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Natural Awakenings

Tea Up: A Cup of Good Taste & Crucial Nutrients

Jan 01, 2008 03:00AM ● By H.K. Jones

It’s winter, and the chill is on. Instead of reaching for a calorie-dense vanilla café latte to warm up, try a cup of tea, the second most popular beverage in the world (after water, not lattes). Made from leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, teas’ distinct tastes and colors—black, green, oolong and white—arise from how the raw leaves are processed: steamed, fermented (oxidized), dried or bruised. Studies show that all types offer superb health benefits.  Here’s why it’s a good idea to keep refilling the teacup through winter’s chilly days.

An Army of Antioxidants

Tea positively brims with antioxidants, food compounds that work to neutralize harmful free radical molecules, which over time can damage cells and contribute to chronic and age-related diseases. An average cup of brewed green or black tea provides 150 to 200 milligrams (mg) of these immune-boosting flavonoids. Green tea in particular offers copious amounts of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), an antioxidant considered the key to green tea’s healthy qualities.

More, recent studies reported in Caries Research suggest that the EGCG in green tea may contribute to a reduction in risk for human cardiovascular disease and some forms of cancer. It may even keep teeth plaque free.

Cancer Prevention

In fact, researchers link a mere one daily cup of tea—especially green tea—with decreased cancer risk, particularly the recurrence of breast and ovarian cancer (International Journal of Cancer and Japanese Journal of Cancer Research). Because of its abundant antioxidants, “green a potentially helpful component of an optimal anticancer diet, so much so that I consume three to four 8-ounce cups of green tea daily,” says Diana Dyer, a registered dietitian, cancer survivor and author of A Dietitian’s Cancer Story (Swan Press, 2002).

Heart Health

In one study of more than 3,000 Saudi Arabian adults (who generally favor black tea over green), researchers found that those who drank more than six cups of this dark brew a day reduced their coronary heart disease risk by 50 percent. These findings appeared in Preventive Medicine.

“Tea isn’t a magic bullet,” says Jack Bukowski, a medical doctor, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and an expert on tea’s health properties. But, he confirms, “there are strong suggestions that tea enhances heart health, thanks to its antioxidant activities.” Other studies suggest that drinking at least three cups of black tea a day may be associated with a modest decrease in the risk of heart attack.

Weight Management

Preliminary research reported in Obesity Research, Life Sciences, and International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders indicates that drinking tea also may help speed fat metabolism. But the jury’s still out on whether drinking tea really helps people lose weight, notes Bukowski. If nothing else, opting for tea means filling up with a warm, nearly calorie-free liquid that helps stave off hunger pangs and the temptation to reach for less healthy options.

Peace and Quiet

Perhaps tea’s most overlooked health benefits stem from the simple act of taking the time for reflection and stress release. In the traditional Japanese tea ceremony called chanoyu, tea masters use the process of making and drinking tea to meditate on the principles of harmony (wa), respect (kei), purity (sei) and tranquility (jaku), hoping to integrate these ideals into daily life.

Anytime is a good time for a nourishing cup of tea. Whether putting on a pot for yourself or a group of friends, teatime can provide a lovely spot of reflection, enjoyment and conscious peace.

H.K. Jones is a registered dietitian, freelance writer and avid tea drinker.

How much tea should we drink?
“The more the better, but anything more than 10 cups a day may be overkill,” says tea expert Dr. Jack Bukowski. Given a choice, remember that cup for cup, “green tea has more antioxidant activity and immune-boosting activity than any other tea.”

Herbal Teas
Tisanes, or herbal teas, do not derive from the Camellia sinensis plant. Rather they’re infusions of herbs, flowers, leaves, roots, bark or berries from other plants. Many are delicious, and may offer health benefits of their own, though not the same benefits as traditional tea.
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