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To tea or not to tea?

by The Concordian October 25, 2011

I was shocked to learn that tea ranks second behind water as the world’s most widely consumed beverage. I was under the impression that something along the lines of Coke Zero would be the runner-up, although I’m sure it’s not far behind.
I have a theory that this has a lot to do with tea’s significant amount of documented health benefits. The most important ones being the prevention of certain types of cancers and cardiovascular diseases, the prevention of the onset of Alzheimer’s, and the strengthening of immune systems.
Actually, tea has been considered a wholesome and health enhancing drink for practically 5,000 years. Over time, tea has become a deep-rooted part of Asian lifestyle and culture. Tea has been linked to spirituality, hospitality and has been recognized for its health benefits. Its popularity was quick to spread worldwide, but it took longer for it to catch on here in the West.
Tea is extracted from the Camellia sinensis bush. The three types of tea most commonly found on the market, green, black and oolong, are produced from the dried leaves of the tropical plant. Despite green and black tea’s common origins, their chemical compositions differ completely due to the transformations they undergo.
Tea contains an impressive amount of polyphenols (a broad family of antioxidants). Black tea, though, is stripped of many of these substances due to the variety of processes it is subjected to.
“I’m not a big fan of tea, I prefer coffee,” says Anouare Abdou, a first year journalism student. “I like plain green tea when I do drink it, green tea is great for you. It makes me feel healthy.”
Green tea is quite healthy; it sustains less transformations than other teas and therefore preserves its high antioxidant content. Green tea is especially effective in preventing certain cancers and diseases because it contains several catechins (a type of polyphenol) with high “anti-cancer” activity.
EGCG, or epigallocatechin gallate, has been found to prevent the growth of cancerous cell lines. To get the maximum of the disease-preventing effects provided by tea, it is recommended to go for Japanese green teas as they are the richest in antioxidants. Studies have also found that these same antioxidants can play a significant role in preventing cardiovascular diseases and high cholesterol.
There is rising concern over what we eat and drink. We watch our calories, our sodium intakes, our sugar consumption. Ever wonder what’s in a Starbucks caramel machiatto? Well, depending on how much you want to indulge, you’re looking at somewhere between 100 and 240 calories, and that is with skim milk. Sure, it’s a nice treat once in a while, but if you’re having several a week, keep in mind that that you’re packing unnecessary calories fast.
My point being that tea, when simply brewed with no additives, contains no calories at all. “The danger with pre-made drinks is the hidden sugar and fat content, especially with the additions, the whipped cream, the syrups,” says Elizabeth Cromie De Vazquez, a certified naturopath and healthy living advisor in Montreal.
“When having a cup of tea that’s actually good for you, it’s a nice way to add value to what you’re drinking, if it’s your drink on the go or that warm and comforting treat,” she says.
Another advantage of tea is that it is significantly less caffeinated than coffee and other energy enhancers. A warm cup of tea is a nice way to avoid the awful crash of a powerful caffeine buzz and still get a little boost. Although tea has a lower caffeine content than coffee, it is still possible to suffer from the same undesirable effects associated with the drug, such as insomnia and anxiety.
It is wise to avoid overindulging. For anyone wanting to wean themselves off of coffee, Cromie De Vazquez recommends cutting down on the java, then going to either decaf or something like Yerba mate, which is a South American root. You can then transition to either black or green tea. After that, you may want to experiment with herbal teas.
When asked about herbal teas, Cromie De Vazquez said peppermint and ginger are good for digestion if you have a nervous stomach.
“Hawthorn berries are great for the heart,’’ she says. “Nettle tea is fantastic for allergies, and it’s also really good for the gutline once you’ve come off of coffee. Something like licorice root is great for exhaustion, if you’re really tired. However, make sure to check with your naturopath if combining with other medications”.
If you’re looking for a traditional tea experience, I came across the breathtaking Cha Guan Tea House on Monkland Ave. in NDG, where you can bask in “cha dao,” which means “the way of tea” in Chinese. Or visit Gryphon D’Or just down the street, which brings you back to the classic comforts of afternoon tea.

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