Guest blog by Sam Hadadi,
For centuries, green tea has been used medicinally for all sorts of conditions. From lowering blood pressure to preventing cancer, it’s seen as a wonder treatment in the Far East.
In fact, in Chinese culture, it’s used in all sorts of holistic treatments, from easing itching and swelling to treating infection, cleansing the breath and even improving digestion and hair softness.
Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Yet what remains certain is that green tea is full of antioxidants and polyphenols, making it a superhero drink that will have your whole body beaming.
In fact, you’ll soon see why green tea is so popular in health circles when you get an eyeful of its health benefits – they’re pretty endless and they all work to make green tea one of the healthiest drinks on the planet.
Of course, the health benefits will vary according to the quality of the tea you’re buying (matcha is widely regarded as having the most impressive benefits), but here’s why you should be drinking more green tea.
Want to fire up those brain cells? Get drinking! Green tea contains plenty of caffeine (although not as much as our other good friend, coffee), which has been found to boost brain function by improving all sorts of things – mood, vigilance, reaction time and even memory1.
Green tea contains plenty of the amino acid L-theanine, which can cross the blood-brain barrier. This amino acid has been found to send the levels of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA surging, which can have known anti-anxiety effects2. It can also increase dopamine levels, which are known to help with motivation, fatigue, mood swings and memory loss.
Green tea can also inject a little va va voom into your workouts. The caffeine found in it can improve physical performance by mobilising fatty acids and making them available for use as energy. In fact, some studies3 have shown that caffeine can boost workouts by as much as 11-12%.
Better still, green tea can be a weight loss wonder! In some studies, the antioxidants catechin and caffeine have been shown to help the body burn fat and increase our metabolic rate4. However, perhaps take this with a pinch of salt before jumping on the weight loss bandwagon - this review of 18 studies5 found no significant weight loss effect.
It’s thought that antioxidants can protect the body against cancer, so it almost stands to reason that green tea – chock full of antioxidants – is thought to be a weapon in the battle against the disease.
Amazingly, one study found that women who drank green tea had a 22% lower chance of developing breast cancer6 than those who didn’t, while another found that it lowered the risk of prostate cancer in men7 by up to 48% and others looked at the effects of green tea in pancreatic cancer8.
In fact, research has even found that a compound found in green tea – known by those scientific types as the Epigallocatechin-3-O-gallate (EGCG) – could improve the effectiveness of anti-cancer drugs, such as Herceptin, which is used to treat stomach and breast cancer9.
However, the NHS warns that this shouldn’t be taken as official advice – and some studies have found weak and even “highly-contradictory” evidence to support the cancer-fighting link.
If you do want to take advantage of those antioxidants, though, just remember – skip the milk! Adding dairy to green tea could reduce the antioxidant level10.
Those clever little compounds known as catechins can even protect the body from viruses and infections, stopping nasty bugs in their tracks11.
Green tea is also a dentist’s best friend – the same catechins can stop the growth of streptococcus mutans, which lead to plaque and cavities, while green tea can even keep breath smelling fresh as a daisy12.
Green tea may be able to improve our insulin sensitivity, as well as balance out blood sugar levels. Studies in Japan13 have found that those who drink the most green tea had a 42% lower risk of developing the disease. Impressive stuff, right?
Knocking back cups of green tea could also help to prevent high cholesterol levels – a major problem when it comes to heart disease. You see, those wondrous antioxidants protect the body from oxidation14 which, in turn, can help with cholesterol. In fact, so impressive is the stuff that green tea drinkers could have as much as a 31% lower risk of cardiovascular disease15.
Thanks to those incredible antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, green tea could be our new favourite beauty treatment, helping to reduce inflammation and even reducing wrinkles and the signs of ageing. Studies have also shown that when applied topically, green tea can even reduce sun damage16.
With its ability to make the body sing, it’s little wonder that we’re all rushing to load green tea into our supermarket trolleys. But how much should we be drinking to enjoy the full benefits?
Well, as with most foods, the jury is out. Some say as few as two cups a day can lead to a ginormous dose of health, while others recommend up to five cups.
Whichever advice you choose to follow, just remember that green tea contains caffeine – if you’re sensitive, give it a miss in the afternoon! It also contains tannins, which affect your body’s ability to absorb iron and folic acid, so if you are pregnant or trying for a baby, then green tea may not be the one for you.
With so many varieties on the market, it can be a little overwhelming when it comes to buying green tea. To save you standing in the health food aisles scratching your head, here’s our simple guide to picking the right green tea for you.
There are lots of different factors when it comes to bagging the best green tea around. You’ll want to look at where the tea was grown, when it was picked, which parts of the plant were used…in fact, it’s a lot like choosing a fine wine.
You’ll also want to consider your own tastebuds – do you want a sweeter or a more bitter tea? Whereas some will love the more expensive, finer brews, it’s worth remembering that they may not taste great for you.
If it’s purely the health benefits you’re drinking tea for, then it’s best to go for the least processed green tea you can find – in other words, loose leaves. You see, the more processed the tea is, the less catechins you’ll find - bottled green tea contains just 12 milligrams of catechins, flavoured green teas have 43 milligrams, while regular green teas have an impressively healthy 127 milligrams of catechins.
If you’re a green tea novice, you might like to try:
Jasmine Green Tea –
Good quality jasmine teas have a beautiful floral aroma and a sweet taste that will leave even the fussiest of tastebuds fairly happy.
Fairly friendly on the purse strings, yet still of a great quality, sencha is a wonderful every day green tea. It has a grassy flavour to it, although some say it tastes almost like seaweed.
If you’re looking for a real health boost, then add bittersweet matcha to your trolley. Although fairly expensive, it’s loaded with health benefits and can be used in everything from baking to lattes to homemade bath bombs!.
As one of the most popular green teas on the market, Dragonwell is often mild and sweet and has an almost chestnutty note.
This Japanese tea is lower in caffeine than many other green teas and has a woody flavour that many coffee drinkers will fall for.
Once you’ve picked your perfect loose leaf tea, try checking it for freshness by squeezing a small amount fairly tightly. Smell the leaves and see what you find – the freshest teas will have a grassy, almost sweet aroma.
Then, when you’ve brought it home, take care to store it in a cool, dry place, and use it within two to three months once opened. Green tea doesn’t have a long shelf life before its freshness – and its health benefits - starts to diminish.
The very best green teas are sweet, full-bodied and rich, with a delicious aftertaste. Of course, most of us will try green teas when they’re not at their freshest, or when they’re not brewed properly, which can leave a nasty, bitter aftertaste.
However, if you get your technique right, then you’re in for a real treat – and you’ll soon see why entire ceremonies have been devoted to this incredible elixir.
Want to make the perfect (green) brew? Here are our top tips on how to brew and enjoy green tea:
1) Start with fresh, filtered water and bring it to a low boil when heating for the perfect cup – the ideal green tea temperature is 71C/160F to 82C/180F, if you want to get fancy on us and precise! Some even swear by using thermometers for the perfect cup.
2) Brew green tea the traditional way by using small cups instead of big pots – aim for around 3-4 grams of leaf (around 1-2 teaspoons) for each cup of water.
3) Add your green tea leaves to the cup first, then slowly pour the water in. Steep for 1-3 minutes, depending on the leaf and your own tastebuds. Just remember that small leaves will infuse quicker!
4) Remove the leaves, then sit down, relax and enjoy. Ahhh….bliss.
Not too keen on just green tea and water? We have plenty of ideas to whet your appetite! Why not:
Part one of our Ultimate Guide to Green Tea looks at the history of green tea, how it's made and the different types of green tea, with a focus on match tea.
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Sam Hadadi is an ex-BBC journalist and now a freelance writer specialising in fitness and food.
Being 99.9% coconut is what makes it different to other milk alternatives, which are made of regular water and fillers.