True Brew: Drink Tea for Your Health

Marguerite Lamb explains why you should drink tea for your health, including information on the differences between tea and herbal tea, health benefits of tea, tea and anemia and types of tea for brewing.

| December 2000/January 2001

  • Drinking tea for your health.
    Drinking tea for your health.
  • Tea and iron.
    Tea and iron.
  • 183-042-1a

  • 183-041-1a

  • Drinking tea for your health.
  • Tea and iron.
  • 183-042-1a
  • 183-041-1a

Learn about the benefits you can receive when you drink tea for your health. 

It's a wintry afternoon and you've just come in from your favorite fishing hole, where the only thing biting is the wind. Chilled to the bone, you need something to warm you from the inside out. But before lunging for the coffee or the Swiss Miss, know this: There's a hot, soothing beverage that has half the caffeine of coffee, none of the sugar of cocoa, and may help to ward off cancer, heart attack, stroke — even tooth decay. Of course, we're talking about tea — black, green or oolong.

Same Leaf, Different Tea

When you think tea, drink tea for your health. Black, green and oolong teas all begin with the leaves of the same white-flowered evergreen, Camellia sinensis. The difference is in the processing: Black tea leaves are fermented fully, oolong partially and green not at all.

Black tea leaves are further sorted and graded according to size. The largest, best-quality whole leaves are labeled orange pekoe, followed by pekoe and pekoe souchang. (Note that "orange" refers to size and quality, not flavor.) Smaller or crushed leaves are classified as broken orange pekoe, broken pekoe, fannings or dust. Most of the bagged teas sold in the U.S. contain these black tea bits; they're used in popular blends such as English and Irish Breakfast teas, as well as in scented and spiced varieties (not to be confused with herbals; see " If It's Herbal, It Ain't Tea" at the end of this article) such as jasmine and Earl Grey. Though green tea has of late gained ground in the West, black still reigns as America's favorite tea, accounting for a full 95% of all that we drink. But whether your cup of tea is black or green, whole-leaf or bagged bits, recent studies suggest that tea is not only good, but good for you.

Tea: It's all in the Antioxidants

For years scientists have been singing the praises of antioxidants, powerful dietary compounds that work in our bodies to neutralize free radicals (reactive oxygen molecules) before they can oxidize, or "rust," healthy cells and contribute to aging, heart dis ease, cancer and more. Among the more championed antioxidants are vitamins C, E and beta carotene, but these "supernutrients" don't battle alone. The plant kingdom, scientists are learning, offers a vast menu of antioxidants, including a group of potent compounds called flavonoids, found in many fruits and vegetables as well as in green and black tea. "Tea contains several dozen flavonoid compounds," notes Jeffrey Blumberg, chief of the antioxidants research laboratory at the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University. "Two cups of tea gives you about the equivalent amount of flavonoids as a typical serving of vegetables."

But don't pass on the broccoli just yet, cautions Blumberg. For while your favorite Darjeeling may give you the same amount of flavonoids as a side of broccoli, it doesn't necessarily provide the same type. "You can't simply substitute the antioxidants of tea for the antioxidants of vegetables," says Blumberg, who stresses that a "network of antioxidants" is essential to good health.

earth mama
11/6/2012 7:09:57 AM

I would like to point out that flouride added to water supplies and toothpaste is a synthetic form of flouride and is very toxic. Flouridation should be outlawed, stopped immediatly. In tea it is naturally occuring, so is not so toxic, but should be a factor considered by a person who drinks a large amount of tea. I would not go overboard on anything that contained flouride, and I avoid the synthetic version at all costs. It is also worth mentioning that older tea leaves, which are lower quality and are often those used in the cheaper and instant teas, are much higher in flouride, and there was in fact a death noted in a person who lived in a flouridated community and drank an extreme amount of instant tea daily. My recommendation would be to consume only organic teas for the highest levels of antioxidants, lowest levels of contaminants, and only add a natural sweetener such as honey if you use one at all.

12/8/2008 9:44:50 PM

It may be important to mention the effects of adding sweeteners to the tea may cancel the benefits.

garden goddess
9/20/2008 6:46:42 PM

Well I am a big iced tea drinker and during the summer i am constantly drinking tea, green and black, I still have cavities, and high cholesterol and triglycerides, it would be a wonderful thing if tea did indeed do all of the things claimed here, and maybe for some it does. Maybe i need to take a bath in it also for it to become more effective for me. Regardless of the claims i will still be a tea drinker, but i have cut back a little and noticed my tremors in my right hand have almost stopped.


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