Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
29 Sep

Dear Mark: To Tea or Not to Tea?

Dear Mark,

Do the benefits of tea outweigh its negatives (caffeine, teeth staining, etc.)? Is tea a worthy substitute to a glass of water? If so, how many times a week should one drink tea?

Given our big fall theme the last week or so, I thought this was an especially timely question. The truth is it’s nice to kick back at night with something warm (even in California) once Autumn hits. Call it nostalgia if you will.

The Primal Blueprint is all about loading up on antioxidants. Though I wouldn’t ever suggest that tea should (or could) stand in for veggies and certain fruits like berries, I believe in using other sources to boost my overall antioxidant intake. Wise supplementation is obviously a part of this, as is tea and red wine among other things.

It’s true that tea does carry a few negative factors as our reader mentions. One quick point: since black tea is the worst culprit for teeth staining, you can always go for another variety like white tea. As far as the caffeine goes, I think this is more of a reason to pause. Caffeine, as we mentioned in our Caffeine Talk post, can decrease blood flow to the heart during exercise and can increase blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes. Additionally, if you’re more caffeine sensitive, it can cause heartburn and even increase your risk for non-fatal cardiac events.

I don’t mention these points to be a killjoy – especially for you tea lovers out there. I use tea myself and recommend it as a great addition to a good Primal Blueprint diet. The fact is tea has only 1/4-1/2 of the typical content of brewed coffee. Besides, even if you don’t want the caffeine, there are other “tea” related possibilities. (I’ll get to that in just a minute.)

But now to the upsides, and there are many. Tea offers anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidative properties, which relate to any number of minor and major health issues. The overall picture of research seems to suggest that tea can offer protective factors against cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, arthritis, and (less definitively) many cancers. There’s even some indication that tea intake can lower the body’s absorption of carbohydrates and that tea can play a positive role in the body’s response to bacterial infection.

How much do you need to make a difference? I’d argue that any increase in antioxidant power in your diet is a positive thing. It’s not an all or nothing proposition. In terms of protective factors for diseases (as seen in particular studies), the amounts vary. In a Swedish study showing tea’s protective impact against ovarian cancer, 1 cup a day (black tea) lowered the women’s risk by some 24%. Two cups a day decreased risk by 60%. (It’s important to note that these kinds of dramatic results were not replicated in other prominent studies.) Some research related to tea’s allegedly protective effect in cardiovascular health cites 3 cups a day. Quite a few studies cite 2-3 cups as making the most significant difference but note that 1 cup a day often shows measurable impact.

A few words about choosing teas…

All true “teas” are from the same plant. (Herbal teas aren’t really tea. While they may offer certain particular, often marginal “medicinal” benefit, they generally don’t contain the same antioxidant load of tea.) The differences in black, green, and white tea (the true tea varieties) are a product of processing rather than source. The less processed the leaves are, the more of their polyphenols are retained. White is the least processed of the three main varieties, and black is the most processed. Green and something called oolong (between green and black essentially) are in the middle. Incidentally, not only does white tea retain the most polyphenols, it also has the least caffeine. Nonetheless, if you grew up on black tea and can’t get yourself to drink anything else (and you’re not caffeine sensitive), don’t sweat it. Tea as a whole offers solid antioxidant value whichever variety you choose.

As for “red tea” or Rooibus (not really a tea, but we’ll grant it admittance here), it hasn’t been studied as much as the true teas. Nonetheless, it does seem to display antioxidant properties. If you prefer it to tea, I say go for it especially because it doesn’t have any caffeine.

And let me address the inevitable question about bags versus loose. The trouble with bagged tea isn’t necessarily the bag itself. (Although a lot of people argue that the bag design doesn’t allow the tea to steep properly.) Bagged tea is generally the “dregs” of tea separation and processing. (And usually old, to boot.) Though the powdery remains will offer some antioxidant benefit, it won’t be nearly that of fresh, loose tea. To use loose tea, you’ll likely want to invest in either a press or some kind of an infuser. Alternatively, if you’d rather give up tea than give up the convenience of the bag, look for tea leaves in individual “sachets.” (They’re more common now just about everywhere.)

 

Yes, you’ll likely pay more for loose, fresh tea than for the jumbo box of Lipton at Costco. I always say it’s about nutritional bang for your buck, and that mantra holds here as well. HOWEVER! (Worth the capitalization.) This doesn’t mean you have to go to a fancy specialty shop and break the bank. Though the service and variety in these places are excellent, I’m sure, the important thing you’re looking for is freshness. (As with anything else in the nutritional realm, freshness equals optimum antioxidant value.) Most specialty shops will likely offer that, but I’d argue that a good ethnic market likely provides the same fresh product for a fraction of the cost. If you live in an area that doesn’t offer this type of market, consider going online for fresh tea rather than using the typical grocery store fare. (There’s no telling how old it is.) Good readers -we’d love to read your suggestions for Internet/mail order sources! I’ve heard good things about Upton Tea Imports and Adagio Teas, but I’m sure there are many good online purveyors out there.

Finally, the one “tea” I’d forgo (and forget) is chai. I mean specifically the doctored up chai tea drinks you see in the West at coffee houses. They’re loaded with sweeteners – some hovering at or above 40 grams of sugar per serving! My advice: stick to the simple thing. (How often that’s true in life and nutrition, eh?)

Thanks again for your questions and comments, and keep ‘em coming!

mat.teo, naama, slambo_42, avlxyz, Allie’s.Dad Flickr Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

Tea Time

How to Eat More Chocolate and Drink More Wine Every Day

Is All Chocolate Created Equal?

Top 10 Natural Ways to Reduce Inflammation

The Entire “Dear Mark” Series

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Chai tea isn’t bad if you make your own. I like this one:
    Lightly crush
    1.5″ cinnamon stick
    4 cardamom pods
    5 peppercorns
    3 cloves
    Combine in pot with 3.5 cups h2o and 1.5 cups milk. Bring to boil – add 3Tbsp Darjeeling loose tea (or 5 black tea bags). Turn off heat, cover and let steep 5 minutes. Strain.

    No need for sugar or crazy mixes – mmmmmmm

    MamaBear wrote on September 27th, 2011
  2. Hi Denny,

    I love Genmai Cha Green Tea. This tea has a nutty flavor. I’m starting to go Paleo for the first time very soon and I know this tea is not allowed since it contains brown rice. Is the Matcha a good substitute? Does it have a nutty flavor? Also where is a good place to buy this tea and does it come in a decaffeinated version too? Thanks!

    FitJen wrote on January 23rd, 2012
    • the path of tea!!

      http://www.thepathoftea.com/

      Tea experts!! I love this shop, its really one of a kind. I also love genmaicha, but at this shop you’ll find over 150 organic teas and for sure you’ll find a replacement. The staff is super knowledgable and the prices are reasonable for loose leaf. I personally reccomend the kagoshima sencha, coconut oolong, and white peach. Give them a call and they will set you up with exactly what you need!

      Jess wrote on June 14th, 2012
  3. We have been buying our loose tea and coffee from deckancoffee.com. They are usually in a farmers market and various fairs in the metro detroit area. They have reasonable shipping charges as well. Their craigmore English breakfast is awesome. Green passion and African safari are 2 of my other favorites. I know this is a tea site, but their coffee is one of the best I’ve ever had.

    Reena wrote on March 19th, 2012
  4. 1) Resources: The Path of Tea in Houston, has a huge selection of ALL ORGANIC loose leaf teas, which can be purchased online. They also hold tea tasting nights and various lectures.
    It is extremely important to use ALL ORGANIC teas because with tea, you can’t ever wash it!
    2) Caffine: If you brew your tea for about 30 seconds, and then toss the water and re-use the tea leaves, you’ll remove something like over 90% of the caffine. Plus, the caffine in tea is different from that in coffee. I’m not an expert, but my understanding is that there are significant differences which put tea on the winning side over coffee :)

    Jess wrote on June 14th, 2012
  5. I just LOVE good tea all my life. However, since diagnosed with frequent ventricular ectopic heart beats, i have to come down to decaf tea,
    Any recommendation would be much appreciated, if anyone has good tips on decaf or how to manage heart arrthymia

    jacquie from Oz wrote on August 13th, 2012
  6. I love rooibos tea! My ultimate favorite right now is peppermint rooibos from Rishi. I buy it online by the pound at http://www.rishi-tea.com/product/peppermint-rooibos-organic-fair-trade-caffeine-free-rooibos-blend/caffeine-free-herbal

    I have also seen it at Whole foods. I drink so much that it is way more cost effective to buy by the pound.

    Rebecca Eccles wrote on September 4th, 2012
  7. Hi,
    I am new to Paleo.

    What is your take on making homemade icetea and drinking it dailey instead of artfical juices from supermarkets?

    I generally dont drink fuzzy drinks, but i used to consume a fair amount of juices, so the icetea that I make myself from loose teas now works for me as a good substitute, howewver I dont know if this is a good way to go? So I would really appreciate some additional advice. Thank you :)

    Ana wrote on October 4th, 2012
  8. Herbal teas, especially organic are great, but there is an insane amount of fluoride in tea! Green is the worst, but black, roiboos and white are lousy with it as well. At one time I was drinking a lot of green tea and developed fluoride toxicity, which included thyroid issues and IT band issues,as well as many other lesser side effects as well. Three days after no tea and changing toothpaste I felt like a new woman!

    LisaLisa wrote on October 6th, 2012
  9. I’d imagine that homemade chai would be very healthy. Steep some spices (cloves, ginger, cardamom, anise, perhaps pepper and vanilla) for a while, add the tea for the recommended brewing time, and strain. I’ve heard that spices tend to have healthy chemicals, and this is combined with the goodness of the tea by itself. Perhaps add a touch of dairy and honey, which would make it a reasonable vice at worst.

    It’s always good to check what the tea place says regarding brewing time. Green is usually supposed to be brewed just under boiling, and white under that, but for some reason I’ve yet to figure out there are exceptions to this rule. There are different times also, sometimes under a minute.

    And pu’erh is indeed yummy! Although rather bitter. It has a strength of flavor that to me is reminiscent of coffee.

    Rhiannon wrote on December 29th, 2012
  10. I’m new to Paleo and trying to get my head around lots of things. I’m a big fan of Red Tea, I love the taste and hydration and antioxident potential but I found out that Rooibos is actually part of the Legume family! – How does this sit with fellow Paleo followers as I’ve never seen this discussed!

    Thanks,

    Paul S wrote on September 18th, 2013
  11. I recently had to quit the tea and for the reason stated here: heartburn, which is now heartbreak because I loved my teas, especially oolong and Japanese senchas which are very green and loaded with caffeine (yes, some greens have lots of caffeine). But there’s something in the plant—perhaps the caffeine—which does not agree with me. It took several years of heavy consumption (up to four 12 oz cups on some days) for the heartburn to appear, but once it did it was just too painful to continue drinking tea. Now, I’ve moved on to the herbal stuff and I’m trying to not pout about missing out on the true teas. Life is tough sometimes.

    Mike L wrote on January 6th, 2014
  12. Matcha is the queen of all green teas! But be careful, there are a lot of fake products available. High quality is fine as talcum, glowing green and has a fruity, sweet, creamy green taste with umami. Fake is bitter, brown, mealy. Ingredients: matcha rules due to the high polyphenol content (egcg, l-theanine), you ingest the whole leaf. Also high in polyphenols are other white and green first flushs and shaded green teas as gyokuro/kabusecha are always higher in antioxidants due to the method.

    Great herbals are rooibos/honeybush, olive leaf tea, cistus incanus (flu/viruses), all of them offer taste and various health benefits. Sipp thru and enjoy.

    ps: addes spices are always a good idea, healthy and tasty!

    Happy brewing! NK

    Nina K. wrote on February 5th, 2014

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