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The Benefits of Tea

Do you suffer from uneven energy, anxiety, digestive problems or sleep troubles? Studies show that reducing your caffeine consumption can improve these, and other health conditions. Most people (even those who do not notice any ill side effects) feel better when they cut down the number of caffeinated beverages they drink. That’s because too much caffeine wreaks havoc on your nervous system and taxes your adrenal glands, which can lead to exhaustion, lowered immunity, and a host of other problems.

But, if you’ve ever skipped your coffee for a day or more, you have probably experienced the ugly symptoms of caffeine withdrawal, which can include headache, tiredness and irritability. These signals are your body’s way of telling you that it’s addicted to the caffeine and/or sugar in your cup of ‘joe.’

For most people, quitting caffeine cold turkey is not ideal. In general, I am a proponent of crowding out less healthy foods and drinks by adding in healthier versions that you enjoy. I call it ‘upgrading your choices.’  This adding-in rather than taking-away approach will keep you from feeling deprived and make you much more likely to stick to your new habits.

A simple way to reduce caffeine consumption is to replace one or more of your daily cups of coffee with a cup of tea, which contains a fraction of the caffeine of coffee along with a potent dose of beneficial antioxidants. Think of the switch as embarking on a new adventure, with lots of new tastes just waiting to be discovered.

Your body will thank you. Studies show that drinking tea may improve mental alertness, lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, reduce blood pressure, lower your risk for some cancers, and protect against Type 2 diabetes. Scientists are not clear yet how much tea needs to be consumed in order to reap these benefits, but it is clear that tea is a healthy choice worth considering.

Tea, like coffee, comes in many varieties, so you may need to experiment until you find one that you love. All teas are made from the leaves of the Camellia Sinensis plant, which grows in China and India. Other than water, tea is the most highly consumed beverage in the world. In some Asian countries, the average person drinks 5 to 6 cups per day. In America the figure is considerably lower, but on the rise as more and more people discover its health benefits.

The least processed form of tea is White tea, which is picked before the leaf buds fully open. It contains 3 times more antioxidants than green tea and 12 times more than fresh orange juice. White tea delivers only 15 mg of caffeine per cup, as compared to 80mg for the same cup of coffee. The scent and taste are lightly floral and sweet. White tea is increasingly available and tastes especially good iced.

Green tea, which is well known for its health-supportive properties, is somewhat more processed than white tea, being partially oxidized. One cup of green tea contains just 20-30 mg of caffeine and more antioxidants than a serving of broccoli, spinach, carrots, or strawberries. Jasmine green tea, scented with real jasmine flowers, is one popular variety you might want to try.

Black tea, the kind that most people in America drink, is believed to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. It contains just 40 mg of caffeine per cup and mixes well with milk and sugar, making it a good alternative for people trying to cut down on coffee. Why not upgrade your choice even further by using a natural sweetener like honey, agave, or stevia in place of white sugar?

Oolong tea, a variety not well known in the West, is partially oxidized and has qualities and characteristics of both green and black tea.

No discussion of tea would be complete without the mention of herbal tea, which by definition does not contain actual tea and also typically does not contain caffeine. One type of herbal tea that is growing in popularity is Rooibos, (pronounced roy-boss) or African Redbush tea. Rooibos has been shown to calm the nervous system and help with insomnia and headaches. Its earthy rich flavor makes it a good choice for people who are particularly sensitive to caffeine but like the taste of tea. There are dozens of other herbal teas- far too many to list here. Experiment until you find your favorite.

A few things to consider when buying and brewing tea: It is important to buy small quantities of the highest quality tea you can afford, since it loses its flavor and potency as it ages. Also, 90% of the caffeine in tea leaves is released in the first 60 seconds of brewing. So if you are particularly sensitive to caffeine, try brewing the tea for one minute, dumping the water, and brewing the same leaves (or tea bag) a second time. The second cup will contain only 10% the amount of caffeine. This works particularly well with green tea, which generally holds up well to multiple brewings.

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