Care for a cuppa?
Here’s why tea is good for the mind and body
Unlike other beverages, tea soothes you. It is best drunk freshly brewed,” says tea sommelier Anamika Singh, who makes infusions professionally and runs a tea room, Anandini Himalaya Tea, in New Delhi’s Shahpur Jat.
The Tea Association of the USA says it’s the most widely consumed and most economical beverage in the world next to water. It comes in different varieties: white, green, oolong and black. All these come from the same plant, the warm-weather Camellia sinensis, after the tea leaves have gone through stages of processing and oxidation/fermentation. “Tea, besides having a soothing, calming effect, has antioxidants which aid in digestion, enhance immunity, reduce the risk of heart diseases and certain cancers; the caffeine in it boosts energy,” says Ritika Samaddar, regional head, department of clinical nutrition and dietetics, Max Healthcare, Saket, New Delhi.
India is the second-largest producer and consumer, and fourth-largest exporter of the product, according to the Kolkata-based Tea Board of India. N. Muraleedharan, director, Tocklai Tea Research Association at Jorhat, Assam, says: “We are largely a black tea producing country (about 1,200 million kilogram, or m.kg, per year), but we also produce a small quantity of green tea, about 10 m.kg annually, mostly in the Himachal Pradesh and Darjeeling tea belts.” Tea Board figures show that in 2013-14, total production was 1,208.78 m.kg, while the estimated domestic consumption was 911 m.kg (up from 890 m.kg in 2012-13).
Every bit of new research bolsters the argument in favour of tea. According to a 2012 study, published in the Frontiers In Bioscience journal, the polyphenols or catechins in tea, especially Epigallocatechin-3-gallate or EGCG (found in greater amounts in green tea), inhibit cancer initiation and progression. A paper, presented at the Fifth International Scientific Symposium on Tea and Human Health in Washington, DC, US, in 2012, showed that tea, an important source of dietary flavonoids, may help mitigate bone loss and reduce the risk of osteoporotic fractures among older adults.
Experts and scientists link the health benefits to tea’s polyphenols (antioxidants). These poly-phenols protect cells, tissues and organs from oxidative stress, says Seema Singh, chief clinical nutritionist and head of department, nutrition and dietetics, Fortis Hospital, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi. Oxidative stress is the damage caused by free radicals, which leads to the onset of chronic and degenerative diseases like cancer, autoimmune disorders, ageing, cataract, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular diseases, neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s—even postmenopausal osteoporosis, according to a study published in the Calcified Tissue International journal in 2010. The study covered 135 women participants aged 60-78.
Etiquette for tea drinkers
Polyphenols in tea are destroyed by oxygen, heat and sunlight, so tea leaves should be stored in air-tight jars. Anamika is also wary of tea bags which might contain twigs, stems and remnant dust—and thus have less polyphenol content than loose leaves. “For greater nutrient absorption, steep the leaves in hot water and don’t boil (water boils at 100 degrees Celsius) on the gas or in the microwave. Keep the ratio at one teaspoon tea to one cup water; you won’t need sugar or milk,” says Anamika, who consumes nine-10 cups of tea daily without milk or sugar.
Tea by itself is beneficial, says Honey Tandon, chief dietitian, Columbia Asia Hospital, Gurgaon, adjacent to Delhi, but most people tend to add milk and sugar. Avoid or reduce the amount of these ingredients, especially sugar, which may lead to diabetes and obesity. Seema suggests controlled or moderate consumption—two-three cups daily—which helps flush out toxins and protects the liver.
Too much of anything, however, can be bad. Warns Seema: “Don’t drink too much tea, especially if you are prone to acidity. And the tannin in tea hinders iron absorption.” Like coffee, drinking too much tea can cause the body to “lose water” or dehydrate. When it comes to comparisons with coffee, however, “tea is the better beverage to have. It does less harm to your body in terms of caffeine content, which may lead to hormonal imbalance.” Some black teas contain 60mg caffeine per cup, some green teas, 36mg per cup, but all teas contain less caffeine than coffee (around 65-270mg per cup). “Ideally, 300-400mg is the safe limit of total caffeine consumption daily and for children, less than 100mg is advisable. High caffeine can cause insomnia, stomach irritability, fast heartbeat and muscle tremors,” says Samaddar.
“As a thumb rule, never drink tea on an empty stomach,” says Seema, adding that those with intestinal or stomach ailments should definitely avoid this to control acidity—“tea is acidic in nature and drinking it on an empty stomach makes the stomach more vulnerable to acidity.” Yet you should “avoid mixing food with tea, it obstructs digestion”. Drink tea at least 2 hours after a meal.
Anamika disagrees. She says milk-less, sugar-less tea can be had with meals, as “it helps cleanse your palate in a multi-course meal”. Something like the “second flush (second-stage oxidized black tea) or a caffeine-free pinewood bark tea goes best with Indian spice-rich dishes like samosa, paneer masala and rogan josh”.
Made from the buds, or “one bud one leaf”, of the tea plant, white tea is unfermented, and the least oxidized since it is steamed rapidly and dried. According to a study, published in the ‘Food Chemistry’ journal in February, the antioxidants in white tea inhibit the proliferation of the colorectal cancer cell line and protect normal cells against mutations and oxidative DNA damage.
The high levels of catechins (antioxidants) “help fight free radicals”, says Ritika Samaddar of Max Healthcare, Saket, New Delhi—and “may help prevent cancer and cardiovascular diseases,” adds Honey Tandon of Columbia Asia Hospital in Gurgaon. A study published in 2010 in the ‘Canadian Journal Of Cardiology’ had found that its catechins increase good cholesterol and decrease bad cholesterol—so it’s helpful in lowering blood pressure, increasing circulation and decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease. However, N. Muraleedharan of the Tocklai Tea Research Association at Jorhat, Assam, advocates controlled intake of white tea, since the buds contain more caffeine than the leaves.
The leaves, obtained at the second stage of processing, are steamed or fired before being rolled. Tandon says it is the current common favourite as it helps in digestion, burns fat, improves brain function and dental health. It needs to be brewed for 3-4 minutes at 90 degrees Celsius.
This unfermented tea is low in caffeine and high in disease-fighting antioxidants and flavonoids (phytonutrients), says Samaddar, adding, “It speeds up the metabolic rate, lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol, inhibits its oxidation in the arteries, and has shown a reduced risk of several cancers, including skin, breast, lung, colon, oesophageal and bladder.” A study published in 2014 in the ‘Frontiers In Microbiology’ journal established the antimicrobial properties of green tea and quoted earlier studies on how it prevents infections and inhibits the growth of disease-causing pathogenic bacteria in the gut as well as ‘Streptococcus mutans’ bacteria, which cause dental caries. Seema Singh of Fortis Hospital, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi, advocates two cups of green tea daily; fresh lemon or orange juice can be added for flavour to combat the “bland taste”. Citrus, which has antioxidant properties, boosts the antioxidants in tea: More antioxidants mean the body has greater power to fight free radicals and strengthen the immune system.
The third stage of oxidation yields oolong tea—the plant is withered under a strong sun and oxidized before curling and twisting, imparting a deeper colour and flavour. Steep oolong for 5 minutes in water heated to 90 degrees Celsius. Samaddar says, “It’s a light tea, somewhere between your green and black, both in terms of the flavour, antioxidant and caffeine content”. Tandon adds, “Oolong activates enzymes that cut down triglycerides.” This was also established in a study published in 2005 in the ‘Journal Of Agricultural And Food Chemistry’, which found that oolong can lower triglyceride levels more than green and black teas.
The last stage of fermentation yields black tea, which should be brewed for 3-5 minutes at 90-95 degrees Celsius. No milk should be added, of course. The fully oxidized leaf is processed in two ways—either orthodox (withered whole leaf) or CTC (cut-twist-curl/crush-tear-curl). CTC can be processed either as broken leaves or as dust. “Black tea,” says Muraleedharan, “ is equally beneficial for health, but unfortunately studies on it are comparatively few, and advertisements and propaganda have popularized green tea more.”
Regular consumption of black tea may lower the risk of diabetes, high cholesterol, kidney stones and Parkinson’s disease, says Tandon. A study published in 2012 in the ‘Preventive Medicine’ journal found that daily consumption of three cups (200ml) of black tea for 12 weeks decreased cardiovascular risk factors: an average 18.4% decrease in fasting serum glucose, 35.8% in triglyceride levels and 16.6% in LDL/HDL plasma cholesterol ratio, and a 20.3% increase in HDL plasma cholesterol levels.
Infusions, or add-ons, make your tea healthier
Though tea infusions, made with flowers, fruit extracts, herbs and spices, are not technically tea, which comes from the ‘Camellia sinensis’ plant, nutritionists say these caffeine-free add-ons are gaining popularity. Some infusions can help prevent cancer, boost vitality, aid weight loss and reduce stress; their antioxidant properties can delay the ageing process and prevent age-related diseases.
Here are the properties of some infusions:
u Ginseng aids digestion, boosts immunity, reduces physical and mental distress and soothes the body
u Chamomile helps stunt the growth of cancer cells and prevent side effects of severe diabetes, such as vision blurring and damage, nerve and kidney damage. It relieves nausea, abdominal pain, heartburn, irritable bowel syndrome, bloating, indigestion, migraine and insomnia
u Lavender eases anxiety, soothes the mind and body, inducing sleep. It is effective against headaches, kidney disorders and jaundice. It also relieves menstrual pain, and its polyphenols help reduce the “bad” bacteria in the gut
u Hibiscus purifies blood, lowers blood pressure and strengthens the immune system. It prevents the oxidation of low-density lipoproteins (LDL) antioxidants, which help control cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease
u Rose, one of the best sources of vitamin C, is good for the immune system, skin and tissue health and adrenal function
u Lemongrass reduces stress and anxiety. The citral in it has strong antimicrobial and anti-fungal properties, and cleanses, detoxifies, flushes out uric acid and bad cholesterol, improving digestion and blood circulation
u Saffron inhibits skin tumours, relieves arthritis and improves eyesight. Go ahead, order that ‘kehwa’.
— Anamika Singh, Anandini Himalaya Tea, New Delhi, and Honey Tandon, chief dietitian, Columbia Asia Hospital, Gurgaon.
Know which ‘chai’ to have when:
½ Morning: Green tea with pomegranate flower or Himalayan ‘tulsi’; or classic green tea
¾ Breakfast: Black tea such as the English breakfast
À 10am: Oolong tea, first flush, or green tea with Himalayan ‘tulsi’
¸ Lunch: Classic green tea or oolong; green tea with rhododendron flowers
» 5pm: Black tea with hibiscus, rose and cinnamon; or first flush with lavender flowers
¾ Pre-dinner: Needle (green) tea, jasmine tea, pearl (white) tea
¿ Dinner: Smoked pinewood tea; second flush black tea
À Bedtime: White tea, or green tea with chamomile flowers.
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