Do you love sipping an energizing cup of green tea when you rise or a calming cup of chamomile before bedtime? You’re in luck: Tea is not just a refreshing drink — it may offer a host of health benefits.
“Tea is a plant-based beverage that has been shown to have many nourishing properties,” says Vicki Shanta Retelny, RDN, the Chicago-based author of The Essential Guide to Healthy Healing Foods. “As a soothing warm or cold beverage, tea contains plant compounds called polyphenols, which are antioxidants that give tea its medicinal benefits.”
For example, phytochemicals — the plant-based polyphenols in tea — may play a role in preventing or delaying cell damage and in protecting cells from cancer-causing substances, according to the Mayo Clinic.
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Also, a small study published in June 2019 in the journal Aging found that, compared with those who didn’t drink tea, older adults who regularly drank tea (like green, black, or oolong) had better organized brain regions, which is associated with healthier cognitive function.
As if those perks didn’t offer enough incentive to sip, yet another study, published in January 2020 in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, found that drinking tea three times a week or more was associated with living a longer life, compared with not drinking tea. Most people in the study drank the green variety, which the researchers linked to a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease and dying of any cause.
Keep in mind, though, that not all studies look at tea in liquid form; some research uses capsules or tablets, which may provide study participants with a more potent dose.
What isn’t debatable is that drinking plain tea is heart- and weight loss-friendly because it doesn’t have sodium or calories, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
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While drinking any tea likely comes with benefits, many teas have their own distinct health perks. So pour yourself a cup and read on to discover the eight best teas for your health.
1. Green Tea May Reduce the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes and Promote Heart Health
“Green tea, from the Camellia sinensis plant, has been revered for centuries for its medicinal properties,” says Retelny.
Here’s a little tea 101: White, oolong, green, and black teas are all in the green tea family; they differ based on their level of fermentation, explains Retelny. “White tea is the delicate, unfermented leaves of the plant, oolong tea is partially fermented, green tea leaves are quickly processed to not allow for fermentation, and black tea leaves are highly fermented and oxidized, which gives them a higher caffeine level, too,” says Retelny. Matcha, meanwhile, is a powdered form of green tea, but the two have slightly different properties and nutritional profiles.
There’s about 28 milligrams (mg) of caffeine in 8 ounces of brewed green tea, according to the Mayo Clinic. For comparison, the same amount of brewed black tea has about 47 mg of caffeine.
One possible reason green tea is so salubrious is its high polyphenol content. “Green tea has a lot of polyphenols called catechins, specifically epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), which has shown to be beneficial for fending off inflammation and chronic disease like certain cancers, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease,” says Retelny.
For instance, one review found that drinking six or more cups of green tea per day was associated with a 33 percent reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared with drinking less than a cup per week.
As for heart disease, a study published in August 2018 in the Journal of Biological Chemistry found that EGCG may break up and dissolve potentially dangerous protein plaques found in the blood vessels, and thus may lower the odds of someone developing atherosclerosis (the buildup of material in the arteries that can reduce blood flow to the heart and brain). Atherosclerosis is a risk factor for stroke, per the American Stroke Association. In fact, other research has found that people who drank two to three cups of green tea daily had a 14 percent lower risk of stroke, compared with those who barely drank it.
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2. Black Tea May Promote Healthy Cognition and Reduce Inflammation
Green tea gets most of the hype for its potentially health-boosting properties, but black tea appears to offer plenty of health benefits, too.
Retelny notes that scientific evidence suggests black tea may play a role in preventing cognitive decline, inflammation, heart disease, diabetes, and potentially cancer.
One study published in January 2016 in The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging found that regularly drinking black tea (as well as oolong and green tea) was associated with a lower risk of developing a neurocognitive disorder, such as dementia, in the elderly, particularly for elderly women.
If you are looking to fend off type 2 diabetes and don’t care for green tea, the black variety could be an effective alternative, suggests one review.
Black tea also contains flavonoids (compounds found in green tea and other plant-based foods), which may help lower cancer risk. A study published in August 2019 in the journal Nature Communications shows that a diet rich in flavonoids may help protect against cancer and heart disease.
3. Oolong Tea May Contribute to Healthier Cholesterol Levels
Have you always opted for green tea? Consider giving its cousin oolong a try. “Oolong tea is a partially oxidized tea, in between black and green tea, and its concentration of polyphenols offers many health benefits,” says Rahaf Al Bochi, RDN, the Atlanta-based owner of Olive Tree Nutrition and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Take, for example, oolong’s potential heart health perks. One study found that drinking more than 2.5 cups of oolong tea daily was associated with lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels, as well as a reduced risk of dyslipidemia (which is an abnormal amount of lipids, like triglycerides or cholesterol, in the blood). Other research supports oolong’s impact on the heart, suggesting that drinking oolong or green tea regularly was linked to a lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease.
Drinking oolong also shows promise in helping people maintain or achieve a healthy weight. Another small study suggested that oolong tea extract could help reduce body fat and may help prevent obesity. However, more studies on the connection between oolong tea and weight are needed.
The research in the journal Aging shows a link between oolong tea and brain health.
If green tea is a little too mild for you, consider giving oolong a try — because of the extra oxidization, it has a more robust flavor.
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4. Chamomile Tea May Aid Sleep and Support Immunity
If you’re feeling wired at bedtime, consider sipping a cup of chamomile tea to wind down. “Since chamomile tea is an herbal tea that contains no caffeine, it can be a calming beverage before bed,” says Retelny.
“Chamomile is in the daisy family and is widely used all over the world,” explains Retelny. “It’s one of the oldest documented medicinal plants with a variety of healing properties.”
That’s not all, though. “Chamomile tea may support immune health, which we could all use right about now,” says Retelny. A review suggests that chamomile tea may help stimulate the immune system, but the researchers do suggest that more clinical trials need to be done.
Drinking chamomile tea may also be beneficial for women experiencing premenstrual syndrome, according to a review published in December 2019 in the Journal of Pharmacopuncture. Researchers noted the tea’s anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety properties.
More research suggested that drinking chamomile tea was associated with a decreased mortality risk in Hispanic women over 65.
5. Ginger Tea May Help Treat Nausea and Vomiting
Got tummy troubles or a bout of morning sickness? You may want to steep some ginger tea, which is well known for its ability to help ease digestive stress.
According to a review published in March 2016 in the journal Integrative Medicine Insights, ginger, an ancient root known for its medicinal properties, is a safe and effective treatment for nausea and vomiting.
Research also suggests that ginger helps reduce post-chemotherapy nausea in adults with cancer by 40 percent. (In this study, participants took ginger in supplemental form.) Furthermore, gingerols, the compounds that give ginger its characteristic taste and smell, may be useful in therapies that help protect against diseases like diabetes and cancer, that research notes.
To enjoy ginger tea, grate the root, put the pieces at the bottom of a mug, pour hot water on top, and let it steep for a couple of minutes. To avoid the DIY route, buy prepackaged tea bags made with dried ginger.
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6. Peppermint Tea Is Associated With a Healthy Digestive System
Like ginger, peppermint is known for promoting healthy digestion. “Peppermint herbal tea can be a great option to help support digestion,” says Al Bochi. “Peppermint contains a compound called menthol that can help relax the intestinal tract and help relieve bloating.”
Some studies in animal models have shown that peppermint can specifically help relax gastrointestinal tissues, a review notes. Another review found that peppermint oil is a safe and effective short-term treatment for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), though it’s worth noting that peppermint oil is more highly concentrated than peppermint tea.
Other research, published in February 2019 in the journal Digestive Diseases and Sciences, shows that peppermint (which was taken in tablet form) could ease chest pain and help people with esophagus disorders better swallow their food, potentially by helping relax smooth muscle located in the lower esophagus.
Because peppermint tea doesn’t contain any caffeine, it’s also a great option for a soothing drink before bed.
7. Hibiscus Tea May Play a Role in Lowering Blood Pressure
Not only does hibiscus tea — made from dry hibiscus leaves — taste delicious and tangy, but it may help your ticker, too. Research has found that drinking hibiscus tea regularly for six weeks helped lower the blood pressure in prehypertensive and mildly hypertensive adults compared with a placebo drink, and could be used in tandem with dietary changes to help improve health markers.
On top of that, another review found that hibiscus tea had a significant effect in lowering both systolic and diastolic blood pressure (the two numbers you hear when your doctor tells you your blood pressure).
Hibiscus may have protective effects against obesity, too. In one study, subjects who consumed hibiscus extract for 12 weeks had a lower weight, lower body mass index, and improved waist-to-hip ratio at the end of the study, compared with a control group. Researchers suggested that hibiscus extract could act as a potential therapy for preventing obesity and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Yet this was a small trial, and it’s unlikely that hibiscus extract alone was responsible for the reported health benefits.
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8. Fennel Tea May Ease Menopause Symptoms
Another tea that helps with digestion? Fennel. “Fennel also relaxes digestive muscles to help with bowel regularity,” says Al Bonchi. A review published in the Arabian Journal of Chemistry in November 2016 says that fennel, which has long been known as a medicinal plant, is widely used for treating digestive issues as well as IBS. The review cites polyphenols as one reason for fennel’s antioxidant properties.
Furthermore, fennel may help ease menopause symptoms in postmenopausal women without serious side effects, according to a small study using fennel in capsule form, which was published in September 2017 in the journal Menopause.
Interested in trying fennel tea? You can buy fennel tea in tea bags or crush fennel seeds and steep for a few minutes in a tea ball.
A Final Word on Cooking With Tea
One last hot tip: Whatever you decide to brew, keep in mind that “drinking tea is a great way to reap the benefits of plants in your diet,” says Retelny. So don’t discard any leftover tea that you couldn’t finish. “Use this glorious liquid to make quinoa, brown rice, or couscous — the cooked grains will absorb whatever plant compounds are present in the tea,” says Retelny. You can also baste chicken, fish, or tenderloin cuts of meat with a homemade marinade using green tea combined with olive oil, salt, pepper, and crushed garlic, Retelny suggests: “The possibilities are endless with tea!”