They say, ‘we are what we eat.’ But what about, ‘we are what we drink!’ Is that also not equally true?
The health benefits of drinking tea have been known since ages. Buddhist monks drank tea to remain alert and calm during meditation. Chinese and Japanese emperors drank tea to remain stay vigorous and virile. Oriental physicians prescribed it as a cure for various ailments – from indigestion to inflammation.
What is in this tiny leaf that makes it such a healthy beverage? We take a closer look.
Long before tea became a fashionable habit in the West, it was used as a medicinal drink. In ancient China, it was used for its medicinal properties to cure everything from vision to flushing out toxins. Even tea’s mythical discovery is linked to the fable of emperor Shen Nung - considered to be the Father of Chinese herbal medicine and agriculture. It is said that Shen Nung tasted all kinds of herbs for their medicinal use. Once, when he was out gathering herbs, tea leaves accidentally fell into a pot of water he was boiling for drinking. The water started to give off a nice flavor, which intrigued Shen Nung.
He took a sip, it tasted soothing - and tea was discovered…a divine accident!
Today, the world is re-discovering the immense health benefits of tea. Scientific research is increasingly unravelling the complex chemical compounds in tea and their strong correlation to preventive and therapeutic benefits for a wide range of ailments, diseases and disorders.
Compounds in Tea
To understand the amazing healthy benefits of tea, we need to look at its complex chemistry. The important chemical compounds found in tea are polyphenols, amino acids, enzymes, pigments, carbohydrates, methylxanthines, minerals and many other volatile flavour and aroma compounds.
In addition, tea also has folic acid, vitamins, catechins, carotenoids (type of pigment), theaflavins and thearubigins (types of flavanols in black tea) as well as theophylline and theobromine (types of methylxantines).
According to leading research, 3.5 cups of tea contains :
10% Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)
25% Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
6% Vitamin B6
10-25% Vitamin C (Black Tea 10%; Green Tea 25%)
10% Folic Acid
45% Natural Fluoride
It is this rich chemistry and rare compounds that give tea is immense health-giving properties. Here is how:
Polyphenols - comprise almost 30%-40% of freshly plucked leaves and tea solids. There are an estimated 30,000 polyphenolic compounds in tea, of which, the most abundant is Flavonoids. Flavonoids is the secret to why tea is healthy - because they are high in antioxidants
Flavonoids - Tea flavanols are referred to as Tannins and Catechins. The major flavanols in tea are: Catechin (C), Epicatechin (EC), Epicatechin Gallate (ECG), Gallocatechin (GC), Epigallocatechin (EGC) and Epigallocatechin Gallate (EGCG). EGCG is the most active of the catechins, and this flavanol has been in limelight in recent years for its powerful antioxidant properties.
Role of Antioxidants in Disease Prevention
Both Catechins and Polyphenols are high in antioxidants. Antioxidants soak up free radicals in our bodies. Free radicals are generated by our bodies as a byproduct of chemical processes like metabolism, aging and stress. Free radicals damage cells, proteins and DNA, and are linked to many diseases like Atherosclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, heart diseases, stroke and cancers. They are also thought to be linked to ageing. By negating the effect of free radicals, antioxidants help in cleaning up the body’s cell systems. Our body produces antioxidants, but these are not sufficient. Additional intake in the form of certain fruits and vegetables boost antioxidants.
An easy and affordable source of antioxidants is tea. While green tea is high in Catechins (EGCG), black tea is high in Polyphenols (theaflavins and thearubigins). Some research has also suggested that flavonoids in tea may prevent the oxidation of the so-called bad cholesterol in the blood that leads to the build-up of plaque in artery walls, as well as helping to maintain a healthy cardiovascular system. Regular consumption of tea has been associated (in vivo and/or in vitro evidence) with protection against some cancers including lung, stomach, breast and skin cancers, as well as showing anti-inflammatory, antithrombotic, cholesterol lowering, antiviral and antibacterial properties. There is growing evidence showing a beneficial relationship between drinking tea and reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases like stroke and heart attack. A recently demonstrated added benefit is that tea drinking on a regular basis can help fight obesity as it can speed up the burning of fat calories.
There is about eight times the amount of 'anti-oxidant power' in three cups of tea than there is in one apple. Each cup of tea gives you about 140mg of flavonoids.
Carotene is also a powerful antioxidant found in tea. It is the vegetable form of Vitamin A (Vitamin A is only found in animal protein.) and is necessary for healthy eyes and skin. Carotene is also thought to be inhibiting the growth of many pre-cancerous tumors. Tea has been linked to lowering cholesterol and increasing the blood levels of HDL (good cholesterol.)
Methylxathines - the main Methylxanthine in tea is the stimulant Caffeine. However, the amount of Caffeine in tea much lower than in coffee. And it is this moderate amount of Caffeine in tea that keeps us alert.
Amino Acid - Tea is the only plant known to make amino acid. Tea has a particularly amino acid called L-Theanine, which is known to stimulate alpha brain waves that keep us relaxed and focused.
L-Theanine moderates the effect of caffeine. That is why, when you drink coffee you feel wired, but when you drink tea, you feel relaxed yet alert.
Minerals - About 28 minerals have been found in tea. These include, Magnesium, Calcium, Zinc, Fluorine, Manganese, Nickel, Selenium, Iodine and Aluminum.
It is now generally accepted that tea has numerous health benefits. Key health benefits of tea include:
Tea boosts metabolism due to Vitamins B1 (Thiamine) and B2 (Riboflavin). B vitamins help body process proteins and maintain steady blood sugar levels. This is the reason individuals with Type2 diabetes are drinking black tea.
Folic Acid is crucial for a body in healthy cell division, normal fetal development and manufacturing blood. The body replaces all of its cells every nine months. One of the keys to preventing cancer is to have healthy cellular division. Folic Acid in tea helps in prevention of cancer.
Prevention of Heart Diseases
Magnesium has been known to help in stabilizing the heart by regulating heart beats. Tea with its natural calming down property, combined with Magnesium, is thought prevent heart diseases.
Prevention of Osteoporosis
The link between calcium and its role in stronger bones is already proven. Calcium in tea is linked to stronger bones and prevention of osteoporosis. Also, adding a teaspoon of milk, which is also high in Calcium, further augments this.
Stronger Gums and Better Dental Hygiene
Tea is the only natural source of Fluoride for humans. We already know that Fluoride strengthens tooth enamel and decreases mouth bacteria. Tea makes a great mouthwash since it inhibits the growth of E.Coli and Streptococcus. Tea can also inhibit build-up of plaque.
Tea also contains Zinc. Zinc helps our bodies metabolize protein, carbohydrates and alcohol. Zinc also aids in building bones and healing wounds. Tea contains Manganese - essential for general physical development, and Potassium - useful to maintain the body's fluid balance.
Tea and Caffeine
Tea also contains much lesser quantity of caffeine compared to coffee :
An average cup of green tea contains 8.4mg of caffeine
An average cup of oolong tea contains 12.6mg of caffeine
An average cup of black tea contains 40mg of caffeine
A cup of instant coffee containing around 60mg of caffeine
A cup of ground coffee containing around 120mg of caffeine
The Polyphenols contained in tea slow the absorption of Caffeine by the body, making tea much more refreshing and revitalizing than coffee
Drinking tea can help reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and thrombosis and helps in reducing cholesterol
Taken without milk or sugar, tea has virtually no calories
Tea is good for dental hygiene - helps strengthen teeth, and prevent tooth and gum decay as it is a natural source of fluoride
Consumption of tea may reduce the risk of various cancers, especially lung, colon and skin cancers due to the natural antioxidants present in tea
Tea is a natural antiseptic
Green tea is said to be rich in Polyphenols which have anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties
Go on...Drink Tea - Cultivate a Health Habit!
Tea is a 100% natural beverage. Tea does not contain any artificial colouring, flavouring, additive or preservative. Tea is zero-cholesterol and zero-calories. With milk, four cups of tea a day can provides approximately 17% of the recommended intake for Calcium, 5% for Zinc, 22% for Vitamin B2, 5% for Folic Acid and Vitamins B1 and B6.
From blood pressure to bone density, from cancer to cholesterol and from diabetes to digestion, the health-benefits of tea are remarkable. And with over 1500 different kinds of teas available now, there is tea for everyone!
About the Author :
Ketan Desai | Chief Educator | firstname.lastname@example.org
Ketan Desai is the Chief Educator at VAHDAM Teas. After a brief stint with the family tea business, Ketan went on to work with some of the top tea planters, tasters, blenders and marketers across India, Sri Lanka, Russia and the CIS countries, the UK, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Africa.
A seasoned tea-taster and a passionate raconteur, Ketan conducts tea workshops and events, regaling participants with amusing stories while explaining the finer nuances of tea during live tasting sessions.
At VAHDAM Teas, Ketan spearheads content and community initiatives. He leads TEAch Me, VAHDAM’s social initiative focused on education of children at tea estates.
Ketan's favourite tea is Darjeeling First Flush, which he prefers to have without milk or sugar. He can be contacted at @ketdes on twitter or at email@example.com
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