Tea: The Ultimate Health Drink
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Fitness

Tea: The Ultimate Health Drink

Research shows that tea fights breast cancer and heart disease and can even help you lose weight. Bottoms up!

How Tea Keeps You Healthy

The inside scoop from researchers: Tea contains powerful antioxidants called flavonoids that might make a huge difference in your health. "A cup of tea contains the same amount of flavonoids -- or more -- as a serving of many fruits and vegetables," says Jeffrey Blumberg, PhD, professor of nutrition at Tufts University, in Boston. White, green, and black tea come from the same plant, but the leaves are processed differently. The result is three distinct colors and tastes that offer a host of health benefits. Find the brew that's right for you.

White Tea

What it tastes like: Sweet, light

The health benefits: It fights bacteria and viruses.

The science behind it: White tea is so potent that it can kill bacteria, including strep and pneumonia, and destroy 80 percent of bacterial viruses in 10 minutes, according to research at Pace University in New York City. Study author Milton Schiffenbauer, PhD, a professor of microbiology, speculates that polyphenols (a type of antioxidant) in the tea may be responsible. His advice: "Drink at least two cups a day for optimum health."

Try this: Celestial Seasonings Antioxidant Plum White Tea ($2.99)

Black Tea

What it tastes like: Strong, earthy, astringent

The health benefits: It helps prevent heart disease and ovarian cancer.

The science behind it: Drinking three or more cups of black tea a day can reduce your risk of heart attack by 11 percent, British researchers recently reported after reviewing 14 years' worth of studies.

Black and green tea also protect against one of the deadliest cancers for women. Sipping just one cup every day will lower your risk of ovarian cancer by 24 percent; having a second cup will lower your risk by 46 percent, according to a Swedish study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. That's because the polyphenols in the tea may inhibit the growth of or even help destroy ovarian cancer cells, says study author Susanna Larsson, PhD.

Try this: Yogi Tea Black Chai ($3.65)

Green Tea

What it tastes like: Mild, grassy

The health benefits: It may protect against breast cancer and Alzheimer's disease, and it can speed metabolism.

The science behind it: A recent study at Tufts University found that green tea may help prevent breast cancer.

The brew contains a polyphenol called epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), which "may block subtle molecular changes that lead to the disease as well as suppress its progression," says Amy Yee, PhD, study coauthor and professor of biochemistry at Tufts University School of Medicine. Green tea can also boost brainpower. In research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition last year, doctors found that the amount of EGCG in one cup may reduce by 37 percent your chance of the mental decline that can accompany aging; and two cups slash your risk by 50 percent.

Green tea may help you lose weight. Groundbreaking research published several years ago showed that people who had the equivalent of three cups of green tea a day burned 4 percent more calories than people who didn't. Since then, many other studies have backed this finding. The miracle ingredient is likely -- what else? -- EGCG, which speeds up the body's metabolism, experts suggest.

Try this: Lipton Pyramid Green Tea with Mandarin Orange ($3.49).

If you find green tea tough to swallow (some people are turned off by the taste), mix it into a stir-fry with this tip from Joanna Pruess, coauthor of Tea Cuisine: Steep 1 tablespoon or 2 bags of green tea in 1/2 cup boiling water for 3 minutes. Press the leaves to extract as much liquid as possible, then discard. Add the liquid to your stir-fry and reduce it over high heat.

4 Secrets to the Perfect Cup of Tea

1. Boil water. If you're making black tea, use boiling water. The ideal temperature for brewing white and green teas, however, is 165 to 185 degrees F. The trick to achieving this: Bring water to a rolling boil in a kettle and then let it sit for 10 minutes. If it's too hot, it will damage the leaves and release bitter components.

2. Use a teapot. "It keeps water hotter for a longer period of time," says Joe Simrany, president of the Tea Association of the USA. "If you steep tea in a cup, you're going to lose some heat."

3. Time it right. Steep white tea for 1 1/2 minutes, green for one minute, and black for 3 to 5 minutes (bags and loose leaves have equal health benefits). This draws out the brew's flavor and antioxidants without making it bitter.

4. Make your own decaf. To remove the caffeine from white, green, or black tea, pour hot water over the leaves or bag and let steep for 30 seconds; this will release most of the caffeine. Discard the water, add fresh liquid, and steep again for the recommended time.

Originally published in FITNESS magazine, February 2007.

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