Healthy eating

Green tea is good for you, and it tastes good, too.

If you haven’t heard the story of how tea got its start as a beverage, today is your lucky day.

Legend has it that Chinese Emperor Shen Nung was in his garden, boiling water to cool and drink, as people believed that boiled water was healthier than water pulled from a well or a stream. Some leaves from a nearby camellia bush (camellia sinensis, to be exact) fluttered into his pot. The aroma was enticing, and the emperor drank the infusion. He declared it “invigorating to the body, bringing contentment to the mind and giving a determination of purpose.”

Turns out the emperor may have been ahead of his time: Green tea — that is, unfermented tea — has been used by Asian herbalists as a medicine for more than 4,000 years, and current research is providing evidence for the health benefits of drinking green tea. In 1994, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute published the results of a study indicating that drinking green tea reduced the risk of esophageal cancer in Chinese men and women by nearly 60 percent. University of Purdue researchers recently concluded that a compound in green tea inhibits the growth of cancer cells. There is also research indicating that drinking green tea lowers total cholesterol levels, as well as improving the ratio of good (HDL) cholesterol to bad (LDL) cholesterol.

The secret of green tea may be that it is high in catechin polyphenols, particularly epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). EGCG is a powerful antioxidant that has been shown to decrease the growth of cancer cells without harming healthy tissue. EGCG has also been shown to be effective in lowering LDL cholesterol levels and inhibiting the abnormal formation of blood clots, which can cause of heart attacks and stroke.

But, you may ask, isn’t all tea — green and black — from the same camellia bush? Yes, it’s true. What makes the difference is the processing. Green tea leaves are steamed, which prevents the EGCG compound from being oxidized. Black and oolong tea leaves are allowed to ferment, which converts the EGCG into other compounds that are not nearly as effective in preventing and fighting various diseases.

Do remember that green tea contains caffeine — 30 to 60 milligrams in a cup, compared with 100 to 150 milligrams of caffeine in a cup of coffee. There are decaffeinated green teas on the market, but the jury is still out on the effect that decaffeination has on the EGCGs.

Beyond drinking green tea, you can cook with it. If you have a spice or coffee grinder, you can process green tea into a powder. This powder can be added to fruit juice and smoothies, salad dressings and rice, and used to flavor baked goods, lemonade and even boiled, poached and soft-cooked eggs or tofu. Many people like to make a tea broth as a base for soups instead of or in addition to chicken or vegetable broth.

To make a tea broth, simply double the amount of green tea you would usually use to prepare a cup of tea. Allow the tea to steep at least 10 minutes. Remove tea bag or leaves, chill the “broth” and use as a base when preparing vegetable, chicken, bean or mushroom soups.

(By Nancy Berkoff,, April 2005)
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Nancy Berkoff is a registered dietitian and chef with more than 20 years of experience in the food industry. E-mail her at