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A Nutritionist Explains the Health Benefits of Tea

It's no secret that drinking tea is good for you, but with so many options, it's hard to know which to brew. Here's a quick breakdown of three popular tea types and their health benefits.

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More than half of all Americans sip tea—the world’s most popular drink next to water—on any given day, reports the Tea Association of the USA. If you’re not among these 158 million, you might want to consider swapping dark roast for loose leaf, and here’s why: Tea is rich in one of the best-known flavonoids called catechins, a type of disease-fighting antioxidant that has shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, certain cancers, and dental caries (i.e., tooth decay and cavities), as well as aid weight loss. Like coffee, tea also contains caffeine, which stimulates the heart, muscles, and central nervous system. This all-star beverage comes in several varieties, which can be a deterrent to a newbie, who might not know where to start. The good news is, whatever you choose, the health benefits of tea will be present.

“There are potential benefits to all teas, including ‘no-frill’ black tea bags,” says Jackie Newgent, R.D.N., author of The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbook. One to avoid, however, is the instant kind. “It may have little ‘real’ tea in it,” she warns. In other words, if it doesn’t require hot water or steeping, like powdered ice teas, pass. Also, choose organic tea when possible so you know it was grown without fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides.

While no one tea trumps the other, there is a best amount. Health gains typically begin at one cup a day, maxing out at six or more cups. “Tea’s benefits are obtained from regular consumption, not just a cup here and there,” says Newgent. If downing more than a cup per day is challenging for you, try cooking with it. You can use unsweetened tea as a poaching liquid for chicken when making chicken salad, suggests Newgent. You can also use brewed tea as a replacement for water in a hummus or as part of the liquid for a soup, stew, sauce, or gravy.

Since each type of tea offers specific health bonuses, we’ve created this simple guide to help you choose your next cup.

GREEN TEA

This brew contains less than half the caffeine of coffee but more—25 to 45 milligrams per 8 ounces—than most black teas. Caffeine is an antioxidant, and this lends to green tea surpassing black tea in antioxidants.

Green tea also supplies a host of other benefits: It may help lower the risk of heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and dental caries. In one Japanese study, people drinking two or more cups of green tea daily were significantly less likely to experience cardiovascular disease or stroke. Green tea may also help prevent cancer: For each cup of green tea consumed daily, risk of colorectal cancer in men dropped by 12 percent, according to a study from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

Green tea is also a common beverage among those trying to drop a few pounds. While one study of overweight and obese adults shows that regular consumption over about three months may lead to a loss of six-plus pounds, that study was of Japanese tea drinkers who tend to have a higher daily tea intake than Americans. When this study is considered with other research, weight loss is found to be minimal, reports data published in The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. The verdict is still out on how much green tea can help with weight loss, but experts agree that drinking the unsweetened variety is a good replacement for caloric beverages. If you want to add anything to your mug, go for a squeeze of lemon juice, which may increase the amount of antioxidants available for your body to absorb.

Brew it: The longer you steep your tea, the more flavonoids you’ll obtain, says Newgent. The ideal steeping temperature depends on the type of tea you’re drinking. For green tea, use filtered water that’s cooled (170 to 185°F) slightly after boiling, and steep for two to three minutes.

BLACK TEA

This tea variety comes from the same Camellia sinensis plant as green tea. The big difference is in the processing. Green tea is only minimally oxidized, whereas black tea is fully oxidized after leaf harvesting, which allows the tea leaves to turn from green to a dark brown or black. This process yields black tea’s fruity, smoky, or malty flavor.

Like green tea, black tea may help lower risk of diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer, such as ovarian, bladder, and oral cancers. Additionally, regular black tea intake may help decrease risk of Parkinson’s disease, according to a study from scientists in Singapore.

Brew it: Steep in just-boiled filtered water (200-212°F) for three to five minutes.

HERBAL TEA

Chamomile, peppermint, rooibos, and hibiscus teas are all herbal—a category of tea that includes tea derived from herbs. Like green and black teas, herbal teas are often prepared with plant leaves. Peppermint tea bags, for instance, are filled with dried leaves of the peppermint plant. This tea may help indigestion by calming the stomach and is often recommended for people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). However, you might want to avoid it if you have Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD); it could aggravate heartburn or trigger acid reflux in some people.

Drinking chamomile tea may reduce blood sugar levels, and therefore, help keep diabetes under control. Rooibos, also called “red tea,” is a good source of antioxidants, which can protect you against cancer as well as damage caused by radiation treatment (more research is needed in this area). And hibiscus tea may lower blood pressure levels, which in turn, safeguards your ticker, notes Newgent.

Brew it: Steep in just-boiled filtered water (212°F) for four to six minutes.

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