Tea is not simply a tasty beverage enjoyed with scones; for thousands of years, certain types of tea have been used as medical treatments for a wide variety of ailments. Part of this popularity as a medication may derive from the high levels of antioxidant compounds found in many varieties of tea. Buyers should beware of outrageous health claims and nutritiously void drinks dressed up in the promise of health benefits: not all supposed antioxidant teas are alike.
Antioxidants are important to the protection of cells. By preventing or slowing cell oxidization, these chemicals help reduce cell damage by impeding the creation of free radicals. Extremely low levels of antioxidants are associated with increased risk for some diseases and health problems, including many degenerative diseases that destroy cells. Boosting antioxidant levels through proper nutrition may provide some benefit in the prevention and progression of cellular-related illnesses, but it is important to choose booster substances, such as antioxidant teas, carefully.
The key to the best antioxidant teas often lies in the form of the tea. Loose leaf teas, being the least processed variety of tea, tend to have the highest levels of antioxidants. Tea bags tend to be made of inferior quality tea and blended with artificial flavors and other agents, causing a significant drop in health benefits. Bottled teas are often as far from loose leaf as possible, often resulting in comparatively tiny levels of antioxidants and carrying an unhealthy punch of sugar and artificial ingredients.
What variety of tea used may also change the amount and type of antioxidant compounds. Green tea, white tea, and black tea all come from the same plant, Camellia sinensis, but are picked at different times and go through different processing techniques. White tea, which is picked while the plant is still quite young, has been shown by some studies to have the highest level of antioxidants.
Green tea is generally believed to have more antioxidants than black tea, since the preparation process is less destructive to the natural leaf, though some recent studies have suggested black and green antioxidant teas are relatively close in terms of benefits.
Simply put, the best antioxidant teas are those that are closest to the original plant. Harvested early and minimally processed, loose leaf white teas seem to have a slight advantage over other antioxidant teas. Nevertheless, green, black, and oolong teas are also excellent sources of helpful antioxidants. Drinking freshly brewed loose leaf tea is almost always recommended over teabags or bottled tea varieties, not only for the antioxidant boost, but also since fresh tea is naturally free of calories and artificial substances.