Originally cultivated in China and India, tea has been used for centuries for a variety of medicinal purposes. Today, increasing research suggests tea indeed possesses potent disease-fighting properties and may help you stay healthy for a lifetime.
With the exception of water, tea is the most-consumed beverage in the world, and it's available in a variety of colors and fairly distinct flavors. Three of the most common are green, black and oolong, which are derived from the leaves of the same plant: Camellia sinensis. Processing is what makes one type different from another – green tea is made from unfermented leaves that are steamed, rolled and dried, while black tea is made by putting the leaves through a process of oxidation that alters their color and flavor. Oolong tea is somewhere between green and black in terms of its color, flavor and processing.
From a health perspective, you can't talk about tea without talking about polyphenols, compounds found in tealeaves and other plants. The less processing the tea undergoes, the higher its polyphenol content, which is why research suggests green tea has so many potential health benefits. Polyphenols are powerful antioxidants, the same compounds that give fruits and vegetables their disease-fighting capabilities. Antioxidants reduce damage to cells, which reduces the risk of developing cancer and other diseases.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, approximately 75 percent of all tea produced worldwide is of the black variety, while only 23 percent is green and 2 percent is oolong. But those percentages may change as research continues to link polyphenols to better health outcomes. That's not to say tea in general (regardless of the type/color) doesn't have potential health benefits including fighting cancer and heart disease, as well as promoting ideal metabolism and oral health.
Next time you take a break from your day and sit down to enjoy a nice cup of tea, recognize that you may be accomplishing a whole lot more in terms of improving your overall health. Note: It's important to communicate with your doctor before introducing anything new to your diet, as certain medications can interact with tea.