08 October 2012

Sipping up the health benefits of tea

The media is all a-twitter with the benefits of tea and tea cafes are popping up around the country in similar fashion to coffee houses. Exactly what does tea do for us and do we receive different benefits from different types of tea? Here’s your quick guide of how to incorporate more tea into your wellness plan.

Quick facts:
Tea refers to a beverage, hot or iced, made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, a shrub that is native to India and China. All varieties of tea – Green, Black, White, Oolong, and Pur-erh – are made from this plant. The difference between them lies in their processing. Teas like chamomile and peppermint, though they are brewed in a similar way and have many health benefits, are not true teas because they are made with fruit, herbs, and flowers, not Camellia sinensis.

Green tea is created by steaming tea leaves and therefore retains much of its natural color. It’s high antioxidant levels have been studied extensively and it has been shown to prevent the growth of certain types of cancer including stomach, colorectal, pancreatic, bladder, lung, and breast. It also keeps the arteries clear by reducing cholesterol, reduces stress, aids in weight loss, and some studies have shown that it can be helpful in slowing the aging process of the brain.

Black tea comes from fermenting tea leaves and is particularly beneficial for lung health and reducing the risks of stroke. It also has the highest caffeine content of all teas and therefore promotes mental alertness.

White tea has the lightest amount of processing of all teas and retains nearly all of the antioxidant power of the original tea leaves, making it the most effective cancer fighter of tea varieties.

Oolong tea has received moderate research attention to test how it affects cholesterol levels. The result: it effectively lowers them. Some have also prescribed the same weight loss benefits as green tea, though there haven’t been enough studies to confirm that claim.

Pu-erh tea requires more processing that any other variety. Its full-bodied flavor and texture make it a favorite among converted coffee drinkers. Pu-erh is made by fermenting and aging the tea leaves and similar to Oolong it has been shown to lower cholesterol.

Though all these benefits make tea a standout refreshment, major scientific institutions have held off on widely touting tea as a health beverage.

Regardless, brewing up a cup or two or five, certainly won’t hurt and can only help. With the colder weather upon us, a hot cup of tea is certainly a comforting companion.

Christa Avampato is a business strategist, freelance writer, and yoga and meditation teacher based in New York City. She blogs daily about the art of creative living at Christa In New York: Curating a Creative Life and is a health advisor for Good Greens, a vegan protein bar.

Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons -- Laurel Fan