Tea steeped in half-truths as its popularity brews

When we talk about tea in America, it is often associated with buttered crumpets, eccentric health nuts or “stuffy” British people. Few know, however, that after water, tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world.

Though most Americans swear by their Caramel Macchiatos or soy lattes, tea culture has firmly settled into American society. With the kombucha and green tea crazes on the rise, customers continue to look to tea as a healthy, low calorie alternative to other popular drinks.

Before you head to Target to buy a case of your favorite herbal flavor, here are the facts on what tea is all about.

*Drinking tea will dehydrate you: FALSE*

In the early hours during the week, many students flock to local cafes for a caffeinated tea drink to help them through essays, tests or work. As a result, tea often gets lumped in with coffee or soda as a dehydrating beverage.

Caffeine is known as a diuretic, which can elevate urination rates and lead to excess water loss from the body. Though many teas do contain caffeine, the levels are so small that only heavy consumption of tea could lead to severe dehydration.

“Tea, either green or black, hydrates the body as well as drinking water,” said Jeanette Andrade, registered dietician and graduate assistant at McKinley Health Center. “In order to be dehydrated, you would need to consume about eight cups, or the equivalent amount of 300 mg of caffeine, in a short period of time.”

*Drinking tea will prevent cancer: Possibly!*

Technically, the jury is still out on whether tea can prevent cancer. Much of the research on cancer prevention in tea revolves around green tea and its polyphenol composition.

According to the National Cancer Institute, EGCG and ECG are polyphenol chemicals in green tea that are said to protect cells from DNA damage and to inhibit the growth of tumor cells.

A study conducted by the American Association for Cancer Research in 2009 found that over a period of two years, individuals who drank green tea experienced delayed development in oral cancer.

Despite these findings, researchers do not recommend that patients rely on tea as a definite way to reduce cancer risk.

Various organizations continue to assess the benefits of these polyphenols as well as the quantity that must be consumed for any noticeable health effects.

*Health benefits of tea can be altered depending on how the tea is prepared: TRUE*

Growing up, I always heard that cooking foods a certain way could either bring out or smother key nutrients. I never knew whether this was true, but it turns out that tea preparation can have notable effects for better — or for worse.

According to Andrade, “Black and green (tea) contain around 124-165 mg of polyphenols in each bag. However, the amount of polyphenols you drink from either black or green tea depends on how long you brewed the tea for (and) if it is iced or not.”

The National Cancer Institute states that brewed, hot tea is the best source for polyphenols while iced or instant teas contain less.

In 2007, a study by the European Health Journal also found that a protein in dairy milk called casein can bind to beneficial chemicals in tea and prevent them from protecting cells properly.

*Herbal Tea is regular tea, but flavored: FALSE*

During the warmer days of fall, many people love to get cozy with a warm mug of herbal tea. While you may think this is a good way to keep warm and to take advantage of tea’s health benefits, herbal tea is not actually real tea.

While authentic tea derives from a Camellia sinensis plant, herbal tea “uses a combination of fruits, flowers and herbs, but no tea leaves,” Andrade said.

These ingredients are then blended together to produce the familiar drink that people love. Some herbal teas include any medicinal teas and a majority of flavored teas – though some companies flavor black or green teas to make them taste better.

*There are many different types of teas: FALSE*

Black tea, white tea, green tea and oolong tea – it turns out that these all derive from the same plant, an evergreen bush called Camellia sinensis. According to Chris Vante, team leader at Teavana in Schaumburg, Ill., the variation in “types” of teas actually lies in how the bush is processed for consumption after harvest.

Black tea for example is created when the tea leaves are picked and left out to oxidize, a chemical process that makes the leaves wilt and produces a bold taste for the tea.

“Green tea is typically processed in ways to produce what we call Chinese green tea and Japanese green tea,” Vante said.

Neither processing technique allows the tea leaves to oxidize. Instead, they are taken, quickly dried and either fired to further dehydrate the leaves for the Chinese style or steamed for the Japanese style.

_Candice is a junior in Media._