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Is Tea a Superfood? What You Should Know

People have been drinking tea for centuries, but today you can skip the sipping altogether and swallow tea pills, bite into tea-chocolate truffles and scoop up tea-laced ice cream. Retail products on store shelves entice with words like “superfood,” “athletic” and “power.” Some market tea products as a means to detox — cleanse a person’s system, or to lose weight.

Is the tea revolution worth following? Let’s take a closer look.

What Is Tea?

Tea is a brewed beverage. It is generally made with leaves of a plant called

camellia sinensis. The leaves are treated in different ways to form black, green, white, yellow and oolong tea, which have different flavors and caffeine levels. Matcha tea is a form of green tea. When caffeine is removed from the leaves, these teas are labeled decaffeinated.

Many herbs, spices and flowers, alone or blended, form what are known as herbal teas. Often manufacturers market the teas or blends with attributes, such as helping you to:

  • Relax
  • Sleep
  • Reduce nausea
  • Decrease inflammation
  • Prevent sickness
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Decongest sinuses
  • Keep the brain healthy

Other teas are flavored, such as with berry or chocolate notes.

Yerba mate, now popular in the U.S., is an herbal tea with a high level of caffeine. It’s from South America, and is made from dried twigs and leaves of a plant by the same name.

Hot or cold brewed tea has almost no calories, sodium or fat. In the United States, however, up to 80 percent of the tea we drink is iced, and half of our tea is in ready-to-drink form — which frequently means flavored, according to the Tea Association of the USA. Ready-to-drink teas may contain added sugar, artificial sweeteners, food coloring or fruit juice. Those are fine in small quantities, but ideally it’s best to consume the least processed version of anything we’re eating or drinking. In fact, some studies show that tea’s nutrients are destroyed during processing.

What Science Says About Tea

In moderation, most people would do well to have a cup or two of brewed tea a day. Tea leaves have beneficial compounds such as polyphenols and phytonutrients. Both caffeinated and herbal teas have been shown to contain small amounts of micronutrients such as phosphorous, magnesium, copper and zinc. They may well contain antioxidants that lessen your chances of getting sick.

While more research is needed, some studies have shown that  some varieties of tea might help ward off cancer, keep heart disease at bay or rev up your metabolism, ultimately helping to lose weight.

Still, tea is not a miracle cure, so be savvy about what you’re consuming. Some tips:

  • Don’t buy into every claim you read in a magazine or on a label. Studies have been done about tea’s benefits, but the majority require more research. The findings are inconclusive so far. Many of the studies involved animals. We need replicable results in humans before drawing conclusions.
  • Do not overdo. Drinking too much tea can be harmful. Excessive caffeine in any form, including caffeinated teas, can lead to nervousness, restlessness, interrupted sleep patterns, increased heart rate, gastrointestinal issues, heartburn or abdomen pain.
  • Talk to your doctor first if you’re considering buying tea in an extreme form, such as a supplement. Supplements and tea products are not regulated the way that prescription medications are, so ask a medical professional if the item can harm you in any way. Also make sure the ingredients won’t cause detrimental interactions with medications or supplements you’re already taking.

How To Benefit from Drinking Tea

Tea wouldn’t have been this popular for this long if it didn’t have its benefits.

For starters, think about the emotional benefits of sitting for “a cuppa,” as some say. There’s a mental health benefit to having quiet time with a steamy mug of tea. Many people find the ritual calming. Caffeine in some teas will provide a lift at the same time, while ingredients in some herbal teas can have calming effects.

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