Statistics say there’s a good chance you’ve enjoyed plenty of tea in your lifetime. In 2018, Americans drank more than 84 billion cups of tea—or roughly 3.8 billion gallons. And while black tea is the most popular variety, green tea consumption in the U.S. is on the rise.
Article at a Glance
- Green Tea & General Health
- Green Tea has high levels of antioxidants
- Green Tea possess powerful cell protectors known as catechins
- Green Tea displays cardiovascular and cognitive benefits
- Green Tea & Weight Management
- Elements in green tea could help elevate metabolic rate, increase fat oxidation, and improve insulin activity
- Catechins in particular demonstrate strong benefits
- Green tea alone does not equal weight loss—diet and exercise are vitally important
Even though tea comes in many different varieties—including black, green, white, and oolong—they are all derived from the same plant, the Camellia sinensis. To make green tea, the leaves of this plant are steamed in a process that helps the tea retain its antioxidant and nutrient levels. This differs from black, oolong, and other teas, which go through a fermentation process that saps the teas of some antioxidant value.
That fermentation process doesn’t render those other teas void of nutritional worth, according to the Medicine Hunter? Chris Kilham, an author and educator who travels the globe conducting research on medicinal plants and botanical healing.
“You lose some of the antioxidant value during fermentation, but it doesn’t destroy the tea,” says Kilham, who recently returned from a pilgrimage to China in search of the world’s greatest teas. “Some of the bacteria that is generated during the fermentation process can be quite healthy in unique ways. Fermenting tea reduces antioxidants, but the bacteria adds value.”
However, by steaming instead of fermenting, green tea keeps its antioxidants fully intact.
In recent years, green tea has gained a reputation for its weight management properties, helping the body’s metabolism to be more efficient—adding to its reputation as a health-filled tonic. But before delving into the science, let’s discover the origins of green tea and how it has grown in popularity through the centuries.
Green Tea: From China’s Sleeping Giant to Universal Brew
Mainly imported from a variety of Asian countries where the acidic soil is rich in minerals, green tea is steeped in history. First documented in China nearly 5,000 years old, it was purportedly discovered during the reign of a mythical sage and forerunner of Chinese agriculture and medicine, when some wayward tea leaves fell into his cup of hot water.
While that fortuitous brew adds some mystical flavor to the beverage, most cultural historians agree that green tea likely dates back as far as 3,000 years ago, when fresh tea leaves were chewed and eaten for recreation by growers across Southeast Asia. Then, during the rule of the Tang dynasty in the 5th century, tea drinking became a cultural convention in China.
The rest of the world wouldn’t experience the benefits of green tea until the late 19th century, when the invention of the clipper ship allowed tea to be transported to European countries much faster than on camelback, an arduous journey that led to the fresh tea leaves fermenting over the months-long trek.
These days, green tea is a ubiquitous product in coffee shops, restaurants, and grocery stores, available in loose leaf, bags, and a powdered form known as matcha. It’s also used as an ingredient in other consumables such as baked goods, dry rubs for meat, hard candy, and more. This green tea craze can be largely attributed back to its country of origin, where the practice of ancient Chinese medicine was cultivated into a health movement that eventually influenced the western world, resulting in the modern-day application of green tea in wellness.
“As for quality, just like apple trees and the various strains through time, where the antioxidant levels vary and the flavor changes, much is also true for tea,” Kilham says regarding how tea has changed since those ancient times. “But in China and Japan today, they go out of their way to produce green tea of very high quality.”
How Green Tea Influences Overall Health
In its unsweetened form, green tea is close to a zero-calorie beverage with no sugar and barely any measurable sodium or fat. While these factors make it an exceedingly healthy drink, it is green tea’s high levels of antioxidants that make it the subject of multiple medical studies. Green tea boasts natural chemicals called polyphenols, which provide anti-inflammatory properties. In fact, green tea possesses powerful cell-protecting catechins, including one in particular called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG).
“Catechins protect cells; they enhance brain health, increase energy, and protect against the proliferation of certain health problems,” Kilham says, adding that other elements in tea extracts, like tannins, can also support of overall health. “One of the main differences between pharmacology and herbology is that where pharmacology is on a mission to find the one single, magic ingredient, herbology’s cause is to realize the benefits of the total composition.”
Green tea’s high antioxidant levels make it a natural fit for many wellness efforts. Possible benefits from green tea include its potential to lower cholesterol, as reported in a 2011 meta-analysis of 14 clinical trials linking green tea consumption to a reduction in LDL cholesterol. One study in particular showed that green tea could also be linked to a reduced risk of stroke. Meanwhile, signs also point to green tea’s effectiveness in supporting cognitive functions, as research in the journal Psychopharmacology suggests that green tea could possibly treat cognitive impairments associated with neuropsychiatric disorders.
As for heart health, a 2006 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association connected the consumption of green tea with a reduced rate of mortality in cardiovascular disease. That study’s scope was astounding, following more than 40,000 Japanese subjects between the ages of 40 and 70 for 11 years. Results showed that participants who drank one to five cups of green tea per day had a lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than those who drank less than one cup per day.
Meanwhile, one of the best things you can do for your heart—and your overall health—is shed excess weight. It goes well beyond merely looking good during the upcoming beach season and instead is a critical action toward a long, healthy life. With that in mind, green tea’s use in weight management might be its greatest benefit of all.
How Green Tea Helps People Lose Weight
A healthy lifestyle has to start somewhere—and why not start with the beverage that is second only to water in terms of worldwide popularity. Green tea shows a lot of promise in the effort to shed pounds, and this ability is largely attributed to flavonoids, particularly those catechins that could help elevate your metabolic rate, increase fat oxidation, and improve insulin activity, all of which lends a helping hand to your weight loss efforts.
One study using data from the Polish Health, Alcohol and Psychosocial Factors in Eastern Europe found that tea consumers who drank more than three cups daily had a lower body mass index (BMI, your total measure of body size combining your height and weight) and smaller waist circumference than those who did not. The cross-sectional population-based survey included 8,821 adults, the majority of which were females.
The power seems to lie within those catechins, which research suggests can—along with caffeine—speed up your metabolism and increase the amount of energy your body uses. Meanwhile, a 2010 review found that green tea supplements containing catechins or caffeine had a positive effect on weight management.
Of course, tea is not some magic elixir that will melt the pounds off. Instead, any attempt at weight loss using green tea should be used in conjunction with a disciplined regimen that combines diet and exercise in behavioral and lifestyle modification.
“People get disappointed because they think they’re going to drink green tea and they will just lose weight. It doesn’t work like that. Exercise and lowering caloric intake are keys,” says Kilham. “Reducing calories in your diet, eating a cleaner diet, and eliminating all sodas, including diet soda, all contribute greatly to losing weight.”