Monday, December 27, 2010

The Daily Diet: Bottled vs. Brewed Teas

Given the heat wave that most of the country is suffering from at the moment, iced bottled beverages are being consumed in copious amounts. For the health conscious, many of those beverages contain or are based on green tea, which touts numerous health benefits such as reducing the risk for a wide range of diseases, from bacterial or viral infections to chronic degenerative conditions including cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes mellitus, and rheumatoid arthritis. But not all green tea is created equal, and the secret is in the brewing technique.

Green tea is the least processed of all types of tea, made by briefly steaming the just harvested leaves, rendering them soft and pliable and preventing them from fermenting or changing color. After steaming, the leaves are rolled, then spread out and dried with hot air. Because of green tea’s minimal processing, its catechins—antioxidants which are believed to prevent damage caused by oxidation—are more concentrated.

Many bottled green teas are promoted as having anti-oxidant properties, purely due to the presence of the green tea, but the type of green tea or extract that is used in many of these products is actually significantly lower than a cup of plain old brewed green tea. In fact one new study found that in some cases a person would have to drink up to 20 times the amount of bottled tea in a day to reap the same antioxidant benefits as one cup of brewed tea.

At a meeting of the American Chemical Society, researchers Shiming Li and Chi-Tang Ho, stated that their research led to the conclusion that some popular brands of bottled tea contain much fewer polyphenols than brewed green and black tea. Most of the brands that they tested had “virtually no antixoidants,” while others had such small amounts that there would be no benefit.

Most bottled teas also contain additional sugars and non-beneficial ingredients which could counteract any benefit that was purported in the first place. For some healthy alternatives to sugar-laden teas and sodas, Healthy Eating columnist Susan Brady offers “Trading in Your Diet Soda” and for brewing and flavoring your own iced tea, read “Summer Soda Substitute.”

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