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June 12, 2000 -- Let's take a new look at an old drink. In numerous studies, tea drinking has been found to protect against chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and now even osteoporosis. Stroll down the beverage aisle of your supermarket and you'll find that your options for tea are abundant. But not all teas are created equal. And not all forms of tea seem to deliver the same benefits. Keep these things in mind:

  • Pick a color. Both green and black teas come from the same evergreen plant -- Camellia sinensis -- and therefore have similar antioxidant protective abilities. Most tea in the United States is the black variety, while the milder green tea is more common in Asia. Drink the type you prefer.
  • Buy bags. Because crushing tea leaves releases more antioxidants, tea brewed from bags is better for you than tea brewed from leaves.
  • Brew it yourself. Many bottled or canned tea beverages contain very little tea and a lot of sugar and additives -- as much as six teaspoons of sugar per 8-ounce serving. Brew your tea for five minutes to get the full antioxidant benefit. Hot and iced teas are equally good for you, as long as the iced tea isn't diluted substantially by ice.
  • Go for the caffeine. Although tea contains only about one-third the caffeine found in coffee, preliminary studies show that the caffeine may actually help to increase tea's cancer-protection effects. Caffeine is a diuretic and stimulates urination, and you can actually get dehydrated by drinking too much tea or coffee -- so take it easy.

If you're sensitive to caffeine or drink tea in the evening, you'll be heartened to know that decaffeinated tea is just as rich in antioxidants.

  • Reconsider herbs. Herbal teas are made from altogether different plants and spices -- and often contain no tea leaves at all. Fruits and spices make for flavorful alternatives, but if you want tea's antioxidant protection, be sure that tea is listed as the primary ingredient.

Sue Licher, a WebMD contributing writer from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, has written about health, energy conservation, business marketing, and other subjects for a variety of publications, television programs, and web sites.

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