We’ve explored whether coffee is good for your health, but what about tea? The United States drinks more coffee than tea, but we drink a lot of tea. Americans drank 3.8 billion gallons in 2019, about 80% of it iced. Half of all American kitchens contain tea, and 87% of millennials call themselves tea drinkers. So what are the health effects of tea?
Caffeine in tea
Tea contains about half as much caffeine as coffee. Current research suggests that caffeine in moderate amounts is not a health problem.
In fact, there is some evidence that caffeine may provide some protection against cardiovascular disease.
Some people may be more sensitive to caffeine than others genetically. If tea makes you jittery, consider decaffeinated tea, which contains very little caffeine.
Antioxidants in tea
Tea contains polyphenols, in particular catechins and epicatechins. These substances are antioxidants. They are found at higher levels in green and white tea, but black tea also contains antioxidants.
There is some evidence (from laboratory studies and animal studies) that antioxidants may reduce cell damage that takes place as we age. Studies have found that antioxidant supplements do not have these effects, but that antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables do improve health. The National Institutes of Health suggest that the reason for this may be that “The beneficial health effects of a diet high in vegetables and fruits or other antioxidant-rich foods may actually be caused by other substances present in the same foods, other dietary factors, or other lifestyle choices rather than antioxidants.”
Two studies led by researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health, the female Nurses’ Health Study and the male Health Professionals Follow-up Study, have shown long-term benefits from regular tea drinking. Tea drinkers in these studies were less likely to develop Type 2 diabetes than those who did not drink tea.
Other studies in various countries found a reduction in heart disease among tea drinkers. However, once again it is not certain that tea itself caused these effects. A more recent study found that moderate and heavy tea drinkers (those who enjoyed more than two cups of tea per day) had a 14% to 24% lower risk for death from all cardiovascular diseases, with the heaviest tea drinkers seeing the most risk reductions.
In short, it is possible that the antioxidants in tea may have positive effects on health. Research on the subject has generally found that tea drinkers have some signs of better health, including lower blood pressure, fewer chronic diseases, and better digestion, but there is currently no solid proof that the tea is the cause of these benefits.
At least, it is clear that tea does not cause health problems. If you enjoy hot tea or iced tea, you can drink it with confidence. If you worry about caffeine, choose decaffeinated tea.
Drinking sweet tea is a different kettle of fish. Commercial sweet tea bought ready-made in the grocery try store usually contains almost as much sugar as soda — 35 grams in a 12 ounce bottle. Homemade sweet tea typically has 25 grams of sugar per serving. That’s more than you should have in an entire day, according to the new USDA guidelines.
The problem here is not the tea, but the sugar. If you love sweet tea, try mixing it with unsweet tea, gradually increasing the ratio of unsweet to sweet tea. If you can get used to unsweet tea, you’re in luck. You have a no-calorie, inexpensive, healthy drink you can easily make at home.