After water, tea is probably the most consumed beverage in the world. Not counting water, it’s also probably the healthiest.
Green tea has gotten most of the hype in the press, and that hype is completely deserved. But let’s not forget that the health benefits of tea drinking are not limited to just the green variety.
First, some clarifications. All four kinds of nonherbal tea — green, black, white and oolong (red) — come from the same plant, a warm-weather evergreen known as Camellia sinensis. The leaves of this plant contain chemicals known as polyphenols.
Polyphenols are powerful antioxidants, many of which have anticancer activity. Polyphenols, like other antioxidants, help protect cells from the normal, but damaging, physiological process known as “oxidative stress”, which happens when rogue molecules known as free radicals damage your cells.
Many studies have demonstrated the anticancer properties of polyphenols. They can stop the damage that free radicals do to cells, neutralize enzymes essential for tumor growth, and deactivate cancer promoters.
A research report published in the Journal of Nutrition in 2001 showed that compounds in black tea (theflavins) and compounds in green tea (catechins) are equally effective as antioxidants. Another study demonstrated a connection between drinking black tea regularly and reducing the risk of stroke.
Now, a brand new study in the Journal of Nutrition and Healthy Aging showed that there is an positive relationship between tea drinking and cognitive performance. Total tea consumption was independently associated with better performance on global cognition, memory, executive function and information processing speed. Didn’t matter whether the subjects in the study drank green, black or oolong tea. “The protective effect of tea consumption on cognitive function was not limited to particular type of tea”, wrote the researchers.
Even teas not made from the Camellia sinensis plant are beneficial. The newly popular Yerba Matte tea (made from an entirely different plant) has been shown to have significant antioxidant activity. A recent study in the journal Public Health and Nutrition showed that rooibos tea (a red tea from Africa) exhibited cardiovascular benefits by acting as an ACE-inhibitor. And another study showed that even herbal teas (in addition to the standard teas) were helpful in reducing the risk of ovarian cancer, with subjects who drank four or more cups a day having significantly less risk compared to subjects who drank no tea at all.
None of this is to disparage the deservedly wonderful reputation of green tea, which contains catechins which reduce the risk of cancer, lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, speed the metabolism slightly, and may help with weight loss.
Here’s something I do all the time that you may find helpful. I brew a very strong (steep 5 teabags or equivalent) cup of tea, then after cooling, I put it in a one-quart container and fill with pure water. I put that in the fridge and drink from it all day. It’s refreshing, requires no work, and is a great way to get your tea fix all day without having to stop and brew a cup. Try it!