Tea for You? From Green to Fennel, Everything You Need to Know

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Hot tea with fresh leves and lemon on bamboo mat
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Tea is well-established as a healthy drink for many reasons – it’s low in calories and filled with antioxidants, just to name a couple. But are you in tune with the vast array of options and flavors? Get better acquainted with this ancient brewed beverage.

Health Benefits

One cup of unsweetened brewed tea has less than 5 calories but plenty of flavonoids – plant compounds that help protect cells from damage. This protection may benefit heart health, reduce the risk of certain types of cancer and even (slightly) increase metabolism. One particular compound found in tea is known as EGCG. This potent antioxidant has been linked to various health benefits, including weight loss and anti-inflammation.

Flavor profiles of tea vary dramatically, and ultimately it comes down to personal preference. Ever wonder if it’s best to put milk or cream in your tea? According to many tea connoisseurs, whole milk complements it best. But there’s a small amount of research that suggests adding milk to tea blunts some of the antioxidant content.

Traditional Leaf Tea

These teas stem from the Camellia sinensis plant. Leaves are processed in a variety of fashions; these different methods will affect the flavor and color of the tea once steeped in water.

Black

These tea leaves are fermented, then heated and dried. They tend to be highest in caffeine and have a bold, rich flavor. Many studies link black tea to health benefits including a reduction in cholesterol. Research continues to find favorable outcomes. (A study published in October 2014) found that moderate black tea consumption could reduce the risk of ovarian cancer by as much as 31 percent.

White

This is typically the least processed tea, because the leaves are picked when the plant is still young. The flavor is mild, and this type of tea tends to retain a high amount of antioxidants.

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Green

These leaves are steamed and dried, but not fermented. Green tea boasts a high content of EGCG and one of the lowest amounts of caffeine; it accounts for about 20 percent of tea consumed. Studies have linked consumption to reduction in illnesses including cancer, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. There is, however, a lack of research to substantiate claims that drinking green tea aids in weight loss.

Oolong

To make this less common type of tea, the leaves are partially fermented, leaving the flavor somewhat mild, in the middle of the road between green and black teas.

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Herbal and …

“Teas” can also be created by steeping plants, flowers and seeds. These are formally referred to as “tisanes” and come in many forms. There are countless varieties and, overall, less scientific evidence to support many of the health claims. Here are a few of the most-popular types.

Chamomile

This flower-based tea is known for its pleasant aroma and soothing properties. It may also help calm an upset stomach. Like other herbal teas, it’s caffeine-free.

Cold Refreshing Berry Hibiscus Ice Tea

Hibiscus

Known for its sweet, floral flavor and brilliant hot-pink hue, hibiscus tea contains numerous antioxidants, including vitamin C. There’s a small amount of research to support the theory that (hibiscus) has a blood pressure-lowering effect.

Tulsi

Also known as “holy basil,” this Indian herb has been linked to treating everything from anxiety to diabetes to the common cold. While there’s currently insufficient evidence to support these claims, it does contain a hefty dose of antioxidants. Supplements of holy basil have been associated with slowed blood clotting.

Fennel

Steeping fennel seeds in hot water will yield a warm cup of aromatic tea. This type of brew is often recommended as a digestive aid and is considered safe when consumed in the amounts typically found in food and beverages. There is evidence of potential side effects when it is taken in large medicinal dosages.

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. She is the author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day.