Green tea has long been hailed as the healthiest beverage in the world, but what is it about green tea that sees this humble drink repeatedly topping “world’s healthiest foods” charts?

Originating in China over 2,000 years ago (although now grown all over the world), tea is the most heavily consumed beverage after water. All tea is made from the dried leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. Different types of tea is made by varying the levels of oxidation that occurs during processing (oxidation is when a chemical substance changes when combined with oxygen). Green tea is made by stopping the oxidation process, by either steaming or firing the leaves, which deactivates the enzymes present.

The nutritional content of green tea, or any tea for that matter, will vary according to climate, horticultural practices, and finally the variety and maturity (or age) of the leaves. In the case of green tea, the younger the leaves, the better.

A wide array of components come together to uniquely create green tea. These include catechins, an amino acid called theanine, flavonoids, caffeine, vitamins and minerals, to name just a few. Read more about the composition of tea here https://worldoftea.org/tea-chemistry/.

Let’s look at one of the most important health related components, called polyphenols. All tea contains chemical compounds called polyphenols and the main group is known as catechins (which give tea its texture). Catechins are little nutritional powerhouses that are responsible for many of tea’s health-enhancing functions, including its anti-inflammatory, antioxidative, and anticarcinogenic effects. Because green tea undergoes minimal processing when compared to other varieties (black tea for example), the majority of the catechin content is unchanged. This means that green tea is the most effective variety of tea when it comes to eliminating free radicals (waste products from various chemical reactions in a cell that when build up, harm other cells in the body), hence why it’s hailed for its high antioxidant content.

Then there’s an amino acid called theanine (or L-theanine), which gives tea its unique flavour. Theanine crosses the blood-brain barrier and increases alpha brain waves, which create a state of relaxation (without drowsiness) and improved concentration. This state of relaxed alertness is further increased by the caffeine content in green tea. In fact, historically, Buddhist monks drank tea to help them concentration during long periods of meditation. Theanine may also help to reduce blood pressure and alleviate symptoms of PMS.

Tea also contains important vitamins, such as vitamin C, B2, B3, E, folic acid and beta-carotene (a precursor of vitamin A), as well as minerals, such as potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, calcium and small quantities of manganese, zinc, copper and fluoride.

Another reason green tea reigns supreme in health stakes is its essential oil content. These essential oils are known to aid digestion, and green tea has a much higher percentage of essential oils than black tea.

Just remember to space your tea out at least thirty minutes from sources of non-haeme iron-rich foods (e.g., lentils, beans, nuts, grains, greens etc.), as the polyphenols can interfere with iron absorption.

Also remember that bottled teas are NOT the same as naturally brewed teas. You’ll see many manufacturers jumping on the green tea bandwagon with their “green tea elixirs or energy drinks.” But beware: recent research confirms that most of these bottled varieties contain far fewer polyphenols that one cup of brewed tea, and are often loaded with sugar and other nasties like artificial colours and flavours.

Overall, it’s easy to see why we love green tea here at Perfect South! Not only does it taste amazing, it also provides zero calories, contributes to your hydration needs, and boosts your intake of health-promoting phytochemicals. You’ve got nothing to gain but your health by adding a few cups of green to your daily intake.

This article was written in collaboration with a certified health professional.