Disclaimer: This information is intended as a general reference only and is not a replacement for professional health advice from a physician licensed by the American Medical Association.
A lot of hoopla is made of the health benefits of green teas, and there is no doubt that at least some of these claims are well-founded. But are some green teas healthier than others? We wanted to take a look and see. Along the way, we were able to piece together the whole picture about flavonoids, catechins, and antioxidants (terms that get thrown around a lot when talking about tea benefits but whose relationship is usually not clearly explained).
Recap of Green Tea Benefits
In a previous article we listed health benefit claims for various teas and herbals. Here is the list for green tea:
- High in antioxidants which may interfere with growth of some cancers (bladder, breast, lung, stomach, pancreatic, and colorectal)
- Promotes healthy cell growth
- Linked to the prevention of breast, lung, and stomach cancer
- Reduces risk of esophageal cancer in women by 60%
- May help protect skin from UV rays
- Circulatory system:
- Reduces bad cholesterol – prevents clogging of the arteries and helps with heart and cardiovascular difficulties
- Reduces risk of stroke
- Weight loss:
- Increases metabolism
- Promotes fat oxidation
- Has a relaxing and calming effect
- Reduces risk of neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease
- Fluoride content may help prevent tooth decay
- Matcha is specifically said to be a good wake-up tea
As you can see by that final item, some green teas have more of the elements responsible for the health benefits than others do. In the case of matcha, that element is caffeine (yes, it can be beneficial). So part of your assessment of which green teas are healthiest has to do in part with what your health goal is: weight loss, cancer prevention, improved circulation, better teeth and hair, calming down, perking up, etc. Time to take a look at some of those elements.
The big contenders here for what makes tea such a boon of good health are tea flavonoids (a group of antioxidant compounds found primarily in plants). Over 4,000 have been classified so far, and those have been divided into seven main groups. The ones in tea are in the flavanol group and include catechins and theaflavins (two of the three classes of flavanols, the third being proanthocyanidins). Higher levels of catechins are found in green teas, while black teas have more theaflavins (catechins are mostly converted to theaflavins and thearubigins during the production of black tea). There are four types of catechins: epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), epicatechin gallate (ECG), epigallocatechin (EGC) and epicatechin (EC).
So we have this relationship:
- Tea flavonoids (seven main groups)
- Flavanol group (the one in tea)
- epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) – one of the most potent
- epicatechin gallate (ECG) – one of the most potent
- epigallocatechin (EGC)
- epicatechin (EC)
- Proanthocyanidins (the one not in tea)
- Flavanol group (the one in tea)
EC in green tea has been shown to improve blood flow, reduce blood clots, and minimize hardening of the arteries, so it may be good for heart health. Research has shown that people who regularly drink green tea reduce their risk of stomach, throat, and several other kinds of cancer. That’s the catechins at work.
The antioxidant properties of these catechins are what account for the benefits such as healthier skin and teeth.
Caffeine, as previously mentioned, is also beneficial for those not overly sensitive to it. It perks you up while the L-Theanine in tea soothes you. Both of these elements plus the fact that tea drunk straight has zero calories can help your diet plan, but they certainly don’t guarantee weight loss. Green teas are great hydrators after that workout or yoga session, though, and have no carbonation to make you feel bloated.
Which Green Teas Are Healthiest
A previous study has found that as tea shoots get older, levels of EGCG and ECG decrease and EGC and EC increase. Naturally, green teas made from young shoots will be the better choice. Longjing is one such tea.
- high levels of all four of the important green tea quality markers (catechins, caffeine, gallic, and theanine acid)
- high levels of EGCG and ECG and lower levels of EGC
- higher levels of theogallin
- six minor sugar compounds
- lower levels of fatty acids and sucrose
However, generally speaking, delicate, sweet-tasting young tea shoots harvested in early Spring make the best green tea. And many have these same quality markers. A great plus for their wonderful flavors.
Which Form Is Best
Loose leaf is strongly recommended. As fresh as possible. Don’t oversteep (to avoid getting a bitterness to the tea flavor). We don’t just say that because we sell premium loose leaf green tea. Just the opposite. That is, we sell premium loose leaf green tea because it’s the best and healthiest form of green tea in addition to being the tastiest. A comparison by the USDA in 2007 of flavonoid content in almost 400 different kinds of green teas found that a cup of hot, regular (non-decaffeinated) green tea is the healthiest. A mere 100 milliliters (approx. 3.4 fluid ounces) of green tea contains 127 milligrams of catechins – twice the amount in decaffeinated green tea, three times more than in a flavored green tea, and ten times more than an instant or bottled green tea.
On average, a cup of green tea will have roughly 100 mg of EGCG per 8 ounces, but this will vary by brand, region grown, steeping time, age of the leaves, and so on.
Avoid bottled green teas and the dust in bags kinds. Whole or near-whole leaf in pyramid sachets is good. Extracts in liquid and pill or capsule form are also available; some is said to be effective, but the price can be too high and the pleasure of the tea flavors is lost. There seems to be more overdosing with the pills and capsules than when drinking the freshly steeped tea. However, caffeine is a problem for some, even the relatively low amounts in a cup of green tea (as much as 20 mg), so you may have to go the supplement route in that case. No easy answers, and as always we advise that you consult your doctor.
While research is ongoing, there have been signs that drinking a freshly steeped cup of green tea per day is certainly helpful (but definitely not a cure-all).