Every superfood or functional foods list needs a healthy beverage or two, and green tea is usually at the top of the list. Green tea is rich in antioxidants that may offer health benefits and has no calories (unless you add lots of milk and sugar).
Green tea frequently makes the cancer-preventing super foods lists due to the anti-cancer effects of green tea and green tea extracts found in laboratory research. It contains antioxidants called catechins that may slow down the growth of cancer cells. In laboratory studies, catechins stop free radical damage to cells and reduce the number and sizes of tumors. The most commonly studied catechins, called epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), may cause cancer cells to die, rather than grow and spread.
But it's important to go beyond petri dishes, test tubes and lab animals - to really be a superfood, some human research is necessary. In research involving people, two large studies found that people who drank more tea were at a lower risk of developing certain cancers, while another study showed no correlation between green tea consumption and the incidence of cancer.
The research isn't conclusive anyway, because other dietary and lifestyle factors can affect the outcomes of these studies. Clinical research involving randomized control trials is needed to determine whether or not green tea can really prevent cancer.
Whether green tea prevents cancer or not, it still may be good for you because the antioxidants may help to protect your cells from free radical damage, and some studies indicate green tea may boost weight loss - at least a little bit.
Green tea and black tea both come from the same plant called Camellia sinensis. Black tea is made when the leaves are allowed to ferment. Green tea leaves are steamed or heated immediately after picking to prevent fermentation. Since they're harvested and processed more quickly, they contain more of the polyphenols than black tea leaves. Both types of tea contain caffeine, but not as much as a cup of coffee. You can usually find decaffeinated forms of green tea if you prefer.
There are many brands of green tea available in grocery stores, coffee shops and specialty shops. Some are sold in individual tea-bags, which makes it easy to prepare at home. Simply place the tea bag in a cup, add hot (not boiling) water, steep for two minutes or so and remove the bag. There's very little mess and no waste because you brew each cub individually.
Tea bags are convenient, but quality differs from brand to brand. You can buy loose leaf green teas for an unbeatable flavor. It's not difficult to prepare loose leaf tea at home as long as you have the right equipment. You'll need an infuser.
Place the leaves into the infuser, set the infuser into an empty tea cup, and add the hot water. Experts suggest that you use boiling water and a longer steeping time for a higher polyphenol concentration. If you like the loose leaves, you may wish to invest in a teapot with an infuser built in, rather than steeping each individual cup.
The easiest way to serve tea is steeped as a hot beverage, but here are some recipes that call for green tea:
American Cancer Society. "Green Tea." Revised November 2008.
National Cancer Institute. "Tea and Cancer Prevention: Fact Sheet." Published December 2002.