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Barbara Burke

Good For You

By Barbara Burke

Wednesday, February 23, 2000

Good news brewing
over tea’s benefits

EXCEPT for water, tea is consumed more than any other beverage throughout the world. In recent years, green tea has been linked with several health benefits. But new research indicates all teas contain certain health-promoting compounds.

Green, oolong and black teas come from the same plant, Camellia sinensis. The major difference among the three types of tea is how they are processed, or fermented. In this context, fermentation can also be described as oxidation, or a blackening of the leaves, which occurs when the chemicals in tea react to heat.

In green tea, no fermentation occurs. For oolong tea, leaves are fermented less than one hour. For black tea, the fermentation time is three to six hours. Other variations in the teas come from factors such as the soil, climate and weather conditions of the regions in which the tea leaves are grown.

All teas contain powerful antioxidants called polyphenols. These substances may help protect us from a variety of conditions, including heart disease, stroke, cancer, arthritis and sun-related skin damage.

A Dutch study reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine concluded that those who drank one to two cups of tea daily lowered their risk of severe aortic atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries caused by a build-up of fat and other substances) by 46 percent. At four cups a day, the risk dropped by 69 percent.

In a study funded by the U.S. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, those who consumed a cup or more of tea a day had a 44 percent reduction in heart attack risk, when compared to nontea drinkers. The study did not compare the benefits of one cup versus two, three or four.

However, much of the evidence about tea's protective qualities still comes from laboratory and animal studies, not human studies, according to the current issue of the University of California at Berkeley's Wellness Letter. Consequently, it is too soon to recommend tea alone as a way to prevent heart attacks. But tea can be used in partnership with a healthy diet, regular exercise and other habits to lower the risk of heart disease.

HERE are some facts about tea from this month's issue of the Wellness Letter:

1. Tests at a Consumer Reports laboratory found teas brewed from loose teas or tea bags had the most antioxidant power. Next come instant teas, then bottled teas. Bottled teas usually contain lots of water and sugar, and not much tea.

2. Steeping tea for 3 to 5 minutes releases the highest level of antioxidants.

3. It's fine to drink your tea with milk, since studies show that milk does not "bind" the beneficial polyphenols in tea

4. Tea is good for your teeth. Black tea contains enough fluoride to help prevent tooth decay. Green tea contains twice as much.

5. Green, oolong and black teas contain about 40 milligrams of caffeine, or half the caffeine found in a cup of brewed coffee. Caffeine content will vary depending upon how much tea you use and how long you steep it.

6. It is unknown whether decaffeinated teas have the same polyphenols and potential health benefits as regular teas.

7. Herbal teas do not have the benefits of regular tea.

8. Although tea is turning up in beauty products, it is doubtful that applying tea to the skin does any good.

Despite its many benefits, some people need to be cautious about when they drink their tea. Tea, like coffee, contains tannins that interfere with iron absorption. People who are at risk for iron-deficiency should avoid drinking tea at or near mealtime.

Health Events

Barbara Burke is a Hawaii-Pacific University instructor
who has been teaching and writing about food
and nutrition since 1975.

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