Take Time for

Tea: next to water, it's the most common beverage choice throughout the world. Whether it's black, green, or oolong tea, tea comes from the same plant, called Camellia sinensis. Differences in color and flavor depend on processing.

  • For black tea, the most popular type in the United States, tea leaves are exposed to air. The natural biochemical process turns them a deep red-brown color and imparts a unique, rich flavor. Many flavored specialty teas start with black tea. As an aside, orange pekoe isn't made with orange flavor; instead "pekoe" or "orange pekoe" refers to the grade and size of the tea leaves.
  • For green tea, typically served in Chinese and Japanese restaurants, the tea leaves are not processed as much. Instead, they're just heated or steamed quickly to keep their green color and delicate flavor.
  • Oolong tea is an "in-between" tea: between black and green tea.

Teatime: Health Benefits?

Whether black or green or oolong, tea appears to have potential health benefits, perhaps derived from its flavonoids. Flavonoids and other polyphenols, which are phytonutrients, work as antioxidants that may help protect body cells from damage done by free radicals. Using the oxygen radical absorbency capacity (ORAC) score, which ranks the antioxidant potential of plant-based foods, tea ranks as high as or higher than many fruits and vegetables. To learn more about antioxidants, the ORACscore, and phytonutrients, see chapter 4.

Can tea drinking help keep you healthy? Maybe, but the research linking tea consumption and disease prevention is too new for certainty. And there's not enough evidence yet to offer specific advice about tea drinking. Some promising areas of study suggest that tea or tea's flavonoids may reduce risk of gastric, esophageal, and skin cancers and may offer protection from heart disease and stroke—if you consume enough (four to six cups a day). Some studies are investigating whether tea plays a role in relaxation or mental performance.

Tea may supply fluoride, which helps strengthen tooth enamel, if it's made with fluoridated water. Tea also may help fight cavities by reducing plaque formation and hindering cavity-forming bacteria. You still need to brush and floss!

For now, enjoy tea; brew it for at least three minutes to bring out most of the flavonoids. Then stay tuned for science-based advice.

Creative Ways to Enjoy Tea

  • Try bottled teas as a portable beverage choice. Many bottled or canned ice tea drinks have as much added sugars as a regular soda; read the label to check the calories. Look for those flavored with noncaloric sweeteners.
  • Watching calories? Enjoy tea without added sugar or honey. For a touch of flavor in unsweetened tea, just add a slice of lemon or lime, fresh ginger, or fresh mint leaves.
  • Add citrus juice for flavor and smart nutrition! Tea's flavonoids partly inhibit the absorption of nonheme iron (iron from legumes, grain products, and eggs). A

squeeze of vitamin C-rich lemon, orange, or lime juice in your tea can counteract some of the action.

  • For more calcium, enjoy "milk tea": hot or cold tea added to milk. Some believe that adding milk to tea lowers tea's antioxidant power. However, no scientific evidence proves that milk binds to and inactivates polyphenols. If you enjoy milk in your tea, certainly add some!
  • Experiment with culinary uses of dried tea leaves: as a flavor rub for a roast, for tea-marinated meat, or in homemade sorbet.
  • Use tea—perhaps a flavored variety—in place of water in dough or batter for breads, cookies, cakes, and brownies.

Pour a "Herbal"?

Have a sip of apple-cinnamon tea, mint tea, or ginger tea. Interest in herbal teas has been rising for those seeking an alternative to caffeinated beverages—and for those hoping for other health benefits.

To clear up a misconception: many branded herbal teas are really tea leaves with added herbs and perhaps fruit juice, honey, sweeteners, or flavor extracts; they have caffeine unless the label indicates "decaf." The ingredient list will include "tea." And some herbal teas on the market aren't tea at all. Instead, they're infusions made with herbs, flowers, roots, spices, or various other parts of many plants. The more correct term for them is "tisane," which means tealike substance.

When it comes to health benefits, herbal teas haven't been studied, so not much is known. Some research suggests that their polyphenols, one type of phytonutrient, may bind iron before it can be absorbed. Most major branded herbal teas are considered safe to drink. Still, you're wise to consume only common varieties sold by major manufacturers.

Some herbal teas interfere with over-the-counter or prescription medications. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist before drinking them when you're on medication.

Because of their potential harmful effects, be careful about using herbs to make "teas"—comfrey, lobelia, woodruff, tonka beans, melilot, sassafras root, and many others may be harmful in large amounts. For example, comfrey may cause liver damage. Woodruff, an anticoagulant, may cause bleeding. Lobelia may cause breathing problems. Even chamomile may cause an allergic reaction.

For more on herbal teas and remedies, see "For Herbal and Other Botanical Supplements . . "' in chapter 23.

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