Tea is the most consumed beverage in the world, other than water.  Tea has been consumed for thousands of years and is deeply rooted in cultural traditions and rituals.  In addition, tea has many health benefits, including heart health.  February is National Heart Month and a good time to take stock of things that are good for our heart.   


Tea Production  

True tea is made from the leaves of the Camellia Sinensis plant.  There are four types of tea: white, green, oolong, and black.  Each of these four types of tea are made from the Camellia Sinensis leaves.  The different types are due to the way they are processed.  White tea is made by steaming and drying the leaves and is the least processed of the four types of tea.  Green tea is made by steaming fresh leaves to prevent oxidation.  Oolong tea is partially oxidized and black tea is completely oxidized.   

Tea plants like well-drained, acidic soil.  New plants are propagated from seeds or from cuttings.  Tea plants become productive for harvesting leaves around the third or fourth year.  Most tea is grown in Argentina, Indonesia, India, and Kenya.  There is a small tea plantation in the United States which was owned by Lipton until 1987 and is currently owned by Bigelow.  The color of tea is impacted by the soil in which it is grown.  The higher the elevation where the tea is grown, the more aromatic the tea will be.  Typically, the new growth of leaves is what is harvested for tea.  

Health Benefits of Tea

Most of the health benefits of tea come from the flavonoids.  Flavonoids are a type of phytonutrient.  Tea is one of the best sources of flavonoids in the diet, ranging from 100 to 250 mg of flavonoids per cup.  Other sources of flavonoids are cocoa, wine, fruits, and vegetables.  Unsweetened green and black tea typically contain about 150 to 170 mg of flavonoids per cup.  The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends consuming at least 200 to 500 mg of flavonoids daily.  

There is a long history of research linking a diet rich in flavonoids with better health.  For example, a study of over 100,000 Chinese adults who were followed for seven years found that drinking three cups or more of tea per week was associated with a 20% lower risk of heart attack and a 22% lower risk of dying of heart disease.  It is important to note that in research studies, association does not prove cause and effect.  In other words, although a strong association was found between tea drinking and lower risk of heart attack, this does not prove that drinking tea alone prevents heart attacks.  However, daily tea intake as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle can lower the risk of death from heart disease.  

Good hydration is also important for circulatory function.  Unsweetened tea is 99% water and can contribute to a person’s daily fluid requirement.  The Dietary Guidelines for Americans also recommends lowering the consumption of added sugars in the foods and beverages we consume.  One strategy to lower intake of added sugar in the diet is to drink unsweetened tea in place of sugar-sweetened beverages such as soft drinks.  If you are not accustomed to drinking unsweetened tea, try gradually cutting back on the amount of sugar.  For example, use one teaspoon of sugar per glass of tea, rather than two or three teaspoons of sugar.  Other options are to use no-calorie sweeteners or drinking unsweetened tea infused with fresh fruit.  

Take-Away Message:

  • Unsweetened tea consumption is associated with a decreased incidence of cardiovascular-related events and mortality.
  • The health benefits of tea are mostly due to the flavonoids it contains.
  • One cup of tea contains 100 to 250 mg of flavonoids.
  • Flavonoids in our diet are found in tea, cocoa, fruits, and vegetables. 

References and Resources:

Harvard Health Letter (2020).  Regular Tea Drinking Linked to Better Heart Health.  Harvard Health Publishing.  Retrieved from:  https://www.health.harvard.edu

Oldways (2021).  Unlocking the Cardiovascular Benefits of Tea.  Retrieved from: https://oldwayspt.org/

Zanteson, L. (2013).  Tea’s Good for the Heart — Studies Show a Few Cups a Day Keep Heart Disease at Bay.  Today’s Dietitian, 15 (3), 18.

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