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By Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD
Tea is the second most widely consumed beverage in the world (next to water), according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. While coffee drinking overshadows tea consumption in the United States, the Tea Association of the U.S.A. reports that 80 percent of American households have some form of tea in the cupboard, and more than 159 million Americans drink it on a daily basis.
With these impressive stats, it’s no wonder that new brands of tea and tea blends are constantly popping up on store shelves. A quick Google search for ‘types of teas’ returns an overwhelming 20+ selections, and that doesn’t even include the many different flavors.
Almost 80 percent of US households have some form of tea in the cupboard.
While the sheer magnitude of tea options may be overwhelming, the good news is that many studies suggest that tea is a generally healthy beverage — especially if you’re using it to replace sugary beverages or fight the midnight munchies. But some of the touted benefits should be taken with a grain of salt: Many believe that drinking green tea can help you shed pounds or lower stress levels, but both claims are a bit exaggerated. No tea alone will shrink your waistline (although there is some evidence for its metabolism-boosting benefits), and the calming effects have only been observed when drinking caffeine-free green tea.
Instead of wandering down the tea aisle dazed and confused, try these sips for their science-backed benefits.
Best tea for an energy boost: yerba mate
The most widely consumed drink in Argentina, yerba mate is making its way to the U.S. Made from the leaves of the Argentinian yerba mate tree, this tea has been consumed in South America for centuries. The leaves are rich in tannins, which give the tea a slightly bitter and earthy flavor. For anyone looking for an energy boost, yerba mate may be your new best friend. It has more caffeine than practically any other tea, with 78 milligrams in eight ounces. To put that into perspective, a cup of joe has about 85 milligrams per eight ounces, so yerba mate comes in a close second. For those looking to move away from coffee but still want their caffeine fix, yerba mate may be the next best thing.
Best tea for when you’re sick: ginger tea
If you’re feeling the nausea, aches and chills that accompany most forms of sickness, reach for a cup of ginger tea. Most commercially available ginger teas are a blend of herbal caffeine-free tea with ginger extract or you can steep ginger in hot water for a homemade version. While it won’t shorten the duration of your illness, ginger is believed to help counteract the nausea that occurs with many ailments. As a matter of fact, research suggests that ginger may reduce chemotherapy-induced and pregnancy-induced nausea.
Best tea to drink after a morning workout: matcha
Tea may not be on your list of post-workout beverages, but some are rich in inflammation-fighting antioxidants. Matcha is a green tea made from ground whole tea leaves mixed with water to make a brewed tea. On its own, matcha has a very earthy acquired taste. Because it’s made with the whole leaves of the tea plant, matcha contains more antioxidants than traditional green tea. It also has a compound called ECGC, which may contribute to fax oxidation during exercise, according to early research. And good news for morning exercisers, an eight-ounce serving of matcha tea has about 70 milligrams of caffeine. One caveat: Since it does have a strong taste, many matcha drinks contain a good amount of added sugar, so be sure to read labels carefully and stick to plain, matcha tea instead of fancy coffee shop beverages that utilize the ingredient.
Best tea to drink before bed: chamomile tea
Known as the most relaxing tea, chamomile is an herbal caffeine-free tea brewed from the leaves of the chamomile flower. With a mild, slightly sweet and flowery taste, it’s a comforting, hot beverage that is sure to calm you before bedtime. Chamomile has long been thought to have a sedative effect, and recent research gives some proof to the claim. Specifically, drinking chamomile tea has been shown to ease sleep problems in postnatal women and elderly adults.
Best tea for metabolism: green tea
Green tea has received praise as the metabolism-boosting tea, and the claim has some merit. A meta-analysis suggests that drinking green tea in addition to a reduction in calories can result in weight loss. As with matcha, this breakdown of fat can be attributed to the compound EGCG. Here’s the thing though — supplementing with 250 milligrams of EGCG (or about the amount in 3 cups of green tea) will burn about 100 calories. So for those drinking one cup of green tea per day, you’re likely only burning an extra 30 calories. Adding a mug won’t cause the pounds to fall off, but sipping green tea at night is a great strategy to reduce cravings and prevents you from raiding the pantry.
Best tea for cholesterol: Black Tea
No one tea is going to magically lower your cholesterol while you munch on burgers and fries, but black tea in combination with a healthy diet can help! This everyday tea is rich in antioxidants known as polyphenols, and an abundance of research suggests that consuming it on a daily basis may be beneficial to the heart. As a matter of fact, a review in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition states that drinking more than three cups of black tea per day is associated with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease. Another meta-analysis in PLOS ONE examined fifteen randomized controlled studies and found that drinking black tea seems to lower harmful LDL cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol) in healthy adults. A recent review also suggests that black tea can also reduce LDL cholesterol in those with a higher risk for cardiovascular disease. An 8-ounce serving of black tea does have about 45 milligrams of caffeine (about half the amount in coffee), so it may be best to incorporate it into your morning routine as to not interfere with sleep.