There are so many different types of tea on the market, and each of them have there own beneficial properties. I've wanted to learn more about these specific health benefits for each type of tea for a while now, and I finally took the time out to dig into the research. In this post I will share with you some of the main health benefits for the most common types of tea, but first, let's talk a little bit about tea in general.
Despite the fact that there are literally thousands of types of tea on the market, did you know that there are only four that are considered to be "real" tea? The only real teas are black, oolong, green, and white tea. All of these teas come from the Camellia sinensis plant. In fact, the only difference between these four types of tea is how the leaves are processed. The order in which I have them listed above is from most to least processed. Something to keep in mind here is that "processing" tea is very different than what you think of when you're talking about things such as processed food. The steps that tea leaves undergo during processing are all natural and do not have any negative health effects.
Another thing to keep in mind is that these four teas naturally have caffeine in them, but the amount of it varies. The more processed the leaves are, the more caffeine that is produced. White tea and green tea (the two least processed ones) have such a small amount of caffeine that they are virtually undetectable, but they are present. The reason I mention this is because many stores offer one of these four teas with the label "caffeine free" or "decaffeinated". DO NOT BUY THESE!!!! Tea producers use a chemical called hexane to dissolve the caffeine in tea, and hexane is a known carcinogen! While the amount of hexane in tea is very small, it can have a cumulative effect if you drink it often. Hexane is also the chemical used to make decaf coffee.
If you want a tea that naturally does not have caffeine, then you should have an herbal tea. These are not considered "real" teas because they do not come from the Camellia sinensis plant, but they are still delicious and have a variety of health benefits.
One last thing before I get into the qualities of specific types of tea... there are compounds in tea called flavonoids, which are great antioxidants, but they can bind to iron (especially iron from plant sources) and inhibit its absorption by up to 70% per cup of tea. For this reason, it is recommended that you do not have tea during or within one hour before or after a meal (sorry to all my fellow southerners who live off of iced tea at lunch-time).
Black Tea: Unlike all the other "real" teas, black tea is the only one that is fully oxidized. As a result, it has the highest level of caffeine, although it is still less than that of coffee. Research has shown that the antioxidants found in black tea may help to reduce total blood cholesterol, and therefore reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. The antioxidants also have a protective effect on lung tissue and may prevent damage due to smoking. Black tea contains vitamin C, which helps with the formation and repair of connective tissues. There are a variety of black teas made by adding floral or fruit extracts to the tea leaves. For example, Earl Grey is black tea with bergamot. Chai tea is also a black tea that has added milk, sugar, and a variety of spices.
Oolong Tea: This tea is considered to be "semi-oxidized" and has about half the amount of caffeine as black tea. Oolong tea contains niacin (vitamin B3), which has been shown to decrease LDL cholesterol and prevent atherosclerosis (the hardening of arteries that can cause heart attacks). Niacin is also involved in regulating metabolism.
Green Tea: During the processing, green tea is not oxidized, and therefore has only a very small amount of caffeine (almost non-existent). Also due to the lack of processing, the tea leaves are able to retain a lot of key nutrients. Green tea is extremely high in antioxidants that help prevent the development and slow the growth of cancerous tumors (the strongest correlations are seen in regard to its effects on breast cancer). These antioxidants can also help to counteract oxidative stress on the brain, and therefore help protect against dementia. Green tea is often used to help fight acne, boost the immune system, and promote oral health. Regular consumption of green tea is also associated with a decrease in blood pressure and improved blood lipid composition. Green tea also contains tannins (a class of antioxidants), vitamin C, fluoride (improves oral health), and chlorophyll (improves liver detoxification and promotes skin health).
White Tea: Out of all the "real" teas, white tea is the least processed, and therefore the lowest in caffeine and highest in antioxidants. White tea has antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-fungal properties and is great for boosting the immune system. The high concentration of antioxidants also makes this tea great for preventing the development of cancer, heart disease, and some skin conditions such as acne and rosacea. White tea contains fluoride, which promotes oral health, and vitamin E, which acts as another powerful antioxidant. Because the leaves of white tea undergo almost no processing, the leaves are very delicate, so it is best to not fully boil water when preparing it. White tea also has a very subtle taste.
Please be aware that some herbs are not recommended for pregnant women, so please consult your doctor about what teas to avoid if you are pregnant.
Chamomile: This tea has been associated with the stunting of growth in cancer cells, and it may prevent the side effects of uncontrolled diabetes such as loss in vision and nerve or kidney damage. Chamomile tea is also great for fighting insomnia and anxiety, relaxing muscle spasms, and relieving menstrual cramps.
Peppermint: AKA the tea that should be every college student's best friend because it is known to enhance memory and concentration ( I always drink peppermint tea while I'm studying and just before I take an exam). Peppermint tea also aids in digestion to reduce bloating and nausea, and it can also be soothing for breathing problems such as asthma.
Echinacea: This tea is excellent for boosting the immune system and can help fight colds and other upper respiratory infections.
Ginger: This tea is known for it's anti-inflammatory properties, so it is very beneficial if you suffer from any problems related to inflammation such as osteoarthritis. Ginger tea can also help ease nausea and increase your energy levels.
Lavender: Lavender tea is great for soothing respiratory problems such as chronic coughing or asthma. It is also very soothing and can help with fighting insomnia and reducing anxiety.
Lemon: This tea is also great for helping you to relax and fight anxiety, and it also helps to reduce bloating.
Dandelion: This tea is known for helping detoxify the body. It is a strong diuretic, which helps the liver and kidney get rid of built-up toxins. Its diuretic properties also help you to lose water weight and reduce bloating. Dandelion tea has a lot of antioxidants, calcium, magnesium, zinc, and iron, all of which help maintain bode density as well as many other functions. This tea also contains vitamin A and can help reduce inflammation.
*Note: dandelion is a common allergen, so do not drink this tea if you know you have an allergy to it.
One last note about tea is that while they are full of essential vitamins and minerals, they should not be used to take the place of a healthy, varied diet or supplements and medications.
Please comment below if you have any questions about tea!
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