Thursday, October 15, 2009

Tea – Healthy or Harmful?

Tea has become the latest health drink with sales increasing in North America. Are all teas healthy? What about the newfangled type on the market with ingredients you cannot pronounce or spell? Should you be drinking them so you don’t miss out on eternal youth? If so, how much? Let’s examine the good and the possible bad.

Tea - Healthy

In general, drinking tea in moderation is good for you. Why?

Nutritious Content
The nutrient content looks good, for hot or iced tea:
1. Calories – tasty drink with no calories. Add low fat milk and you have a few calories with extra, essential nutrients
2. 99% water – hydrates you
3. Rich source of:
o manganese – for bone growth
o potassium - maintains fluid levels
o zinc - for growth and development
o fluoride – prevention of tooth decay and gum disease

Heart Disease
Studies show drinking tea lowers your risk for heart attacks and stroke. Boston researchers have determined that people who drink black tea - at least a cup a day - have about a 46 percent lower heart-attack risk than people who didn't. The chemicals in tea, catechins and flavonoids, may reduce the risk of heart disease. Catechins are thought to mop up harmful substances in the blood, which cause heart disease. Flavonoids, a polyphenol antioxidant (enough long words?), at high concentrations, have beneficial effects on blood cholesterol and blood pressure.

Studies on black and green teas look good for protection against oral, pancreatic and prostate cancers. In a study in the International Journal of Cancer, men who drank between 2 and 3 cups per day may reduce their risk of developing prostate cancer by up to 30% compared to non-tea drinkers. The positive effects on prostate cancer may be attributed to the phytochemicals in tea, according to researchers from the University of Toronto. Researchers from the National Center for Toxicological Research in the United States, extracted the flavins and polyphenols and demonstrated that they significantly inhibited the growth of human pancreatic and prostate tumor cells. Their research also indicated that tea could have a role to play in changing the genes involved in the process of causing cancer.

Parkinson's disease
The risk of Parkinson's disease may decline with increased quantities of caffeine-containing beverages such as tea.

No decisions for humans yet, but in a laboratory the results look good for rheumatoid arthritis.

➢ Tea may help fight cavities through enhancing the action of saliva.
➢ Black tea reduces plaque build-up on teeth that cause gum disease and cavities.
➢ Tea increases fluoride intake giving teeth strength.

Caffeine Content
➢ Contains less caffeine than coffee. A cup of tea contains an average of 30 - 40 mg, coffee 60 – 100 mg. Limit daily caffeine intake to 300 mg.

Weight Loss
Nothing definite yet, but researchers in Switzerland reported that people given green tea burned more energy than those on a caffeine containing or placebo drink.

I’m not sure if there’s research on this, but tea has a soothing, social aspect. When I lived in South Africa, we would offer visitors a cup of tea as they entered our door. If someone was hurt or sad, we would say, “Let me make you a cup of tea.”

In South Africa, Rooibos Tea (red bush tea) was “muti (medicine).” Studies look good so try it out.

In Japan: tea ceremonies are spiritual refreshment and create harmony. Drink tea for a quiet interlude, relaxing, comforting, soothing, pampering and rewarding experience.

In China and Chinese restaurants, tea is served throughout the meal. It is believed to be medicinal with healing properties. It also improves concentration and alertness.

Tea is a British Institution, particularly afternoon tea with delicate sandwiches. Around the world in grand hotels, this tradition is beautifully prepared but exorbitantly expensive. Well worth it.

Experience New Flavors
Tea is the new Wine due to the variety of color, flavor and aroma. Drink a variety for different tastes, moods and times of the day. Keep in stock, like wine. Green tea (like white wine: light, delicate flavor, thirst-quenching) oolong (like rose wine) black (like red wine: full bodied, stronger flavor, more pungency)

For example:

AM: Breakfast tea – English or Irish. Robust, wake me up!
Mid-morning – Darjeeling
Throughout the day: Four Red Fruits. Keep iced in the fridge: 4 cups plus 4 bags, remove bags, add 3 cups cold water & ice.
Lunch: Green tea – variety. Jasmine Green Tea (digestive tea, after large meal)
Early afternoon: hungry time: Classic Earl Grey, or Oolong. Indian Spiced Chai, small sandwich
After 4, no caffeine: Rooibos (herbal with minerals, flavonoids, health benefits, low in tannin)
After a large meal: peppermint or Lemon & Ginger (digestion)
For a cold or flu, nausea, morning or motion sickness, menstrual cramps: Lemon & Ginger

To aid digestion: Pure Peppermint

For a soothing effect, sleep and relaxation. In the evening, drink camomile herbal tea

Tea – Harmful?

Now that I’ve told you how wonderful tea is, like all foods and beverages, there are the downsides with excess intake. Even water is harmful if you drink too much. Here are some small concerns, don’t freak out.

Mild diuretic properties
Not really harmful – Caffeinated and even decaffeinated teas contain theophylline which has slight diuretic properties. You may “want to go” a little sooner than if you just drank water. No big deal.

Stained teeth
Tannin in tea can stain your teeth. Use good quality toothpaste to remove stains.

Not for Babies
Polyphenols and tannins in tea inhibit iron absorption. When I worked in South Africa, we did not recommend tea for babies under two years of age, as iron deficiency anemia is high in third world countries. Speak to your dietitian or pediatrician for the best age to introduce tea.

Weight Loss
Please don’t believe teas that promise weight loss; they can be harmful. If these teas are actually boosting the metabolism, they have ingredients in them that have drug-like effects. Why do I still get many questions about these quick weight loss products on the market? I know healthy eating is tough, but that is the only way to lose weight and keep it off.

Herbal Teas
If you love the taste of herbal teas, and are drinking from well-known brands that don’t make claims, enjoy. Health studies have not been done with herbal teas. Actually, if I were producing herbal teas, I wouldn’t do any studies. People believe they are healthy without proof.

Health Claims
Many teas make health claims without any evidence; some teas are potentially harmful. Claims include: prevent miscarriages, anemia, leg cramps, nausea, heartburn plus improve chronic lung conditions, kidney and liver functions, cleanses the urinary tract, etc., etc. You should be worried when you read these claims.
Fortunately, reliable brands add warnings, such as “possible allergies,” “maximum amounts,” “for adults only,” and “if you are taking prescription medication, pregnant or nursing, consult your health care provider prior to using this product.” Read these warnings and pay heed.
If you experience diarrhea, vomiting, and heart palpitations with high doses of herbal teas, stop immediately.

Not for Pregnant or Breastfeeding Women
Usually we recommend less caffeine when in this state. However, this doesn’t mean try "natural" herbal teas even though they sound safe. Some herbal teas supposedly increase milk production, but could contain dangerous substances. If you're concerned about how much milk you're producing, or are taking herbal teas for any health condition, talk to your doctor first to make sure nothing you aren’t harming your baby.

Although some cancers may benefit from drinking tea, there are different results for stomach cancer. According to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine, more green tea is consumed in Japan than anywhere else, yet that country has one of the highest rates of stomach cancer in the world.

Black, Green, Oolong or Herbal?
Green tea is not fermented, Oolong teas are only partially fermented and black tea is completely fermented. Black and green teas are used in most of the studies showing health benefits.
Herbal "teas" contain no true tealeaves, but are created from a collection of herbs and spices resulting in interesting flavors, aromas and colors. They are caffeine-free.
I like milk in my tea, so black, green or Oolong are the teas I drink. Milk curdles in herbal teas.

The Bottom Line

Tea is a good tasting drink.
Teas may have health benefits.
Aim for at least two cups of tea a day.
Moderation means a maximum of four cups of either coffee or tea a day.
For inspiration, I’ve been drinking a 12 oz. cup of black tea, with 1% milk and sweetener, during the writing of this blog. Enjoy.

Enjoy tea!