How healthy is Green Tea, really?

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There's no denying that coffee is the most popular caffeinated beverage to enjoy first thing in the morning — but it's also hard to ignore just how popular tea has become in the last few years, as well as the slow-but-steady buzz surrounding green tea in particular. Whether it's hot or iced, mixed in with matcha or served on its own, more people are making room for green tea in their daily routines. Some are hoping that a few sips of the steeped herbal concoction will gently keep them on track during their work day; others enjoy a steaming hot cup of tea to relax before bed. Regardless of when or how it's enjoyed, there are a few health benefits that give green tea a supercharged edge over many other hot beverages (including coffee!).

Why do health experts often praise tea over coffee, you might ask? All varieties of tea are first brewed from the dried leaves of the Camellia sinesis bush and can be divided into four different categories based on how oxidized they are. White tea is made from unoxidized buds, whereas oolong tea stems from particularly oxidized leaves, and black tea is made when completely oxidized leaves are steeped in hot water. Green tea, on the other hand, is made with unoxidized tea leaves — all of these varieties contain antioxidants, chiefly flavonoids, a group of plant-based chemicals that have been shown to reduce coronary inflammation. How you choose to brew your tea — and the kind of tea you've chosen to brew — can play a role in its final antioxidant counts. Green tea, however, has been shown to naturally contain the highest amount of flavonoids of the four varieties, according to a 2005 scholarly review published in the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis.

But some of the hype around this herbal superstar of a daily pick-me-up has led to confusion about it's immediate health benefits. Here, we're confirming all the reasons why you should be drinking green tea — and debunking the most common myths about green tea's best attributes.

Fact: Green tea can help you lose weight.

If you're a regular soda, juice, energy-drink or sweetened-coffee-and-tea drinker and you switch to unsweetened green tea, you could see some results in the long run. That's because the number one source of added sugar (and therefore, added calories)in the American diet is from sugar-sweetened beverages, so opting for a calorie-free alternative is always best. But if you're already sipping on water flavored with fresh fruit, sparkling water, unsweetened coffee and tea, or the occasional diet beverage, then chances are you'll have to do more than simply switch up your hydration habits to lose weight for the long-term. Bummer, we know!

Myth: Drinking green tea burns belly fat immediately.

Sadly, this one's super-false. Any time you change your diet to start a new plan in which you burn more energy than you consume, you'll likely "burn" off some additional fat mass (for many of us, that's stored around the tummy area, so you may notice a little tightening-up!). That said, not one single food or drink can "spot train" any body parts! Keep in mind that green tea beverages (like sugary lattes, sparkling green teas with added sugar, and green tea "flavored" drinks) are often still sugary beverages, which has been linked to weight gain over time (specifically, abdominal fat), so just make sure that you're choosing versions with "0g" of sugar and "0 calories" per serving.

Myth: Green tea boosts metabolism.

While a few small-scale studies have linked an increased metabolic rate to drinking green tea (when sipping about four caffeinated cups per day!), the only truly variable factor in your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is increasing your lean body mass, a.k.a. building muscle. That's why strength training is key to keeping your metabolism up for the long-term, and crucial to bone, muscle and immune function, which ultimately helps to support metabolism over time. The only real, tried-and-true way drinking green tea will help boost your metabolism? By helping you wake up to get your tush to the gym (sorry!).

Claim #4: Green tea reduces risk of cancer.

The truth: The antioxidant-compounds found in green tea have certainly been touted with cancer-fighting properties — and research supports this in full! But plant-based diets are always linked to a reduced risk of cancer — plus other chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes. Among the myriad of benefits to eating tons o' veggies (and drinking unsweetened tea), plants are chock-full of polyphenolic compounds, a type of antioxidant that reduces risk of chronic disease by improving cellular function of tissues, leaving less "room" for cancer cells to develop. So if you're not a green tea lover, never fear! Choosing coffee as an alternative, or simply loading up on veggie- and fruit-based meals and snacks, can help to reduce chronic disease risk when consumed consistently.

Claim #5: Green tea prevents heart disease.

The truth: In population studies, people who frequently drink unsweetened green tea are less likely to develop cardiovascular disease later in life. That said, many of these population studies are specific to region and genetics. For example: Studies conducted in Taiwan and Japan, where green tea is consumed regularly and consistently, may have a genetic predisposition to the positive effects of green tea. Regardless, population studies conducted in the U.S. and abroad consistently link drinking unsweetened versions of any type of tea as an alternative to sugary beverages with improved heart-health and reduced risk of developing other types of chronic diseases — especially ones related to obesity — so keep on chugging!

© Getty Images green-tea-benefits

Claim #6: Green tea is anti-aging.

The truth: Green tea's antioxidants also do their "dirty work" by scavenging for free-radicals in the cells of your body, protecting and preventing damage to tissues (like skin!). But just as no single food or beverage can cure cancer, so to can green tea not behave like Botox in a bottle. According to the experts in the GH Health, Beauty and Environmental Labs: "Green tea catechins may help protect skin from UV damage, but more research needs to be done with longer studies to show the benefits of topically applying green tea extract."

Claim #7: Green tea helps to lower blood sugar.

The truth: If you're drinking unsweetened versions, then again, it's certainly a blood sugar-lowering beverage! But lately, I'm seeing green tea as an ingredient used in everything from sugary juices, "tonics" and "elixirs" to frozen yogurt, pasta sauce and dressings, which can be loaded with sugar.

Claim #8: Green tea is caffeine-free.

The truth: Not always, but some versions are. Many people who find coffee-drinking to be a bit too much of a jolt may tolerate the lower caffeine content of tea much better (one cup of home-brewed coffee is about 100mg of caffeine; tea is between 25-50mg, depending on type and brew strength). If you're tea-totaling before you hit the hay, look for versions that are clearly labeled "caffeine free" on the front of the pack, or check Nutrition Facts labels closely for 0mg caffeine per serving.

All of that being said: The USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest caffeinating at around 300-400mg per day from coffee and tea to reduce risk of cognitive decline, boost memory and improve energy — so for those who aren't as sensitive to the jolt, don't be afraid to drink up.

Claim #9: Green tea is calming.

The truth: This depends on your definition of "calm." Green tea is a source of the amino acid, L-theanine, a compound that's linked to alertness and mood-enhancement. Research has linked l-theanine consumption to reduced anxiety and improved focus — but if you're drinking caffeine-containing green tea (and you're sensitive to caffeine), you may not find guzzling the green stuff to be all that soothing. This one's highly based on personal tolerance, so if you know you're easily ruffled by caffeine of your favorite beverages, you may want to avoid the caffeinated varieties of all tea and coffee beverages in the afternoon through bedtime.

© Getty Images Matcha powder

Claim #10: Green tea is different from matcha.

The truth: Think of matcha as being in the green tea "family" that undergoes a slightly different farming process, and is consumed in its powder-form (instead of whole-leaf form) which makes it a more concentrated version (and therefore, a higher caffeine/theanine version!) than green tea. Since we're big fans of this trendy tea (and huge advocates for making it easier to drink unsweetened — but still delicious — beverages on the go!): We recommend trying the trend with GH Nutritionist Approved Emblem-holders, Panatea.

 

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