Everything You Need to Know About Healthy Teas

Inside: With fall weather approaching and scientists proving that certain teas improve your health, now is a great time to learn about these tasty beverages.

teas improve your healthWith the weather getting colder and the days getting shorter, nothing beats curling up on the couch with a nice hot cup of tea in hand. Tea has long been one of the most popular beverages in the world, and for good reason. For thousands of years, tea has been recognized by many cultures for its ability to soothe, restore, and refresh. Modern science is finding increasing evidence to support the long-held notion that drinking tea can improve your health.

Benefits of Tea

Tea is a great alternative to coffee because it has less caffeine, and the flavonoids in tea may help ward off many chronic illnesses. The strongest evidence lies in the potential for tea to improve heart health. Studies show that individuals who regularly drink black tea are less likely to have a heart attack, and drinking green tea is associated with healthier blood lipid levels. Relaxing with a hot cup of tea may also serve as a way to relieve stress, which might reduce stress on the heart and blood vessels by reducing blood pressure, even if just temporarily.

Tea has also been shown to improve dental health. A report in 2010 claimed that drinking at least one cup of green tea per day was associated with significantly decreased odds for tooth loss. Researchers believe that tea may help suppress the growth of bacteria on the teeth. Tea leaves are also an added source of fluoride; which, when brewed in fluoridated water, provides an extra dose of this important tooth-protecting mineral.

There are other claims regarding the health benefits of tea that have limited or conflicting evidence. Reduced cancer risk and weight loss are both possible positive effects of drinking tea, but there is not sufficient evidence at this time to support these claims.

Of course, the more processed the tea is the less benefit it provides. Oolong and black teas are oxidized or fermented, so they have lower concentrations of polyphenols than green tea. However, their antioxidant power is still high. Avoid bottled teas that are high in added sugars.

Potential Safety Concerns

Green tea can interfere with the blood thinner warfarin (Coumadin). Green tea is a significant source of vitamin K, which can reduce the effectiveness of blood thinners. It is important if you are on blood thinners and drinking green tea to keep your quantity of green tea constant from day to day so that your doctor can adjust the warfarin dose to compensate.

Virtually all forms of tea contain high levels of oxalate. Individuals with a history of calcium oxalate-containing kidney stones should limit their consumption of tea.

Types of Tea

  • Black tea:  Made with fermented tea leaves, black tea has the highest caffeine content and forms the basis for flavored teas like chai, along with some instant teas.
  • Oolong tea:  In an animal study, those given antioxidants from oolong tea were found to have lower bad cholesterol levels. One variety of oolong, Wuyi, is heavily marketed as a weight loss supplement, but science hasn’t backed the claims.
  • Green tea:  Made with steamed tea leaves, it has a high concentration of EGCG and has been widely studied for its potential health benefits. There are several types of green tea.
  • White tea:  Uncured and unfermented, the resulting tea is pale yellow and low in caffeine. It tastes mild and slightly sweeter than green tea.
  • Herbal teas:  Any beverage made from the infusion or decoction of herbs, spices, or other plant material in hot water. These usually do not contain caffeine. There are some purported medicinal benefits as well as concerns for toxicity when consumed in large amounts.

Tips for Storing

Storing tea leaves properly is very important as tea will degrade if exposed to heat, moisture, or light. Always keep loose tea in a bottle or canister with a tight seal and in a cupboard away from light, heat, and moisture. If you use tea bags, you may want to consider storing them in a canister or sealed plastic bag. While properly sealed and stored tea can maintain its quality for up to one year, it is encouraged to use it much sooner to get the most out of it.

Guidelines for Brewing Tea

  • Rinse an empty teapot, and fill it with freshly drawn hot tap water.
  • For green tea, the water should be heated to just below boiling. For all other teas, bring the water to a boil.
  • Empty the hot water from your teapot and add one rounded teaspoon of tea leaves or one tea bag for each cup of water.
  • For maximum flavor, place the tea directly into the bottom of the pot or use a basket infuser. Pour the freshly boiled water over the leaves in the teapot.
  • Steep the tea for 3-5 minutes. Tea will become bitter if brewed for longer than 5-6 minutes.
  • When brewing tea, use a timer rather than your eyes. It is a common mistake to brew the tea until it looks a particular color or shade. The color of tea is a poor indicator of taste. To draw out the best flavor of the tea, the water must contain oxygen, which is reduced if the water is left boiling too long or is boiled more than once.
  • Add honey or lemon if desired, but avoid adding a lot of extra sugar.

Are You Ready for a Cup of Tea?

No matter what type of tea you prefer or whether you like it hot or cold, there is no denying the comfort one can experience from this beloved drink. With so many different flavors to choose from (particularly if you enjoy herbal teas), tea is a great alternative to water. It can keep you hydrated and potentially improve your heart and dental health without adding calories or sugar to your diet. So, on these dark, cold evenings, rather than drinking sugar-heavy cocoa; why not brew a pot and enjoy a nice cup of tea?

Sarah Wood, the author of this article, is available to speak to groups or hold classes on a variety of health-related topics such as nutrition, physical activity, healthy cooking, stress management, and wellness. To schedule an event or get more information, call 816-279-1691 or email woodsarah@missouri.edu.

What is your favorite type of healthy tea? Let us know in the comments below.

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About Sarah Wood

Sarah Wood is a registered dietitian with a Master's Degree in Applied Health Sciences. Currently, she is a Nutrition and Health Education Specialist with the University of Missouri Extension. When taking time for herself, she runs, travels, and creates art.

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