The Smart Eater: Tea, with Benefits

written by: Dr. Allison Miner – The Smart Eater  05/15/21. 

Tea, with Benefits

When we think of “tea,” we think of green or black tea and herbal teas like chamomile or peppermint tea, but herbal “teas” are not really tea. It is like someone calling soy milk, “milk,” but we know true milk comes from mammals. The term “tea,” has been co-opted as well to mean any plant leaf steeped in water.

Real “tea” comes from steeping the leaves of a plant called Camillia senesis in hot water. Herbal teas are infusions of other plants’ leaves, roots, bark, seeds, or flowers. Tea has been around for thousands of years originating in southwest China. There is a popular Chinese legend that an emperor sitting near a Camillia senesis tree had boiled his water to purify it and leaves from the tree blew into his water, and he liked it. Chinese monks are credited with introducing tea to other Asian cultures. Global expansion occurred through European explorers. Drinking tea was popular in the United States before the American Revolution made it unpatriotic to drink it due to the British monopoly on tea sales. Coffee has replaced tea as the most common caffeinated beverage in the US, but it continues to be the most popular drink (after water) in the world. Tea is grown all over the world including the US but 75% comes from four countries – China, India, Sri Lanka, and Kenya.

Life is like a cup of tea. It’s all in how you make it.

~ Unknown

Tea grows best in hot and humid climates with plenty of rainfall. Tea leaves are manually harvested for quality control. Tea can be harvested by machines, but this processing method may lessen the flavor and aroma. First, tea leaves are withered by exposing them to the sun or

wind to remove moisture. The six varieties of tea are based upon the next step – oxidation. Oxidation is a chemical process that causes the breakdown of chlorophyll to release tannins.



It is the method of processing tea that yields the six major varieties which include green, black, white, oolong, yellow, and puerh or dark tea. Each major variety is further divided into specialized versions based on how each is processed and brewed. About 75% of tea consumed in the US is black tea.




Tea has traditionally been used medicinally to purify the body and preserve the mind and some of these claims are backed by research. It contains amino acids, caffeine, lignins, proteins, xanthenes, and flavonoids. The flavonoids are the compound believed to impact tea’s medicinal qualities. Flavonoids are antioxidants which the body uses to prevent cellular damage. Cellular damage is theorized to cause major diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Aging is also partly caused by cellular damage. Tea has antimicrobial properties which may help prevent dental cavities. In addition, tea is a source of natural fluoride which strengthens teeth


and bones. Any variety of tea from the Camelia sinensis plant is healthy – cold or hot, however, the less processed the tea leaf, the higher the levels of antioxidants. White, yellow, and green tea are the least processed. I would not be too concerned about the difference since no one knows which teas are more beneficial to your health. The most important point is to drink it.

One caveat: tea contains tannins and oxalates, two compounds that are known to block the absorption of iron. This is only important for premenopausal women (due to menstruation), growing children (for growth, and vegans (plant foods are not the best sources of iron). To get around this issue, these populations should not drink tea with meals. Drinking tea between meals is fine – wait at least two hours after meals. Men, on the other hand, might benefit from drinking tea with meals because excess iron contributes to heart disease. Since men do not lose blood and typically eat a lot of iron-rich foods, tea with meals might help reduce their risk for heart and other inflammatory diseases.

Coffee and tea are known to contain caffeine, a compound everyone is familiar. Caffeine stimulates the nervous system which increases alertness. However, overindulgence in caffeinated beverages (more than 10 cups of tea) can lead to symptoms like irritability, anxiety, and insomnia. Black tea contains the most caffeine while the less processed varieties such as green and white contain the least. Decaf is not completely caffeine-free so beware you will get some caffeine even in this tea. Using hotter water and steeping the tea for longer will extract more caffeine from the leaves. Additionally, the smaller the leaf, the stronger the extraction of caffeine. Be careful not to drink tea less than four hours before bedtime or you may experience insomnia.

Iced tea was first introduced at the St. Louis World Trade Fair of 1904. The hot temperatures prompted a man from the tea industry to pour it over packed ice cubes. Customers liked the invention and now iced tea accounts for more than 80% of all tea consumed in the US. You will get the benefit of tea whether you drink it hot or cold. Iced tea can be very refreshing in hot weather.

While tea can contribute to disease prevention, it is no substitute for a healthy lifestyle and diet. Whether you enjoy your tea hot or cold, the fragrance, taste, and association we have with it as a simple, happy, refreshing, and relaxing drink make it a perfect and natural anecdote for our fast-paced world. Check out the iced tea recipe below!

Black Minty Lemon Iced Tea

This recipe is very high in antioxidants and flavonoids. Both the black tea and the addition of spearmint provide plenty of antioxidants. The addition of spearmint gives the tea a richer and more refreshing flavor. Enjoy!


6 cups of water

4 tea bags of black or green tea

½ cup fresh mint

1 ½ lemons, squeezed

½ lemon, sliced


  • Heat the water to boiling, remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes
  • Add tea bags and steep for about 5 minutes until the desired strength is reached and remove the tea bags
  • Add mint and let the tea mixture cool to room temperature (about 1 hour)
  • Add the fresh-squeezed lemon and lemon slices
  • Refrigerate until cold
  • If desired, you can add a non-nutritive sweetener such as stevia, Splenda, or Sweet’N Low

Regular sugar can also be added but be careful; this increases empty calories to your diet. Every teaspoon of sugar adds an additional