How to Eat More Green Tea: The (Other) Bitter Brew
I knew green tea had gone mainstream when I found a box of it in my grandmother’s cupboards in rural New Brunswick. This was about a decade ago, and around the same time that my Grammy was also trying to consume more olive oil. She likes daytime health-conscious cooking shows, which is where I gather she got inspired to include both of these items.
The green tea habit has stuck around, and I believe she still has a cup of it every day. She thinks olive oil, however, is dreadful and tastes like horse food.
Green tea has stood the test of time, not just in the mainstream, but historically too. Green tea consumption dates back about 5000 years ago, when dinosaurs, just kidding, Chinese emperors used to drink it, making it the oldest tea known.
As research has caught up to tradition, we are starting to understand more about the vast and powerful effects of this plant, whose fancy latin name is Camelia sinensis. If this plant sounds familiar, it’s because it is. Camelia sinensis is the same plant that is used to make black tea, that traditional midday beverage consumed across the world in various permutations and adulterations. In fact, green tea, black tea, white tea, matcha, oolong, pu’erh, and kukicha teas (among other specialized subtypes) are all from the Camelia sinensis plant, they are just from different parts of the plant or are processed differently to achieve different levels of oxidation and flavour profiles.
The life cycle of the green tea shrub means that the plant is harvested several times throughout the year. The first harvest, which occurs during the late spring, yields young leaves which are sweeter and considered “higher grade”. The second harvest, performed in the summer yields a crop with more earthy, astringent flavours. To my knowledge there is no difference in terms of the health benefits of either the first or second harvest. Third and even fourth harvests are performed throughout the year, but it’s unlikely that you will ever see a tea company marketing its “fourth harvest, bottom of the barrel” leaves.
Green tea contains a variety of health-promoting compounds like amino acids, flavonoids, catechins, and enzymes. One of these catechins, epigallocatechin gallate (or EGCG), has stolen the spotlight and is thought to be responsible for many of green tea’s benefits. Significant effects in humans are most likely to occur with higher doses of EGCG, about 400-500 mg per day in divided doses, although benefits are seen at lower doses such as 200 mg. An average cup of green tea (although amounts will range widely depending on quality, type, and brewing method) contains about 50 mg of EGCG.
Let’s explore some of the health benefits of green tea further:
Catechins & Flavonoids
As mentioned, green tea contains various catechins (EGCG being the best known) and flavonoids, which are both examples of plant secondary metabolites. Secondary metabolites are compounds found in organisms that are not essential to immediate survival per se, but help the organism thrive by favourably affecting longevity, reproduction, aesthetics, and more. Interestingly, consuming secondary metabolites from plants have similar effects on us; while they aren’t essential to maintain life, they help improve our fertility, the quality of our skin, our resistance to disease, and may be linked to a longer, healthier life overall. Catechins and flavonoids also have antioxidant effects which may explain part of their function.
L-theanine is a compound that is great for Nervous Nellies, and is found in high amounts in green tea. It increases the calming neurotransmitter GABA in the brain and has been shown to have both anti-anxiety and anti-depressant effects . The presence of l-theanine can also counteract the stimulating effects of caffeine in green tea, providing smooth energy without the jitteriness. Apparently, l-theanine is found in highest concentrations in green tea from gyokuro leaves, which is a special shade-grown variety of the camellia sinensis plant.
Green tea consumption is correlated with a lower risk of various types of cancer [2,3,4], and it’s also being studied for its effects on the treatment of cancers. Although studies using actual live humans have been inconclusive, green tea catechins have been shown to inhibit cancerous cell activity via a variety of mechanisms that prevent abnormal cell growth [5,6,7,8].
There is some modest evidence to show that green tea can help with weight loss by accelerating metabolic rate . However, some experts argue that these benefits depend on the consumer being “caffeine naïve”. In other words, once the body is habituated to caffeine, the metabolism boosting effects may decrease.
Taking an EGCG extract may help to lower LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol)  and may help to raise HDL (the “good” cholesterol) .
Blood Sugar Regulation
One study showed that green tea catechins improved insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance , which translates to more stable, less reactive blood sugar levels. Some theories suggest that green tea acts as a “carb blocker”, blunting the body’s reaction to dietary carbohydrates.
Skin Health & Acne
Consuming green tea improves overall skin quality and helps protect skin from UV damage , so drink it in the summer too. It’s great iced! For acne, topical application of a gel containing green tea extract showed a significant reduction in pimples . Theoretically, given its positive effects on insulin regulation and antioxidant capacities (two factors that can affect susceptibility to acne), it may make sense to take green tea internally for acne too.
Goodness gracious. Now let’s eat some:
Hope you’re inspired to experiment with this herbal panacea! Green tea is incredibly versatile in terms of both its culinary applications as well as its health benefits, so have fun and imbibe generously!
Alex Picot-Annand, BA (Psych), Registered Holistic Nutritionist & Certified Life Coach