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February 25, 2014

Dietitian: Health benefits of tea not black or green issue

Q: I really love tea and drink a lot of black tea every day. I have heard how great green tea is for you, but I prefer black tea. Do I have to switch to green tea to get the same health benefits?

A: The Tea Association of the USA reports that that on any given day about 154 million people drink tea, but 85 percent of these people are drinking iced tea (although not stated, this leads me to believe that instead of having unsweetened tea, most people are consuming sweetened tea). About 80 percent of tea consumed in the US is black tea and about 19.5 percent is green tea. The health benefits that are associated with drinking tea seem to come from both black and green intake — with little difference seen between the two. Both decaf and regular tea contain these flavonoids, so you can choose whatever suits your lifestyle and taste preference.

Tea is a tiny little leaf that packs a big health punch. Whether you drink green tea, black tea or oolong tea -- they all come from the same tea plant, Camellia sinensis. The leaves are simply processed differently. Green tea leaves are not fermented; they are withered and steamed. Black tea and oolong teas undergo a crushing and fermenting process.

All teas from the camellia tea plant are rich in polyphenols, a type of antioxidant that scavenge for cell-damaging free radicals in the body and detoxify them. Some people believe that because white tea (immature tea leaves) is the least processed, it provides the most antioxidants, but research varies.

Studies of humans and animals show that the antioxidants in both black and green teas are highly beneficial to our health. Both types of tea have been estimated to contain up to 10 times the amount of antioxidants found in many fruits and veggies.

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