So you like green tea?

Lubna Abdel-Aziz, Tuesday 3 Mar 2020


Your visitor is seated comfortably and you rush to make a hot cup of tea. Tea is the second most popular drink after water. Tea is perfect.

You start on your elaborate serving ritual, when you hear a faint voice, with a pinch of regret, “not green tea?” WHAT?

Black tea has been the most popular tea in the world since the 17th century. Whoever asks for green tea?

Embarrassed, you start foraying into tea territory.

How quick we are to seize on the latest fad. Since this recent obsession with health foods, who knows what green tea offers.

Green and black tea are obtained from the same plant, called Camelia sinensis. In both cases harvesters pluck the uppermost buds and leaves from the plant, so what is the difference?

Green tea leaves are harvested, withered and steamed. The process halts oxidation so the leaves retain their colour and delicate fresh flavour.

Black tea leaves are crusted, torn, curled or rolled and allowed to oxidise before being dried. As a result, the leaves darken and develop a stronger flavour and aroma. That is exactly what we like.

Then there is the question of caffeine — green tea contains one-fourth of the caffeine that coffee has, while black tea contains one-third of the amount. What is wrong with caffeine?

Tea hydrates the body and strengthens the immune system with the bacteria fighting anti-oxidants and promotes blood flow to the brain. It improves focus and concentration — our morning eye-opener. Nothing new here but what about those anti-oxidants?

Both green and black tea contain anti-oxidants. By one estimate, they have 10 times the amount of anti-oxidants found in fruits and vegetables. Eighty-two-year-old John Wesberger, PhD, senior researcher at the Institute for Cancer Prevention at Valhalla, New York, says that “studies of human and animals show that the anti-oxidants in black and green tea are highly beneficial to our health. I was the first American researcher to show that tea modifies the metabolism to detoxify harmful chemicals.”

Rich in polyphenols, a type of anti-oxidant, these wonder nutrients scavenge for cell-damaging free radicals in the body and detoxify them. Amazing. Astounding. But why green tea?

“In my lab”, continues Wesberger, “we found green and black tea had identical amounts of polyphenols. Both types blocked DNA damage associated with tobacco and other toxic chemicals.” Again, we ask, why green tea?

It seems green tea has different levels and types of anti-oxidants than black tea, because of the way each tea is processed. One of its potential health benefits is the catechin, Epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG. It functions as a powerful anti-oxidant activity up to 100 times greater than vitamins C& E.

One cup of green tea anti-oxidant activity is more beneficial than a serving of broccoli, spinach, carrots or strawberries. Black and other kinds of tea have not exhibited this type of activity.

According to legend, tea was discovered in 2732 BC by Emperor Shen Nung, when leaves from a wild tree blew into his pot of boiling water. He was immediately interested in the pleasant scent and drank some of the water. It gave him a warm feeling. He decided to name it cha, because he felt the intriguing brew was investigating every part of his body. Cha means “to investigate” — strange name for a drink, but it stuck.

Our society is quick to seize upon a fad, but maybe this green tea is not a fad after all. It can prevent various cancers — breast, prostate, colon, lung, liver leukemia, skin cancer — and Parkinson’s heart and blood vessel diseases, diabetes and low blood pressure. It can treat almost anything, except perhaps coronavirus.

 Time to stock some varieties of this magic brew.

Before you rush and drink 10 cups a day as some health- enthusiasts do, stop and consider some conflicting evidence as well as some side effects.

They claim that green tea drinkers are in better health than non-green tea drinkers but do not expect it to treat your arthritis, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. At best it may lower your risk of contracting them.

If you are iron-deficient, pregnant, nursing or taking medication for anxiety disorders or heart conditions, limit or better still avoid green tea.

It may also have side effects like headaches, nervousness, sleep problems irritability, heartburn, dizziness, and confusion. There is more but that should be enough.

Today’s green tea is not what it was 100 years ago. The plant may be the same, the polyphenols are there but there is also something else that is quite troubling — fluoride. The plant absorbs and stores fluoride more than any other plant.

Fluoride is good. But scientists are coming to the conclusion that too much fluoride can cause cancer. Fluoride has no recognisable essential use in the human body. It is simply a poisonous substance, one of the most toxic known to man.

Unfortunately, as a result of widespread water soil and air pollution from phosphate fertiliser plants, even organic green tea cannot always escape increasing contamination.

It is entirely up to you. Learn more. Decide.

We eat fish, do we not? Most of us prefer it to fatty meats. Do we stop to consider the dangerous levels of mercury found in fish?

Moderation may be the answer for any health fad.

You may have done your friend a favour by sharing a warm cup of our traditional, beloved, refreshing black tea.

“For fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”

Alexander Pope (1688-1744)

*A version of this article appears in print in the 5 March, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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