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Move Over Matcha: Why You Shouldn’t Overlook the Benefits of Black Tea

While it might be fighting for space by the kettle with trendier or more exotic-sounding alternatives, like rooibos, matcha or even blue butterfly tea, experts suggest the humble black tea bag may be the secret key to robust health.

tea health

Photo: Ellen von Unwerth. Vogue Arabia, December 2017

“Black tea is rich in powerful antioxidants, particularly polyphenols like theaflavins and catechins, which may help protect cells from damage,” says VJ Hamilton, a registered nutritionist. “It has been associated with potential health benefits such as improved heart health and lowered risk of certain diseases, including autoimmune conditions and chronic illness.”

The reason black tea is so beneficial boils down to its high antioxidant content, with some studies suggesting that the polyphenols found in black tea were more effectively beneficial than those found in green tea. “Black tea has been found to have comparable antioxidant levels to some fruits like apples, and may offer similar health benefits,” adds Hamilton.

According to research, drinking three cups of black tea per day significantly improves antioxidant levels, while one study found regularly black tea drinking reduces cholesterol levels, and another that it plays an important role in weight loss. If you are a big tea drinker but struggle to get enough anti-inflammatory flavonoids into your diet through sources like blackberries, bananas and kale, take comfort in the fact that brewed black tea contains the largest quantities of flavan-3-ols – a sub compound of flavonoids. “Given the high concentrations of flavonoids in tea, and its popularity as a beverage, it’s perhaps not surprising that it’s a primary source of health-enhancing flavonoids in the UK diet,” says Dr Tim Bond, a member of the Tea Advisory Panel [TAP].

A comforting cup of tea is a given in stressful situations, and it isn’t solely a placebo. “No one is suggesting that a cuppa will eliminate all stress, anxiety, and sleep issues, but there is good evidence that regularly drinking tea and herbal infusions will go a long way towards easing symptoms,” says Dr Gill Jenkins, a GP and an adviser to TAP. In fact, you might not even need to drink it to feel the effects – researchers from Japan discovered that simply inhaling the aroma of black tea was enough to lower stress levels induced by tricky mental maths stress tests. Aside from the soothing warm tea itself, the amino acid GABA also plays a large part in helping to de-stress. “GABA is a naturally occurring amino acid which acts as a neurotransmitter, and is known to regulate stress and sleep,” says Jenkins.

Black tea is also a rich source of L-theanine, another amino acid that works with GABA receptors and neurotransmitters in the brain to help regulate sleep disorders that are often part and parcel of the vicious stress cycle. Additionally L-Theanine is known to improve mood and increase alpha-wave activity, which induces feelings of calm and relaxation.

How much tea should you drink?

“There’s no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to the benefits of consuming black tea, as your needs vary depending on your personal health status,” Hamilton points out. That said, “consuming three to five cups per day is a common recommendation to reap the potential health benefits.”

As for the caffeine levels in black tea, experts suggest there’s little to worry about, especially relative to other hot drinks like coffee. An average cup of black tea with milk contains around 47mg of caffeine, compared with 95mg found in a cup of coffee. And even if you have several cups a day, you’re unlikely to hit the upper recommended daily limit of 400mg. It’s worth noting, however, that how you brew your tea impacts its caffeine content, with the type of leaf used (whole leaves impart less), and how long you leave it to brew all affecting the outcome. The heat of the water you add is another factor, with higher temperatures increasing the caffeine content faster and more efficiently.

How should you drink your tea?

“Adding milk to black tea may reduce its antioxidant capacity,” cautions Hamilton. “Tea polyphenols, such as catechins, can form complexes with proteins in milk. This can lead to decreased absorption of these beneficial compounds in the digestive system. Therefore, if you’re aiming to maximise the antioxidant benefits of black tea, consider enjoying it without milk.” She continues: “Opting for high-quality, organic or biodegradable tea bags can help minimise exposure to potential harmful substances. Some tea bags are made with non-biodegradable materials like plastics, or treated with chemicals like epichlorohydrin.” If you want to steer clear of any potential nasties, try switching to loose tea leaves, or do some research on best-practice brands. Zero Wasted is a good place to start.

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