The Top 7 Benefits of Healthy Teas (Plus Other Fun Facts About Tea)
We have compiled the seven greatest benefits of herbal teas and other healthy teas — including a few fun facts about tea you probably have never heard about.
Tea is the second most consumed beverage on earth (right after plain drinking water). In this guide we want to discuss why tea quite rightfully became so popular and what the myriad of health benefits are that you can reap from drinking healthy herbal and non-herbal teas.
More than the number of tea enthusiasts, it is tea's millennia-long history, its intriguing social functions and, of course, its proven benefits that make tea, especially herbal tea, so special.
So, let’s cover the basics first, then dive into tea benefits, facts and our bonus resource roundup.
What is tea?
Green, black, white and oolong tea all originate from one and the same tea plant called Camellia sinensis. The only thing that differentiates these four teas is how long each of them in their respective manufacturing process was exposed to oxidization (with black and oolong tea being the more intensely flavored and more oxidized teas vs. green and white teas being the mildest, least oxidized ones). You know that process that avocados or bananas go through when turning brown after sitting outside for a while? That’s exactly the process tea leaves undergo, too.
All other teas outside of black, oolong, white and green tea (think chamomille, mint, ginger and other varieties) are technically not teas because they do not derive from the Camellia sinensis tea plant.
Instead, they are what is called herbal teas or tea infusions made from flowers, fruits, roots or plant leaves.
By the way, if you are curious to know which teas are the healthiest teas to drink every day, you may want to explore our list of the top 10 healthy teas we have handpicked for you. Now, let’s move on.
Who consumes the most tea?
Ask Turkish friends and they’ll confess that they drink 7 pounds (3.5kg) of tea per year, making them the number one tea nation worldwide.
The Turks even outsip the green tea-obsessed Japanese, Indian masala chai-amateurs as well as afternoon high tea loving Brits. Who would have thought..
Also, did you know, it takes 2,000 tiny tea leaves to produce just one single pound of finished tea?
Knowing this, the Turks were smart enough to match their exceptional tea thirst with exceptionally large tea plantations – 20% of the world's tea supply are produced in Turkey.
How old is the practice of tea drinking?
Tea has been around for several thousand years. One of the first records of tea as a precious commodity goes back to 141 before Christ and the Han Dynasty Emperor Jing Di.
Archaeologists discovered that Jing Di received high-quality tea leaves as a burial gift amongst other treasures he would need in the afterlife.
While one of the first historic records, it is likely that even Jing Di's ancestors were skilled at brewing tea already.
If tea has survived and thrived for more than 2,000 years, there must be a reason.
So, let's deep dive for a minute into what makes tea such an exceptional and precious beverage.
What are the greatest benefits of tea?
1. Tea is rich in antioxidants associated with lowering risks of diabetes and heart disease
Everyday modern life exposes the human body to a variety of environmental toxins (think exhaust fumes, electro-smog, dusts, contaminated waters, hormones in the meat we eat and various other types of pollution).
These toxins release so-called free radicals that can be harmful to your body. Damage from free radicals can go as far as affecting your DNA and causing cancer.
Luckily, antioxidants can neutralize these free radicals, thus protecting your body from cell damage.
Healthy teas are rich in polyphenols, in particular catechins and epicatechins, which are all molecules with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Large group studies conducted by Harvard University found that tea drinkers had lower risks of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
Examining the role of another health-promoting molecule in teas called theaflavin, another study found that black tea was instrumental reducing cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
This finding was further corroborated by scientific test-tube studies looking at black tea's effect on insulin production and activity.
Your body produces insulin as a vehicle to transport the sugar you consume to the place where it is needed – the muscles – and convert it into energy.
When you eat more sugar than required by your system, the extra sugar is being stored as body fat.
What used to be a great evolutionary trick that allowed humans to store energy “for later”, helping them survive even particularly scarce times, has in modern days turned into not much more than a fat trap.
While certainly not to be understood as a wild card for sugar indulgence, drinking black tea has been found to enhance the insulin activity in your body 15-fold!
This allows sugar to be more effectively transported to your muscles and converted into energy rather than fat.
2. Tea is a natural, zero-calorie beverage that supports hydration
Tea is a 100% natural, zero-calorie drink. As such, it is an amazing and tasty complement or alternative to plain water.
There are more than 3,000 variations of teas (including infusions), so enough options and flavors even for the most discerning palates.
According to the National Academy of Sciences, adult women need about 11 cups (2.7 liters) of water and men about 15 cups (3.7 liters) of water every day.
Meeting these daily hydration goals would be quite difficult if you could only rely on plain drinking water.
But, fortunately your body also extracts water from what you eat (especially superfoods like cucumbers) in addition to what you drink in liquids.
Tea might as well be a godsend, adding variety, taste and let’s be honest some fun (again, think 3,000 varieties!) to your daily hydration challenge. So, why not let a few of your daily recommended cups be filled with health-promoting and refreshing tea?
While many may mistakenly believe that caffeinated teas (that would be all black, oolong, green and white teas) contribute to dehydration, recent research comparing hydration levels of people who exclusively drank teas for 12 hours vs. others who only drank boiled water, showed that hydration levels were nearly identical.
In short, you can drink a lot of tea and all of it will count towards your hydration goals, helping your body function at 100% of its abilities.
But, please keep these two caveats in mind.
Number one, a fun fact, yet nonetheless true, you can actually OD on tea. Say what!?
Yes, a 56-year-old man in 2014 experienced kidney problems after drinking 16 glasses of tea a day.
Apparently the high levels of oxalate present in black tea, can lead to renal failure, when consumed excessively. So, as Aristotle so wisely stated: everything in moderation. For any caffeinated black, oolong, green or white tea, experts recommend 3-4 cups a day; for herbal, caffeine-free teas 6-8 cups.
Number two, 85% of teas consumed in the US are iced teas and the majority of these are sweetened. Not only is this a tremendous opportunity missed in terms of reaping the powerful health benefits of teas, but more than that, the consumption of iced teas, studies show, is clearly associated with higher BMI and greater waist circumference, i.e. more body and belly fat, in people.
Qi Sun, assistant professor at the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, points out:
“Overly sweetening teas with processed sugars offsets much of the potential health benefits of your tea, adding sugar and calories to a formerly zero-calorie beverage.”
So, try to opt for no sugar at all, where ever possible, or healthier sugar alternatives, including for instance small amounts of raw honey.
3. Tea may support weight loss
In addition to being zero-calorie, the caffeine and water contained in tea help increase satiety during the day, reducing your appetite and supporting your efforts at managing and losing weight.
Cutting appetite is one thing, actively decreasing body fat another. Yet, this is exactly what a study found green tea catechins do.
In the study, 690 mg of catechins consumed every day over a 12-week period increased participants' ability to burn fat as fuel and improve their muscle endurance.
Yet another reason why teas should be part of both your fitness and weight loss routines.
4. Tea may improve alertness and focus
One of the best things in black teas is an amino acid called L-theanine. Together with caffeine, it is responsible for stimulating alpha activity in the brain which promotes a killer combination for intellectual work: both relaxation and focus.
This may also be the reason why many observe a more stable energy level after consuming tea, and less of a crash and burn sensation as after consuming coffee.
In other words, due to its lower levels of caffeine (compared to black coffee) as well as the ability of tea's antioxidants to regulate the absorption of caffeine, white and green teas are great for anybody seeking a more gentle and stable early-morning or mid-afternoon energy boost.
5. Tea may promote gut health
Gut health is a popular trend these days and for good reason: one of the most active and energy-consuming organs in the human body is the gut.
Only your brain, which acts as a control room for the entire body, requires even more energy than your digestive system.
This is understandable when you think about the work that is being performed by the gut:
breaking down the most diverse types of food
extracting nutrients from food
filtering out harmful elements as well as those of poor nutritional value
Now, consider all the work that must be done when you consume poor-quality, processed and unhealthy fast foods!
Then think about the incredible speed at which most folks gulp down their food when in a hurry.
You will begin to understand why your gut keeps busy cleaning up the mess of unhealthy eating and drinking habits.
Neglecting this sensitive part of your body can give rise to a host of unpleasant issues – from diabetes, obesity and arthritis to depression, heart problems and cancer.
Bottom line is be kind to your digestive system and it will be kind to you! Teas and herbal infusions, including antispasmodic and soothing teas such as chamomile tea, are a great way of doing that.
Black teas, in particular, are associated with creating an enabling environment for positive gut bacteria known for promoting gut health and reducing a number of bad gut bacteria, including things like salmonella.
This, in conjunction with its antimicrobial properties that flush out harmful substances in the gut, makes black teas a treat for your digestive system.
6. Tea may reduce the risks of heart disease and strokes
Strokes are the second leading cause of death worldwide. They happen when a blood vessel in your brain is either clogged or suddenly breaks.
Luckily, strokes are not inevitable and can to a very large extent be prevented through healthy habits, including a balanced diet, regular physical exercise, no smoking and moderation in alcohol consumption.
As a supplement to these healthy habits, tea can be a remarkable tool to help avoid diseases like strokes and promote a long and healthy life.
In a 10-year study among 74,961 people, there was a 32% lower stroke risk among people who drank four or more cups of black tea every day.
7. Tea may promote dental health
Sounds awesome, but how is that possible when generations of dentists blame black tea for staining teeth?
Researchers from India found that green tea promoted gum health.
Also tea, unlike many other beverages, actually does not attack tooth enamel and decreases the likelihood of tooth loss.
With all these facts and benefits laid out, now might be a good time to get into action and actually get you started on your tea adventure. Here's a final tip.
How do you brew your tea correctly?
Where possible, buy organic, high-quality loose leaf teas. They preserve the full tea leaf and with it the highest levels of health-promoting polyphenols and antioxidants.
For store-bought tea bags, add the tea bag to a mug and fill it with hot water (never boiling water as this destroys the tea leaves). The ideal temperature for green tea is 160 degrees to 180 degrees Fahrenheit.
For loose leaf tea, count 2-3 grams (or about half a teaspoon) of tea for every six ounces (or 180ml) of water in a strainer. Note that larger leaves need to steep longer than smaller ones.
Steep the tea for 3-5 minutes for black, 1-3 minutes for green tea (or less according to instructions), then remove the tea bag or leaves.
For stronger aroma, steep longer and/or add more leaves. For a more creamy and mild taste, add a splash of milk.
P.S. Tea is diuretic, i.e. it triggers your bladder, so we thought a heads-up might be appreciated.
That said, tea may make you go to the restroom more frequently, but it’s worth the minor inconvenience as this is a great way of benefiting from its detox properties that help flush toxins from your system. So, no harm in that.
Healthy Tea Resources
Our list of the top 10 healthy teas to drink on a daily basis.
An awesome excerpt from George Orwell’s less well known, yet all the more memorable piece “A Nice Cup of Tea”.
Access tasty, healthy tea-based recipes in our directory of healthy drinks.
An organic herbal tea shop offering a variety of hand-blended loose leaf and packaged teas.
High-quality kitchenware brand with a full range of thoughtfully designed tea kettles, pots and mugs.