gReen tea continues to be a popular diet and fitness trend, proponents of which consider it a “superfood” for its marketed health benefits such as weight loss, improved heart health and antioxidant content. It seems that a large portion of people think their weight loss journey is incomplete without at least three cups of green tea a day. Sometimes people also sweeten it with honey which makes it unsuitable for weight loss. There is no doubt that it is an excellent source of catechins like epigallocatechin gallate or EGCG which act as antioxidants and are linked to numerous health benefits. Nevertheless, green tea alone cannot provide the desired result and excessive consumption can also lead to serious side effects.
The benefits of ECGC in green tea have been widely studied, but the results so far haven’t produced enough strong evidence that it works to detoxify your body, treat disease, and promote longevity. Health and longevity are determined by several factors, including a diverse diet of which green tea could be a part.
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Evidence of the benefits of green tea
Green tea contains antioxidants which are beneficial for overall health. However, it is necessary to critically evaluate the specific claims of this drug for weight loss and healthy aging, cancer prevention and improved brain function.
Green tea is heavily promoted for its fat burning and metabolism enhancing effects. The proposal is based on the observation that tea catechins prevent obesity by increasing thermogenesis. However, clinical trials have not tested this hypothesis. Almost all commercially available “fat burners” contain green tea extract as an ingredient. These “fat burners” also have dangerous side effects.
Green tea is also associated with a reduced risk of diabetes. A meta-analysis studied 17 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and concluded that green tea reduced fasting blood glucose and glycated hemoglobin – two biomarkers of type 2 diabetes. Similar results were seen in a cohort study retrospective from Japan involving 17,413 participants. However, limitations include self-reported diabetes and lack of consideration for other dietary factors.
Researchers have found an association between ECGC and a lower risk of cancers such as breast cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer. Most of the evidence, however, is epidemiological, observational, or based on a mouse model. There are no RCTs with significant evidence to establish the effect of ECGC in cancer prevention. Likewise, there are multiple mechanistic data suggesting that green tea polyphenols like ECGC, theaflavins and catechins could prevent the neurodegenerative effects of diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease. However, clinical studies on humans are still not available to support this claim.
The evidence does not support green tea as a “superfood” for curing all ailments. A wide variety of other foods are available with excellent antioxidant and nutrient profiles that may provide similar health benefits.
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Do not drink too much
Too much of everything is harmful. In a 2007 study, researcher M Nathaniel Mead mentioned that animal research on green tea polyphenols was found to cause damage to the liver, kidneys, and gastrointestinal system. There are several case reports available on humans demonstrating that high consumption of green tea extract could cause liver damage. People with liver dysfunction should consult their doctor before starting to consume pills containing the extract. Tannin, present in teas, including green tea, is linked to poor iron absorption and the onset of anemia. In one case report, a 48-year-old man, who consumed six cups of green tea every weekday for seven years, developed anemia. Too much caffeine can also lead to anxiety, trouble sleeping, and upset stomach.
How much is too much? That’s a million dollar question since the guidelines aren’t very clear on green tea consumption. For starters, not everyone should drink green tea. A complete medical history should be taken before consumption. It’s also unclear whether green tea is safe above a certain intake. The US National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health recommends eight cups of green tea a day. However, you should check the label to determine the amount of caffeine in the product. To avoid adverse effects, I recommend drinking no more than two to three cups a day.
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Alternative Antioxidant Foods and Drinks
In my opinion, no single food or drink can provide the most favorable health outcome. Overall, health benefits are determined by the composition of a diet. Even so, if you’re too dedicated to consuming green tea every day, there are plenty of other cheap, convenient, and nutrient-packed alternatives out there. Some of these options are coffee, pomegranate, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, amla, and citrus fruits. Despite the fact that coffee contains more antioxidants than green tea, high caffeine intake should be avoided to prevent sleep disturbances. Coffee has also been linked to health benefits such as weight loss, reduced risk of colorectal and liver cancer, and preventive effects on neurodegenerative diseases. Beverages are naturally preferred over food to ensure daily intake of antioxidants, as drinking several cups of coffee is easier than eating a bowl of berries.
A plate full of fresh green vegetables and antioxidant-rich fruits is nutritionally superior to a cup of tea or coffee. Whole fruits and vegetables are rich in natural polyphenols as well as fiber and micronutrients. With nuts and seeds added to this salad bowl, the nutrient profile can be further enhanced.
Dr. Subhasree Ray is a PhD student (ketogenic diet), certified diabetes educator, and clinical and public health nutritionist. She tweets @DrSubhasree. Views are personal.
(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)