By Keri Glassman, MS, RD, CDN
What It Is
We drink more water than any other beverage worldwide. Duh. Second place doesn’t go to coffee, Coca-Cola or Pepsi. Green tea gets the silver with hundreds of millions of people worldwide slurping, sipping and sucking it down by the kettleful. Green tea comes from the plant Camellia sinesis and it is processed differently than black or oolong teas.
Because green tea leaves are barely processed (mostly just dried), they hold on to tons of nutrients that can be lost with other tea-treatment methods. The leaves are never fermented before being brewed and that is what makes the green kind of tea into a superpower mug of healthfulness for you. We can take the little tea leaves and make powders, extracts and medicine, so not only is green tea considered a food, but it is also a healing agent... so if you are not already in the fan club, it is time to join. (Don’t worry, this club’s open to everyone.)
The Dirty Deets
In virtually every household in China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam, there is often a pot of green tea at the ready. These countries do not suffer as much from Western lifestyle-related illnesses (including heart disease and cancers), probably in part thanks to their frequently full cups of green tea. Are there calories in those cups? Nope. Carbs? Fats? Sugars? Nope, nope, nope. Yet the nutritional benefits are spilling over. Check it out:
- The deal with nutrition is that we’re still learning all the time. We used to think nutrition was limited to carbs, fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals. Now, we know there are plant nutrients and chemical structures and tons of invisible, interesting science in our edibles... including in that tea bag. Green tea is packed with flavonoids, which are cancer fighters in your brew. They help punch out the cells associated with skin, breast, lung, colon, esophageal and bladder cancers. Go fill your teapot.
- Besides fighting cancer, green tea contains these other compounds and properties called polyphenols and catechins, which protect your heart and arteries, which staves off heart disease and helps lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. Your teapot’s boiling, so plunk a green tea bag in your mug.
- There is a big argument that green tea is more healthful to drink than water because not only does it hydrate, but it also imparts all these healthy nutrients. Honestly, the big ta-da is that there's good research showing that the more green tea you drink, the lower your risk of death due to all causes. Drink up, friend -- you’re on cup one and the study shows that five or more cups a day is optimal.
How To Chow Down
We’re looking for you to drink three or more cups a day. Pour boiling water over the bag and allow it to steep for a few minutes to really get those catechins and flavonoids into your brew. Drink it right away, because those little suckers break down quickly, so the bottled, iced and already-prepared versions won’t give you the full benefit.
- If we’re going to be really picky, go ahead and drink your green tea separately from your chow. Some of the iron from your food will compete with the tea for absorption, so use an afternoon cup of green tea wisely... like when you are looking for another cup of coffee because your morning brew has worn off. Or instead of hitting the vending machine at 3, hit the hot water button on the water cooler instead. Have your tea to ward off the munchies or to prevent eating from stress or boredom.
- You can be an Asian adventurer with all of the green tea flavors out there. There are decaf, citrus-, ginger- and fruit- flavored teas galore, each with unique flavors and benefits. Enjoy the ones that use all-natural, organic ingredients and are preservative-free.
- For many Westerners, the smell and taste of green tea takes some getting used to. For you, friends, it is recommended you try matcha. Matcha is a powder form of the whole green tea leaves that you can sprinkle on just about anything from oatmeal to yogurt. It has all the benefits and a super-mild flavor.
- Finally, use green tea in your marinades or sauces for a subtle hint of flavor and all of the benefits. Use it when you cook fish and salads -- try green tea cod over lentil currant salad for a truly unique and fabulous dinner.
- Of course, there are extract and supplement options out there. If you want to go that route, check with your doc because they are not recommended for everyone (especially those with active or chronic medical conditions), and look for a standardized version.
In The Know
Most caffeine is released into the mug in the first few seconds of brewing. Plunge your bag in boiling water for a few seconds and then ditch it. Use the same bag to brew your cup. Yes, you’ll lose a little of the nutrients you want to keep, but since you are brewing for a few minutes anyway, there’s more than enough in there for you to get your fill. Bottoms up!