The benefits of tea?

Q. “What are the benefits of tea?”

Dr. Fred:

The benefits of the particular tea you’re drinking depend less on the brand and more on the type of tea used. Most teas feature a base of green tea, black tea, oolong tea, or white tea.

All of these come from the Camellia sinensis plant. The difference lies in the way they are processed.

More specifically, black tea is oxidized. This simply means the tea leaves are crushed to release their natural oils. These oils react to the oxygen in the air, which alters appearance and aroma. The leaves are dried when the process is complete.

Green tea, on the other hand, is entirely unoxidized. Oolong and white teas are both partially oxidized.

This difference in processing accounts for the variations in color and flavor from tea to tea. And it has some effect on the health benefits, too.

Most of the focus in health circles has been on green tea, which contains the highest amount of an antioxidant compound EGCG. This makes it a uniquely powerful anti-inflammatory. Studies show that green tea can help to fight everything from heart disease to cancer.

But black tea (which is your typical “standard” tea) is no slouch, either. In fact, one recent study out of Switzerland showed that black tea consumption is linked to lower diabetes rates. And oolong and white tea feature a similar profile ofhealth-boosting polyphenols, as well.

Red tea is another popular option on the supermarket shelves–but it is more appropriately categorized as an herbal tea (usually derived from the rooibos plant). This type of tea is also high in antioxidants.

The array of herbal teas is vast–anywhere from basic chamomile to the fancier blends you mention. The benefits of these beverages really depend on the benefits of the herbs that they feature. (Chamomile is soothing, for example, while senna is used as a laxative. The list goes on.)

It would be impossible to detail the advantages of each unique type of herbal tea here–so I won’t attempt to.

I can only say that most of the studies I’ve written about tend to focus on single types of tea–especially green tea. And while some of the blends you’ll find at your local coffeehouse may use green tea as a base, their beneficial compounds may not be as concentrated as you’ll find in straight green tea.

Same goes for black tea blends–or any other kind of blend, for that matter.

Of course, that’s not to say that they’re worthless. Any green tea (or black tea or white tea) is better than none. And any type of tea (assuming it’s unsweetened) is a better choice than soda.

So really, it’s a win-win no matter what brand you’re drinking.