A health boon from the ancient East
Renowned for its antioxidant content, green tea continues to gain popularity in North America. Imbibe green tea’s latest research; its newest trend, matcha; and optimal brewing methods; and learn about green tea’s extract forms.
A steaming mug of tea is a soothing antidote to the brisk winter months. Green tea, in particular, has piqued the West’s curiosity with health benefits ranging from promoting calmness to potentially reducing the risk of some cancers. Recent research continues to brim with more benefits of this nutritional gold mine.
According to legend, the second emperor of China was the first to experience tea when a leaf from the Camellia sinensis plant landed in his cup of hot water.
The Camellia sinensis plant is where all teas originate; however, the processing differentiates black, oolong, white, and green teas. In the case of green tea, soon after being harvested, the tea is steamed, which seals in the polyphenols (the antioxidant, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory ingredient in green tea), and then dried.
Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based registered dietitian, is a fan of green tea for its health benefits, noting that it has higher concentrations of catechins, a type of antioxidant, than black tea and has been shown to reduce the inflammation of blood vessels, inhibit blood clots, and improve cholesterol levels.
Recent research continues to support green tea’s medicinal qualities.
A 2015 study found that green tea extract decreases starch (a type of carbohydrate) digestion and absorption in humans, demonstrating that the extract may help with weight control and diabetes.
Furthermore, you may not need fluoride to polish your pearly whites. A 2014 study found lower amounts of plaque accumulation in green tea drinkers when compared with black tea drinkers.
Drinking green tea can also go to your head. Building on recent research into green tea’s impact on the brain, including a 2011 study showing that drinking green tea enhanced the memory and attention of participants with mild cognitive impairments, a 2014 study showed that green tea extract increased connectivity between two areas of the brain, which improved the subjects’ abilities to complete working memory tasks.
A July 2015 study found that fat oxidization increased significantly when women combined intermittent sprinting with consumption of green tea extract. The study argues that, since previous studies indicate regular intermittent sprinting itself results in a significant amount of subcutaneous fat reduction in overweight participants, the addition of green tea extract to those regular sprinting sessions may elicit even more weight loss.
Once the domain of Japanese Zen Buddhists, matcha (or maccha as the Japanese would translate it), a powdered green tea that’s uniquely grown and processed, has caught on in North America. The nutritional content of matcha is higher than traditional green tea. For instance, it’s up to 137 times higher in an antioxidant called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG).
Unlike other green teas where leaves are steeped in boiling water and discarded, with matcha, the whole leaf is consumed, along with the water. “It’s green tea that you eat,” says Jared Nyberg, who, along with his wife, has specialized in matcha at their tea shop in Victoria, BC, since 2005.
Matcha is also uniquely made: the leaves are shade-grown; the first pick of the year is de-veined and de-stemmed. “You’re just working with the pure part of the leaf, which is called tencha,” says Nyberg. The tencha is cold stored and granite-milled to a microscopic size.
Although marketed as a healthy drink, some matcha contains additives such as MSG or other flavour enhancers and can lack freshness or purity. Nyberg recommends asking your tea retailer questions about the origins of your matcha, including the milling and harvesting dates.
“As a general rule of thumb, if you’re buying over 30 grams at a time, that’s a good sign that it may not be as potent, because it’s rare to find a good quality matcha sold in greater quantities than that,” says Nyberg.
Nyberg, who maintains close relationships with suppliers at family-owned farms, emphasizes that knowing the environmental, social, and health impacts of matcha requires educating ourselves on the history of our tea purchases.
“[W]hen eating and drinking just about anything, if you can trace it back to origin, you’re in a good place,” he says.
Nyberg recommends two methods for preparing matcha:
For a cup full of health benefits and flavour, nutritionist Leslie Beck advises the following:
Aside from sipping your green tea, there are numerous ways to absorb its nutrients. Health food stores sell green tea extract in forms such as capsules and liquids that can be consumed orally. “Green tea extracts vary in their composition, the type of antioxidants they contain, and the dose,” says Beck. “There’s no consensus on the optimal intake, as studies show different amounts [to].”
Green tea is also found in other supplements, such as candy, to fight gum disease, acne creams, or as an ointment for genital warts. Consult a health care practitioner for further information or for a dosage recommendation that meets your needs.