Tea Drinkers May Have Advantage Over Water Drinkers

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Jun 16 2010 - 4:36pm

Drinking three or more cups of tea a day is as good for you, if not better, than drinking plenty of water, according to new research from the Kings College London. And even more good news - both green tea and black tea have properties that can lead to extra health benefits.

Public health nutritionist Dr. Carrie Ruxton reviewed published studies on the potential health effects of tea consumption. The studies indicate that tea, which contains polyphenol antioxidants, can help prevent cell damage that can lead to heart disease and some cancers. In particular, drinking three to four cups of tea a day can cut the chances of having a heart attack, according to Dr. Ruxton’s research.

Read: Tea Provides Nearly 90% of Flavonoid Antioxidants in US

Other health benefits of tea include protection against tooth plaque and tooth decay, plus bone strengthening. A cup of tea contains fluoride, which is good for the teeth and bones.

Tea drinking is becoming more popular because of the many studies that show health benefits, but Dr. Ruxton’s team found that average tea consumption was just under three cups per day. She said that the popularity of soft drinks, and the assumption that tea was dehydrating, lead people to choose other beverages over tea.

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However, the premise that tea is dehydrating is just an urban myth. “Studies on caffeine have found very high doses dehydrate and everyone assumes that caffeine-containing beverages dehydrate. But even if you had a really, really strong cup of tea or coffee…you would still have a net gain of fluid,” she said.

All tea comes from the same plant – Camellia sinensis – and all are rich in antioxidants. What makes tea flavors different is the processing of the leaves. Green tea leaves are not fermented, while black and oolong tea undergo a crushing and fermenting process.

Read: Why Red Wine, Green Tea Stop Prostate Cancer

While there are many published studies about the health benefits of green tea, drinking black tea can be healthful as well. For example, a recent study from Japan found that black tea extracts suppressed weight gain and fat levels in mice. Again, the beneficial compound was thought to be the polyphenols.

Another common myth is that tea needs to be hot to produce benefits. Iced tea contains antioxidants as well, but the way it is handled is important to prevent food-borne illness.

Many years ago, making “sun tea” was popular – letting tea bags steep in water while the pitcher is warmed by the sun. However, the CDC warns against this practice because tea leaves can be contaminated with coliform bacteria and if not brewed at an appropriate temperature (at least 195 degrees for 3-5 minutes), it can provide an environment where bacteria are more likely to survive and multiply. Iced tea should also not be stored longer than 8 hours to reduce the risk of a food-borne illness.

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