- The Washington Times - Monday, September 18, 2006

Raise a glass of green or white tea in a toast to better health, says Cynthia Finley, clinical dietitian specialist at the Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center in Baltimore.

“If you are going to drink beverages, you should get the best for your buck,” Ms. Finley says. “Drink to your health. Move away from soda and drink tea instead.”

Drinking green and white tea has many health benefits, dietitians and nutritionists say. Green tea has antioxidants called polyphenols that enhance the body. Consuming white tea is believed to have even more health benefits.

White tea has the same type of antioxidants as green tea, but in greater amounts, says Demetre Whitmore, an oncology nutrition specialist at the Washington Cancer Institute at the Washington Hospital Center in Northwest.

All teas come from the camellia sinensis plant, she says. White tea comes from the bud of the plant. Because the bud is so young, it hasn’t had a chance to develop chlorophyll and green coloring. When the leaves are picked, they are steamed or fried immediately. Then they are dried.

Green tea is made from a more mature tea leaf. The green tea leaf may have had time to wither a bit before processing, she says.

“Green tea has a distinct flavor,” Ms. Whitmore says. “It’s less harsh than the flavor of black tea. White tea is pretty mild. It has a softer, pleasant flavor.”

Not as many studies have been done on white tea as have been done on green tea, Ms. Whitmore says. Research shows that the polyphenols in green tea protect against cancer, especially prostate cancer. Polyphenols actually can help prevent or decrease the size of small tumors.

Polyphenols stop the damage caused by free radicals — incomplete oxygen molecules — in the body, she says. A free radical seeks to bond with something and therefore might break up the deoxyribonucleic acid in a cell and bond with it. This would create a “mistake” in the DNA. If that mistake keeps reproducing, it can create the beginnings of cancer.

If a free radical bonds with an antioxidant, it is no longer available to bond with damaged cells.

Antioxidants also can reverse damage that already has been done, in case free radicals already have interfered with genetic materials, Ms. Whitmore says.

Polyphenols also have been known to prevent blood clotting and lower cholesterol, preventing heart disease, she says.

To receive the health benefits in green tea, people should drink at least two cups a day, Ms. Whitmore says. The tea should be steeped for three to five minutes.

In general, people should consult their doctors about consuming large amounts of green or white tea in case the substances in the teas could interact with some medications, she says. For instance, the teas may interfere with adenosine, a medication used to treat irregular heart rates. The vitamin K in green tea also may interfere with warfarin, a medication used for blood thinning.

Many studies have shown that cancer is less likely to occur in people who drink five cups or more of green tea a day, says Julie Leopold, a registered dietitian at Inova Health Source in Fairfax.

Drinking green or white tea contributes to the recommended daily 8 glasses of water per day, she says.

“It’s an excellent choice for a beverage because it has no preservatives, no coloring, no additives,” Mrs. Leopold says. “It’s all natural. If you have a choice between a fruit beverage and green tea, green tea is a really good choice.”

Green tea is one of the best things a person can consume without taking medicine, says Jonathan Peizer, president of Green Tea Lovers (www.greentealovers.com) in Woodmere, N.Y.

One cup of green tea provides 10 to 40 milligrams of polyphenols and has antioxidant effects greater than a serving of broccoli, spinach, carrots or strawberries, he says. Among its many benefits, it inhibits the growth of oral bacteria. It also acts as an anti-inflammatory agent and may inhibit viruses.

“You’re supposed to drink water anyway,” Mr. Peizer says. “If you put green tea in it, you are getting the health benefits as well.”

In Asia, people have claimed for a thousand years that tea has medicinal properties, he says. One of the earliest known references to green tea in Japan is a ninth-century text written by a Buddhist monk. In the 12th century, the definitive Japanese book on tea was written by a Zen priest named Eisai. The text, called “The Book of Tea,” defines many of the medicinal benefits of tea.

The Portuguese were the first people to export tea to the West. The Dutch and the English followed their example through their colonies in the East. Today, the Japanese have the lowest cancer rates in the world, Mr. Peizer says. Many people attribute this to their regular use of fish oils, mushrooms and green tea and the selenium in their soil.

Though some people are hesitant to drink green and white tea because of the caffeine, it contains half the caffeine of coffee, Mr. Peizer says.

When drinking decaffeinated green and white tea, however, people should be aware there are two decaffeinating processes. The effervescence process retains 95 percent of the polyphenol antioxidants. The process using ethyl acetate, a chemical solvent used in glues and nail polish removers, retains 30 percent.

Mr. Peizer says green tea usually tastes better when infused in boiled water that has cooled to about 175 degrees Fahrenheit. The cooler water pulls out the tea’s sweeter amino acids. If it is infused in boiling water, the astringent flavor of the green tea leaves is stronger.

“The preparation makes a big difference in how it tastes,” Mr. Peizer says. “Always use filtered water so it doesn’t have the heavy metals.”

Many green tea drinkers tend not to be casual drinkers, says Rob Cassie, vice president of sales at Redco Foods in Windsor, Conn. The company sells Salada green and white tea.

“Green tea drinkers are heavy drinkers because of the health benefits,” Mr. Cassie says. “Green tea is very good for you. It has an excellent source of antioxidants. White tea just has even more antioxidants than green tea.”

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