Green tea is a beverage that’s been a staple in parts of the world like China and Japan for centuries. You might enjoy it after a meal to help you digest, or maybe it’s how you start your morning. But, it might be time to consider this beverage as an essential part of your diet.
From health-boosting antioxidants to promoting vascular health, here’s what you need to know about green tea—including how often you should drink it.
What Makes Green Tea Healthy?
While there are many health benefits of green tea, one of the most discussed areas of research is around cancer prevention. The polyphenols—micronutrients found in certain plant-based foods—in green tea are thought to help with inflammation, and preventing cancer cells from growing.
One study published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention found that regular green tea consumption may reduce the risk of colorectal cancer in women. Another study by researchers in China concluded that green tea might reduce incidences of prostate cancer in men.
While more research is needed to determine exactly how—and if—green tea can help reduce the risk of certain cancers, Dara Godfrey, a New York-based registered dietitian, says that green tea is rich in antioxidants, which can help prevent other diseases.
She says that green tea is high in natural antioxidants called catechins. “[Catechins] may prevent cell damage as natural antioxidants, and thus help with aging and potentially help prevent diseases,” Godfrey explains.
Lauren Cornell, an L.A.-based registered dietitian and founder of Lauren Cornell Nutrition, echoes this, saying that catechins can have a positive effect on our health. Cornell explains that catechins can lower lipid levels, help fight inflammation and benefit our bodies on a molecular level. A study out of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University found that green tea consumption may have beneficial effects on cardiovascular health. The researchers also concluded that the catechins in green tea may have protective vascular effects.
“[Catechins] have been shown to scavenge free radicals in vitro (in a lab setting, not in the body), which may be a reason for lowered risk for disease in human consumption of green tea,” Cornell explains.
“Some studies show that catechins in green tea may be playing different roles throughout our body, therefore allowing them to change our vascular health effectively. Additionally, many of these studies also point out that these positive effects may rely on the structure of the tea, how it is cooked, and how it is grown, meaning that each tea’s beneficial effects may vary slightly,” Cornell adds.
Green Tea Alone Won’t Help You Lose Weight
While green tea has some impressive health properties, one thing it can’t help you do is lose weight, says Cornell. Many people associate the beverage with boosting metabolism, however, Cornell says that drinking green tea does not mean someone will automatically slim down.
“While some may experience weight loss while drinking green tea, other factors may come into play,” she says. “For example, if one were to replace a frequently-consumed sugary beverage with green tea, they may experience weight loss simply because they are experiencing a calorie deficit.”
A recent study published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry found that in mice, green tea encouraged the growth of good gut bacteria, which lead to a lower risk of obesity. It’s a promising study, but more research needs to be done before we can be sure the same will happen to humans.
“Green tea’s positive effects can be overridden by a poor diet regardless of how much you consume on a daily basis, so it is best to use green tea as a supplemental beverage rather than solely relying on its powers to cure,” Cornell adds.
How Much Green Tea Should You Drink?
Some studies suggest drinking anywhere between three to five cups a day—with one study suggesting that drinking more than seven cups of green tea a day may be associated with a lower risk of prostate cancer—but Godfrey says that this amount of green tea may be too much for the average person. “Due to the caffeine content, I typically suggest a cup or two daily, along with lots of daily water intake,” Godfrey says. “If it’s used in replacement of your typical coffee intake, then that’s great.”
Mary Jane Detroyer, a New York-based registered dietitian, exercise physiologist, and personal trainer, agrees, and says that too much green tea can have negative effects on your well-being. “Any substance taken in too large a quantity can become problematic,” she says.
Detroyer agrees, saying that everyone responds to caffeine differently, so it’s important to drink green tea in moderation. But, as a general rule of thumb, Detroyer advises anywhere between one to three cups a day.
Plus, according to Cornell, high catechin consumption (remember green tea is high in catechins) has “been related to decreased iron absorption, which can lead to iron deficiency anemia.” She says that women who are pregnant or menstruating should be extra cautious, as well as those undergoing dialysis or at risk for low iron levels. “Green tea can also interact with some medications, so it is best to speak with your doctor before consuming high amounts of it,” she adds.
What’s more, Cornell warns against consuming green tea supplements, which can contain unsafe amounts of catechins—much more than the natural amount found in tea. The European Health and Safety Authority cautioned against green tea supplements in 2018, warning that they can damage the liver.
Different Kinds of Green Tea
There’s plenty of variations of green tea: sencha (a Japanese tea), matcha (green tea leaves ground into a powder), and longjing (a pan-roasted tea from China). Like any variation of drinks, green teas have their own unique flavours and scents.
“Most teas across the board will have a different nutrient profile due to the way [that they were processed, grown, and roasted,” Cornell says. “Sencha is grown in the sun and its leaves are only steeped or brewed, whereas matcha is grown in the shade and its entire leaves are consumed because they are ground into a powder,” she adds.
Matcha is known to have a relaxing component called L-theanine, Cornell says, and is typically higher in antioxidants because the leaves are ground. A study out of the University of Colorado found that matcha contains up to 137 times more catechins than regular green tea.
How to Increase Your Green Tea Intake
If you want to try adding green tea to your diet, experts say that it’s easy to incorporate the drink in many ways. Detroyer says that green tea can easily be used as a coffee substitute because it contains caffeine—in case you’re looking for a bit of an energy boost. In warm summer months, you can make iced green tea, just like regular iced coffee or tea.
Godfrey suggests drinking matcha lattes instead of regular lattes, because they have caffeine—albeit less than an espresso-based drink. With the growing popularity of matcha, Cornell says that it’s easy to buy matcha powder and make your drinks at home. “Instead of reaching for a soda or sugary drinks, you can make yourself a milk- or plant milk-based drink with matcha powder,” she says. “Most packages will give you step-by-step instructions on how to get the ratio just right.”
Cornell also points out that there’s plenty of matcha snack recipes out there, including puddings and energy balls. But, at the end of the day, it’s important to find a green tea variation that you like best. You’re the one drinking it, after all.
“I would choose my green tea of preference based on taste,” Cornell says, “as most kinds will contain beneficial antioxidants, regardless.”
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