“What kind of tea would you like?”
This question is no longer simple, due to the increasing variety of teas on the market and their subsequent health claims. Green vs white tea? But what about matcha green tea? Should I just choose herbal tea? How about that new detox tea – does that work? Let me help answer these questions for you and help you make your best tea choice.
Green vs White vs Black vs Oolong Tea??
All tea actually comes from the same plant – the difference is in the manufacturing process. Tea comes from the dried leaves of the Camellia sinensis bush and can be categorized into four types, depending on the level of oxidation.
White Tea White tea is the least processed kind of tea and they release the least amount of caffeine per cup. White tea contains 15-20 mg of caffeine/cup.
Green Tea Green tea is also minimially processed, and most of the catechin content is unchanged. Green tea contains 20-30 mg caffeine/cup.
Oolong Tea Oolong tea is semi-oxidized. It’s caffeine content and antioxidant level is midway between green and black tea. Oolong tea contains 30-50 mg caffeine/cup.
Black Tea Black tea is fully oxidized, and contains 40-60 mg caffeine/cup.
Health Benefit Comparison
What is so healthy about tea? How do these health benefits vary from tea to tea?
Tea leaves contain three main components that have metabolic effects: xanthic bases, essential oils & polyphenolic compounds.
- Xanthic bases (caffeine and theophylline)
- Acts mainly on the central nervous system, inducing psychoactive activity, and a vasodilator effect
- Theophylline also has a relaxation effect on bronchial smooth muscle
- Essential oils
- Essential oils, known for aiding digestion, are volatile and evaporate from tea during extended brewing time
- Green tea has a higher percentage of essential oils than black tea.
- Polyphenolic compounds
- Tea polyphenols, the main group of which are flavonoids known as catechins, are key components with many biological functions, including anti-inflammatory and anti oxidative effects
- All teas naturally contain between 100 and 300 mg of flavonoids per serving
- During the production of black tea, other flavonoids called theaflavins and thearubigins are formed. Because green tea undergoes little processing, most of the catechin content is unchanged and is found in the form of epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), epigallocatechin, and epicatechin. Among tea catechins, EGCG is the most effective at eliminating free radicals.
…so which tea is the best?
All of the above types of tea contain beneficial compounds that can aid in the prevention of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, obesity, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and neurodegenerative diseases. Although most of the research has been conducted with green tea, the overwhelming majority of tea consumed in the United States and the world is black. Research has yet to carefully investigate the health effects of white tea.
It would be best to choose less processed types of tea, including white tea and green tea. These teas have more potent anti-inflammatory compounds.
Sidenote – Matcha Tea
Matcha is a type of green tea that is made from ground up whole tea leaves. Because matcha is made from ground up whole tea leaves, it’s a more potent source of catechins than standard green tea, which is consumed as an infusion and the leaves discarded. One study found that matcha contains three times more of the catechins called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) than other kinds of standard green tea. It also contains around three times as much caffeine/cup compared to steeped green tea. If you’re not caffeine sensitive – choose matcha tea!
Herbal teas, namely teas made from herbs like mint and chamomile, aren’t, strictly speaking, tea. They aren’t technically tea because they don’t come from the camellia sinensis plant. They have lower concentrations of antioxidents compared to green, white, black and oolong teas and they do not contain caffeine.
There has been limited research done on herbal teas, preventing strong conclusions about the link between herbal teas and human health. Below are some findings:
- Rooibos tea is a fermented South African herb, that contains flavonoids, which may have cancer-fighting properties
- Chamomile tea contains antioxidents that may help prevent complications from diabetes and stunt the growth of cancer cells
- Echinacea is often touted as a way to fight the common cold, although research has been inconclusive
If green and black tea are beneficial for health in their pure form, is there any upside to those teas branded explicitly for detoxing?
These detox teas have additional ingredients, such as herbs promising to detoxify your liver, improve your metabolism and help you lose weight. The ingredients of these teas vary, but they all (or most of them) have at least one tea per day that contains a laxative (although it will be labelled with its name, not as a laxative e.g. senna leaves or Yerba Mate). This causes loss of ‘water weight’ where the laxative promotes the loss of fluid, minerals, electrolytes and fibre from the colon. Not only is this not particularly ‘healthy’ (many of these things are required for fluid balance and a well functioning gut), but you are likely to regain this weight as soon as you re-hydrate (i.e. stop taking the tea).
If you take these detox teas for too long, they can cause vomiting, diarrhea, electrolyte imbalance, and dehydration.
I would recommend consuming white or green teas for an antioxidant and phytochemical kick. Try matcha tea if you aren’t too caffeine sensitive, as this tea is packed with beneficial compounds. There isn’t a lot of research behind herbal teas connection to health, however they can be a nice alternative if you’re caffeine sensitive. Avoid consuming detox teas due to potential dangers associated with laxative effects.