The many well-researched health benefits of green tea make it a great beverage to include in your diet for the prevention and treatment of cancer, heart problems, cardiovascular diseases, high cholesterol levels, rheumatoid arthritis, infection, tooth decay, and many others. Green tea contains an antioxidant called epigallocatechin-3 gallate (EGCG) which is also helpful in treating a variety of diseases.
Green tea has acquired a prestigious place among beverages and it is one of the first drinks that come to mind in terms of antioxidant components. Within a relatively short time, it has gained a global following of billions and many lovers of normal tea have switched over to green tea because of its undeniable health benefits. Those who are accustomed to normal tea may not like the striking taste of green tea the first time, but between the boost to your health, the ease of access, and the slightly addictive quality of the taste, it will probably win over normal tea lovers in no time.
The question is, what is there in green tea that makes it so special and healthy? Also, what is the correct way to use it? What products available on the market are based on green tea? With any wildly popular health phenomenon, there are plenty of questions, and we have tried to answer the major ones below.
What is Green Tea?
Unbeknownst to many, green tea actually comes from the same plant where normal tea is obtained. Scientifically, it is known as Camellia Sinensis. In fact, it is the same tea but it is processed differently. The normal black tea is obtained by fermenting the tea leaves. This fermentation changes its color and flavor, while raising the level of caffeine and tannin in it. On the other hand, in the case of Green Tea, the tea leaves are dried or slightly steamed but not fermented. This is what makes it look green when it’s brewed.
Nutritional Value: Green Tea
Along with caffeine, which gives green tea its characteristic taste, bitterness and stimulating effect, green tea is also rich in a group of chemicals, called Catechin Polyphenols (Commonly known as Tannins, which contribute to bitter taste and astringency). These Catechin Polyphenols include Catechin, Epicatechin, Epicatechin Gallate (ECG), Epigallocatechin Gallate (EGCG), and various Pro-Anthocyanidins. They are also known as Flavonoids, and are very powerful antioxidants. Flavonoids, together with some amino acids like Thianine, are responsible for the potent flavor of green tea. Furthermore, green tea also contains Amino Acids such as Theanine, Butyric Acid & Liganin; Xanthine Alkaloids such as Adenine, Dimethylxanthine, Theobromine, Theophylline and Xanthine; Pectin (also found in fruits); saccharides (sugar), Chlorophyll and Triterpene Saponins. Some vitamins, like vitamin A, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin B3, vitamin C and vitamin E are also found in green tea. After that impressive list, perhaps you are beginning to understand how packed green tea is with nutrients and beneficial components.
Health Benefits of green tea
The health benefits of green tea are primarily due to its antioxidant properties that come from its caffeine, Catechin Polyphenols and Theonine content. The major health benefits stemming from antioxidant effects are listed below.
Anti-Aging: The free radicals created in the body are responsible for corroding the body in various ways, one of which we see as the signs of aging and the related symptoms. The main job of antioxidants is to neutralize the oxidants or free radicals present in the body and green tea is very rich in antioxidants. The Catechin Polyphenols present in green tea are hugely responsible for the antioxidizing effects, the most powerful among them being the Epigallocatechin Gallate. Therefore, regular consumption of green tea can effectively delay the signs and symptoms of aging.
Stimulating: One of the primary reasons for the popularity and consumption of all kinds of tea by human civilizations is its stimulating effect. This effect, again, is due to the Caffeine and Tannins present within the tea leaves. Caffeine & Tannins, despite their potentially adverse effects on health in the long run, act as very powerful stimulants. That is why a cup of tea makes you feel fresh and highly energized. Tea is an easy and ideal solution to counter fatigue, laziness, sleepiness and lack of energy, and to improve blood circulation. This is why it is so popular with a wide variety of people in various industries, including professionals, housewives, students, and anyone else who has ever felt a bit drowsy during the day!
Immunity Boosting: Research shows that people who regularly drink green tea do not fall victim to common bacterial and viral infections as easily as those who do not add green tea to their diet. The message is clear. Green Tea boosts the strength of the immune system. The Catechins present in green tea prevent bacteria and viruses from attaching themselves to cell walls in order to infect them. These Catechins also counter the toxins released by microbes. This antimicrobial property also protects you from bad breath, dysentery, diarrhea, tooth decay, indigestion, flu, cough & cold, and colitis, all of which are caused, in some way, by microbial & fungal action.
Astringency: This is yet another powerful benefit of green tea. Astringent substances trigger contractions in muscles and tissues, while toning up muscles and skin. Even if you do not wish to drink green tea, a simple, daily mouthwash with green tea can cause sufficient contraction in your gums to keep them firm and tight on the teeth, thus preventing loosening and loss of teeth. You can also wash your hair with green tea and feel it grow stronger and healthier every day.
Anti-carcinogenic: Apart from causing premature aging, free radicals are also responsible for causing certain types of cancer. The Catechins present in green tea neutralize these free radicals, prevent formation of carcinogens like nitrosamines and reduce the risk of cancer for people who regularly consume green tea. Green tea is now being clinically used and prescribed as a home remedy to aid in the prevention of cancer, particularly for those patients at high risk for cancer in the colon, rectum, pancreas and intestines.
Reducing Cholesterol: Green tea has been shown to be effective in reducing cholesterol levels to some extent, probably due to its alkalinity.
Cardiac & Arterial Health: Certain components in green tea prevent thickening of the blood, thereby reducing chances of Arterial Sclerosis, Thrombosis, as well as Cardiac and Cerebral Strokes.
Anti-diabetic: If not taken with sugar, the alkaline nature of green tea helps to reduce the blood glucose level. Moreover, the antioxidant and astringent qualities of green tea ensure good health and better functioning of the pancreas. Improving the function of the pancreas means a more efficient and regulated secretion of insulin and the subsequent improvement in decomposing and absorbing of sugar. This increase in effective functions can help prevent the onset of diabetes.
Weight Loss: Believe it or not, but green tea also helps people lose weight by enhancing the rate of metabolism, thereby promoting a faster consumption of the fat storage of the body. Recently, green tea has replaced many other beverages in the western world as its helps in weight loss, and obesity is still a chronic problem in many places. Drink a cup or two of green tea every morning and you are bound to lose a few pounds of excess weight over a week or so.
Stamina & Endurance Booster: You can prove this quality to yourself quite easily. Just have a cup of hot green tea after some rigorous exercise and within no time, you will be ready for a few more sets. Furthermore, it effectively counters muscular pain due to overexertion of muscles. Although green tea isn’t as widely publicized for western athletes due to the dominant energy drink companies in the market, if you visit Japan & China, you will see that green tea is the premiere beverage used by practitioners of martial arts and various other sports.
Detoxifying: Green tea is the best cure for particularly savage hangovers and fatigue caused by the consumption of alcoholic beverages and lack of sleep due to late night parties. Start your hangover with a large cup of green tea with lemon, and the hangover will quickly fade to a bad memory. Green tea with lemon juice is a very good and popular remedy to eliminate the exhausting effects of alcohol almost instantly.
Types of Green Tea: Green tea has four main varieties prepared in Japan, which depend upon its leaf-length, method of processing, and season of harvesting. They are as follows;
Gyokurocha: In this variety, the tea leaves are plucked from the tip of the branches. When brewed, the color is clear green. Being picked from the tip, this variety has the best taste and fragrance, and this variety is also considered the best in terms of health. Furthermore, it is less bitter, as it contains less tannin and caffeine, since the plucked leaves are younger and still budding. The only drawback to gyokurocha is the high cost, but as we all know, truly high quality solutions for health never come cheap!
Sencha: Sencha Comes from the same plant, but in this green tea variation, the leaves are from the middle of the branch and are bigger, older and less tender than Gyokurocha. This variety gives a clear, light green tea when brewed as well. Naturally, it is more bitter and stronger than the former variety. Being of less noble origin (middle of the branch) and having more caffeine and tannin, it is cheaper and more popular than Gyokurocha.
Bancha: Bancha is made from the tender twigs of the tea plant which makes it very strong and bitter. When brewed, it gives a golden brown tea. This is an even cheaper version of green tea than the previous two.
Matcha: This is the leftover powder of green tea, also called “Dust”. It makes a beautifully green-colored tea and forms a lot of foam (froth), but has a weaker aroma than the leafy varieties. This variety of green tea is very popular in traditional ceremonies, and is sometimes also called Ceremonial Green Tea. It is far less bitter than the other three varieties, so when you sip it, it seems to hold a natural sweetness, particularly if you are familiar with the other varieties.
Houjicha: Also spelled as “Hojicha”, this is not a pure or absolute green tea. Rather, it is mixture of green tea and powdered roasted cereals such as wheat, barley, or rice. The quality and price of this variety depends upon the percentage or ratio of green tea to cereal content. The better ones, having more green tea in them, are more expensive and give greener tea when brewed; while those having higher grain contents yield a golden brown color and are cheaper.
Genmaicha: Like Houjicha, it is not a pure tea either. It is mixture of green tea and roasted brown rice. Upon steeping, it yields a golden yellow tea, very pleasant in both taste and aroma, due to the presence of roasted brown rice.
Decaffeinated Green Tea: This is not a specific variety, but it is worth mentioning here. Any of the above varieties can come in a decaffeinated form.
Other Varieties: The chief varieties mentioned above are blended in different combinations to produce many more varieties with different names, the number of which makes it pointless to list here. Basically, go to a tea shop and explore for yourself!
Risks: The risks associated with green tea are the same as those associated with any other kind of tea (common black tea, White Tea etc.) and are primarily due to the content of Caffeine and Tannin. The contraindications may vary with the percentage of caffeine and tannins in it. Most people might be familiar with these adversities, but it is still important to review and summarize the components responsible, as well as the associated risks.
- Triterpene Saponins: These compounds destroy the Red Blood Corpuscles (Erythrocytes), which may aggravate preexisting conditions of anemia, and cause fatigue.
- Caffeine: Everyone knows that caffeine is an external stimulant and raises blood pressure, and is actually toxic in nature (it may be fatal for lower animals). Caffeine is also addictive and can have adverse effects on the liver and internal organs over the course of many years. That being said, it is the component of tea which makes it energizing and refreshing, which is why people are willing to risk it.
- Tannins: Tannins interfere with the break down of complex proteins into simpler proteins and their subsequent absorption into the body.
- Xanthine Alkaloids: Some researchers believe that these alkaloids aggravate and stimulate the formation of uric acid in the body, and thereby they may trigger and aid the formation of stones in the gallbladder and kidneys.
- Other Risks: Long-term consumption in excessive quantities may give rise to problems such as insomnia, restlessness, annoyance, irritability, headaches, hypertension, abnormal heartbeat, loss of appetite, spasms, constipation and acute addiction to caffeine. Many times, people who are addicted to caffeine do not feel normal without the substance and suffer from acute constipation, irritation and lack of concentration on anything in the absence of green tea.
Availability of Green Tea: Asian countries like Japan and China are the biggest producers of green tea (they produce the best quality too) and are also its biggest consumers. Green tea available in other markets is found in far smaller quantities than black tea. Moreover, it is still gaining popularity, because with the exception of a few Asian Countries, people around the world are still more familiar with black tea. Still, these days you can get it at any reasonably modern shop. You can also order it from a local tea supplier, over the phone or on the Internet. It is almost invariably imported from China (cheaper) and Japan (more expensive), and is packed in sealed packs of 200grams, 250grams, and 500grams. It is better not to go for the bigger packs if it is easily available around you, so the tea will remain fresh. Also, always check the date of manufacturing and packing before you buy.
- Industrial Process-1: In this procedure, green tea leaves are treated with Ethyl Acetate, which drains out most of the caffeine. Unfortunately, you lose many of the antioxidant Polyphenols and vitamins along with the caffeine.
- Industrial Process-2: This involves the processing of tea leaves with water and carbon dioxide and is better in terms of retaining the beneficial Polyphenols.
- Domestic Process: This is a very simple process. It involves repeated steeping of tea in hot water and then disposal of the water (you may use this tea to serve those who don’t mind having caffeinated tea). The more you repeat the process, the less caffeine there will be left in the tea, but the same is true of the taste and flavor. Basically, don’t over do it. Two or three steeps is probably safe. After all, you do want tea and not plain, hot water, right?
Additional Information: Do you know what the term “Cha” means, which is often found in the names of various qualities of green tea such as Gyokurocha, Sencha, Bancha, Matcha, and Houjicha? It simply means “Tea”, and tea is extremely popular all over India as “Cha” (In Bengal & adjacent states) and “Chai” in the other areas. Just some fun facts for you to share with other tea lovers over your next cup of green tea!