It’s not always easy to maintain a healthy diet in college, especially since the omnipresent stress and lack of sleep in a student’s life make it tempting to consume too much sugar and caffeine. While everyone enjoys the SRO’s daily specials (and I am in no way discouraging a weekly Caramel Cat), there is a healthier way to get that caffeine fix and not tank your caloric intake: Tea.
Unlike coffee, which has about 120 milligrams of caffeine per cup, tea only has about 30 to 60. Wait, you may say, isn’t more caffeine better? Not always. The amount of caffeine in tea is still enough to provide the alert and cognizant benefits, without the jittery feeling coffee can provide to its drinkers. The reduced caffeine prevents the dehydrating nature so inherent in coffee, allowing tea to better quench thirst — particularly since tea is still mostly water. The lower caffeine intake also helps prevent that dreaded coffee-crash. Steadily drinking a pot full of tea during a late night study session may be a better call than a couple shots of espresso.
However, tea isn’t only healthy due to its water-base. Tea leaves, present in black, green, white and oolong varieties, contain antioxidants called flavonoids. One of these, EGCG, may help combat free radicals (the DNA-damagers, not the slang from the ‘90s).
Green teas have a high concentration of EGCG. Studies suggest that green tea intake may help prevent bladder, breast, stomach and lung cancers, among others. It may also help prevent clogged arteries (and therefore stroke and heart attack) and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
Other kinds of teas also have great health benefits. Black teas, for example, have the highest caffeine content and may help prevent lung damage from smoke. White teas are the least processed teas, therefore increasing their likelihood of helping prevent cancers and other diseases, and oolong teas help lower bad cholesterol levels, according to animal studies.
Flavonoids can be found in any teas that contain tea leaves. Decaf varieties, however, have been found to contain less of the beneficial chemical than the caffeinated varieties. Brewing tea for 3-5 minutes maximizes the flavonoid content as well. Unfortunately, this means that iced, instant and bottled teas tend not to be as healthy since they both contain less flavonoids and more sugar.
Herbal teas can also be helpful health aides. Chamomile has calming effects that may help mild insomnia, as well as properties that may prevent diabetes complications and help keep eye, kidney and nerve damage minimized. Hibiscus containing teas may help lower blood pressure. Cinnamon, allspice and ginger may help with stomach-related maladies. Peppermint doesn’t only freshen breath either — it can also help with stomach distress and can help with de-stressing. Fennel also helps with stomach issues, as well as being beneficial for upper respiratory problems. Chrysanthemum can help bring down fevers while slippery elm can help soothe stomach cramps and related gastrointestinal distress. Tea drinkers should avoid St. John’s wort though (present in many chamomile teas), since it can interfere with birth control pills and is unhealthy for pregnant and breast-feeding women.
However, it’s not all good. Teas marketed as “dieter’s” can be very unhealthy. The FDA suggests avoiding teas with senna, aloe, buckthorn and other plant-derived laxatives, as they can cause bowel problems and other health complications. You should also be sure to allow your tea to cool as drinking overly hot beverages can increase the risk of esophageal cancer. Also, remember that animal studies do not necessarily mean that human health benefits are the same, so, as always, take this article with a grain of salt.