Tea is one of the most popular drinks around the world, and its history dates back thousands of years. The earliest references to drinking tea were around 2737 BCE and originated from China, where legend has it that a few leaves from the Camellia Sinensis plant fell into Emperor Shen Nung’s hot cup of water. He was pleasantly surprised by the great taste and medicinal properties of the drink, and as a result, tea was born.
Other ingredients such as ginger, orange and peppermint were added in later years, and different styles of preparations emerged to produce darker teas ranging from white to green to black. What followed was a globalization of tea as it became popular in Tibet, Japan, Europe, India, Russia and North America. Today, tea is still popular and has now been extensively researched and recognized as having many health benefits.
Health benefits of drinking tea
Tea contains antioxidants called flavonoids, which are found in plant-based foods. Tea contains a specific kind of flavonoid called polyphenol, one of the most potent antioxidants. Antioxidants help to eliminate destructive compounds in the body called free radicals, which overload our cells by damaging our proteins, DNA, and lipids. Alcohol, smoking and pollution can all cause increased levels of free radicals.
“Typically, the body can handle free radicals, but if there are too many, the body can’t keep up. Green tea may be heart healthy due to the high flavonoid content, which may reduce oxidative damage to cells,” said Jenifer Bowman, UCHealth cardiac dietitian. “Tea may also protect the heart by inhibiting blood clots, relaxing blood vessels and improving cholesterol levels,” said Bowman.
The health benefits of drinking different teas may vary slightly. Black tea usually has the highest caffeine content and can reduce risk of stroke, and white tea has been shown to have the most powerful anti-cancer properties. Green tea often has the highest concentrations of polyphenols and may interfere with the growth of some cancers, reduce risk of neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, reduce risk of stroke and improve cholesterol.
“Green tea is also higher in vitamin K compared to other varieties of tea. Some medications require low to moderate intake of vitamin K to avoid adverse interactions,” said Bowman. So it’s important to talk to your doctor about which tea is best for you, if you are on a medication like this.
Another health benefit of drinking tea, any type of tea, is it has no calories, no sodium, no sugar and no fat. This makes it a great drink for those watching their weight or trying to lose weight.
Tea vs. coffee
All tea, excluding herbal teas, are made from the same plant, Camellia Sinensis. Therefore, it can be hard to determine how much caffeine is in a tea, as this can depend on factors such as growing conditions, processing methods and the way you brew it. However, tea generally has a lower caffeine content than coffee, which has about 100 mg per cup.
“Tea can be a nice option for those that are trying to reduce their caffeine intake. Tea will provide better hydration compared to coffee, as the higher content of caffeine in coffee has a dehydrating effect. Coffee also contains similar antioxidants that are found in tea – polyphenol flavonoids,” said Bowman.
Types of tea, preparation and storage
There are a lot of different teas out there, and most are good, however avoiding bottled tea with added sugar is recommended.
“I discourage my patients from choosing bottled tea beverages that are sweetened. Many of these products have the same sugar content as a soda, and this can be a source of extra calories,” said Bowman.
Storing tea at room temperature in an airtight container away from sunlight will help to preserve the flavor of dry tea. The packages that most teas are sold in are appropriate for storage. As far as preparation, green tea can be steeped in cold water for the highest retention of antioxidants, but can also be steeped for about 5 minutes in hot water, like white and black tea.
Cooking with tea
The possibilities of tea don’t end with just drinking it. Tea can also be used as a cooking liquid instead of water to add a boost of flavor and antioxidants to your meals.
“Instead of plain water for cooking rice, pasta or other dry grains, tea could be used to prepare these foods, enhancing the flavor. Tea can also be used as a marinade or to make sauces or dressing,” said Bowman.
Below are a couple tea recipes to try:
Green Tea Sautéed Vegetables
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 2 tsp. chopped fresh red chili pepper
- 1 tsp. grated lemon zest
- 1 tsp. loose green tea
- 4 cups broccoli florets
- 1 cup yellow or green zucchini, cut into ¼-inch diagonal slices
- ½ cup brewed green tea
- ¼ cup red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch square
Add oil to a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chili pepper, lemon peel and tea leaves, stir-fry until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add broccoli and zucchini and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Add the tea and bell pepper. Cook until most of the liquid evaporates, about 1 minute. Makes 4 servings.
Nutrition Facts per ½ cup: 92 calories, 3g protein, 6g carbohydrate, 7gm fat, 0.5g saturated fat, 25 mg sodium, 3g fiber
Grilled Teriyaki Chicken
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 1 Tbsp. teriyaki sauce
- 1 Tbsp. rice vinegar
- 1/8 tsp. white pepper
- 4 tsp. corn starch
- 1 Tbsp. minced garlic
- 1 Tbsp. minced orange zest
- 2 green onions minced
- ½ cup brewed green tea
- 1 tsp. honey
- 1 tsp. lemon juice
For the marinade: mix teriyaki sauce, vinegar and pepper in a medium bowl. Dissolve the cornstarch in the vinegar mixture, then add garlic, orange zest and green onions. Add chicken to the marinade, cover and refrigerate for 2 hours. Remove chicken from marinade, reserving marinade. Preheat grill. Place chicken on grill and cook for 8-10 minutes. Turn and brush with reserved marinade. Grill an additional 8-10 minutes, or until tender and no longer pink in the center.
For the sauce: combine all sauce ingredients in a small bowl. Serve as a dipping sauce with the chicken. Makes 4 servings.
Nutrition Facts per serving: 215 calories, 35g protein, 6.5g carbohydrate, 4g fat, 1g saturated fat, 166 mg sodium
Recipes courtesy of Cooking with Green Tea, by Ying Chang Compestine