Is green better for you than black? Does it contain caffeine? Can it help ward off disease? Nutritionist Jo Lewin examines the dietary benefits of green tea.
All types of tea, even your regular cup of builder's, come from the Camellia sinensis plant. Green tea gets its name from the emerald green colour created when brewing unprocessed, unfermented tea leaves. With origins going back as far as 5000 years, green tea is commonly drunk and widely grown in the Far East where the health properties are well regarded.
All tea, including green, originates from the plant Camellia sinensis. The difference between green and black teas results from the manufacturing process. Black tea undergoes fermentation which transforms its colour and flavour, whereas green tea remains unprocessed and retains its colour. Green tea is grown in higher altitudes, more specifically the mountainous regions of East Asia. Some green tea is still picked by hand, and it is thought that handpicked teas are less bitter and yield a sweeter, more robust taste. Other factors such as the climate and soil can also affect the flavour.
Sencha is the most popular of Japan’s green teas. There are numerous grades which can affect the price and quality. Sencha leaves are first steamed and then shaped. Sencha tea produces a clear yellow/green tea with a sweet, grassy but slightly astringent flavour.
Matcha is made from green tea leaves grown in the shade. The leaves have a higher chlorophyll content which makes them a vibrant green colour. To make matcha, the entire leaf is ground down into a powder. The powder is mixed with boiling water and gently whisked before being served. The flavour is light and sweet and so is now added to desserts and sweet drinks.
Green tea can be found as fresh leaves or in tea bags, frequently blended with other flavours such as lemon, lime or ginger.
There are many health claims surrounding green tea – from a reduced risk of cancer, to weight loss to lowering blood pressure. The evidence to support these claims is largely inconclusive. Some of the health claims are based in ancient Eastern traditions, where green tea has been used to treat symptoms of disease for years. If you are looking to use green tea for medicinal purposes, it is important to consult your doctor first.
Green tea does have more health benefits than black tea which can be attributed to its lack of processing. Green tea is higher in polyphenols. The major polyphenols in green tea are flavonoids, the most active of which are catechins and epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) which function as powerful antioxidants. Antioxidants are known to protect the body against disease and are an important part of a healthy diet. Antioxidants can be found in a range of fruits, vegetables and other unprocessed foods. Green tea is one source of antioxidants so it can be included as part of a balanced diet.
Specific health benefits & issues
Green tea does contain caffeine – not as much as coffee (35-80 mg compared to coffee’s 100-400 mg in the same size cup), but it can still act as a stimulant. As a result, some people find that drinking green tea increases energy levels and concentration – but this effect varies between individuals.
If you are sensitive to caffeine, then it is advised to watch the total number of cups of green tea you drink in a day. Too much caffeine can disrupt sleep patterns and energy levels.
Like all types of tea, green tea contains tannins. Tannins can interfere with the absorption of iron so try not to drink tea after an iron-rich meal.
Because of the proposed benefits, many ‘health’ products now include traces of green tea. However, there is not real evidence to suggest these products live up to those claims. The delicate qualities are more easily obtained by consuming green tea while it is fresh and prepared as a cup of tea.
When buying tea leaves, try to avoid older leaves. This is the same principle as with coffee beans. Allegedly, whole leaves are the highest grade and purchasing leaves that are older than four months are past their level of peak freshness. Once purchased and opened, keep leaves in an airtight container that can be resealed.
This article was published on 10th January 2017.
Jo Lewin holds a degree in nutritional therapy and works as a community health nutritionist and private consultant. She is an Associate Nutritionist (ANutr) registered with the UKVRN.
All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.