietriffic.com.