Baby, it's hot outside! It's the perfect weather for the official drink of June: iced tea. In honor of National Iced Tea Month, here are some healthy tea tidbits to brew on as you reach for a tall, cool one.
Tea may help fight cancer. All types of tea contain compounds known as polyphenols, which work in the body by protecting cells from damage, as well as preventing cancer cells from starting in the first place. Green tea contains more polyphenols than black tea, because it's not processed as long. Much of the evidence in support of tea and cancer has come out of China, where tea is heavily studied because of its prominence in the Chinese diet. One recent study out of China concluded that green tea drinkers suffered less oral cancer, especially among men who smoked. Another study found a lower risk of lung cancer when drinking high amounts of tea, especially among non-smokers. Tea has also been associated with a lower risk of other types of cancer, such as bladder cancer.
Tea is kind to teeth. Drinking certain types of tea helps keep the bacteria that cause tooth decay and gum disease from "sticking around" in the mouth. A study published in the Journal of Periodontology showed that gum issues were reduced in Japanese men and women when they started drinking one cup of green tea a day. Another recent study found that Pu-erh tea and chrysanthemum tea provided benefits to tooth and gum health, by reducing certain types of pathogens that wreak havoc on the mouth. Finally, a study published in Preventive Medicine found that people who drank high amounts of green tea were less likely to lose teeth with age. Of course, the tea studied was unsweetened – adding sugar to your tea will override the benefits.
Tea drinkers may have lower rates of Type 2 diabetes. A study published in 2012 used data from 50 different countries and found a lower Type 2 diabetes rate in countries that consumed the highest amounts of black tea, such as Ireland and Turkey. The researchers speculate that the effect may be due to the fermentation process to turn green tea into black tea, which then creates unique healthful compounds. Another study done on mice demonstrated that green tea may help "blunt" the rise in blood sugar when the mice were fed a starchy diet.
Tea is good for your brain. Studies on green tea and mice have provided interesting evidence that the beverage seems to help with brain functioning and mood regulation. One study involving more than 7,000 Chinese people found that green tea consumption helped improve cognitive function, especially in the "oldest-old," or those who were about 90 years old.
Tea is easy on your wallet. Next to water, tea is the most inexpensive beverage you can choose, provided you brew your own and avoid the "bottled" versions. There's a common misperception that tea isn't as hydrating as water, because of the caffeine. However, researchers have demonstrated that this is simply not true – the amount of caffeine in a glass of tea is not enough to cause you to lose more than you drink.
There are two potential downsides to adding tea to your beverage rotation: The added calories from sweeteners and the caffeine. Learning to enjoy your tea unsweetened, drinking no more than about 4 cups a day and perhaps avoiding tea in the evening so the caffeine doesn't interfere with your sleep will help prevent these pitfalls.
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Melinda Johnson, MS, RD, is the Director of the Didactic Program in Dietetics and lecturer for the Nutrition Program at Arizona State University, and a Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Follow her on Twitter @MelindaRD.