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Fitness for All of Us: 11/15/2015

Tea: the new water

There is a growing population of people who don’t drink enough water and one of the biggest reasons is because it’s “boring.” There are sweeteners, dyes, carbonation contraptions, and fancy packaging to help get your mind in the zone for water consumption, but tea (unsweetened) may be just what you’re missing.

The main health-promoting substances in tea are polyphenols, in particular catechins and epicatechins. Lab and animal studies say these molecules have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Harvard-led studies of large groups of people over time have found that tea and coffee drinkers are at lower risk for diabetes and possibly cardiovascular disease. Coffee also contains polyphenols, but today our focus is on tea.

What do polyphenols do exactly? They are antioxidants which are neutralizers in cell oxidation. The process of oxidation in the human body damages cell membranes and other structures including cellular proteins, lipids and DNA. When oxygen is metabolized, it creates “free radicals” which steal electrons from other molecules, causing damage. The body can cope with some free radicals, but an overload of free radicals has been linked to certain diseases, including heart disease, liver disease and some cancers. Oxidation can be accelerated by stress, cigarette smoking, alcohol, sunlight, pollution and other factors. Antioxidants terminate these chain reactions by removing free radical intermediates, and inhibit other oxidation reactions.

A few other benefits of tea (especially green tea) include:
  • Prevention and treatment of neurological diseases, especially degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. While many factors influence brain health, polyphenols in green tea may help maintain the parts of the brain that regulate learning and memory.

  • Sun Protection – the polyphenolic extracts of green tea are effective chemopreventive agents for many of the adverse effects of too much sun and may act as natural alternatives for sun protection.

  • Increase exercise endurance – scientists have found that the catechins (antioxidants) in green tea extract increase the body’s ability to burn fat as fuel, which accounts for improved muscle endurance. You also get a boost of energy from the caffeine in the tea to keep you moving!

If you are not a fan of unsweetened tea, try tea blends that incorporate mint, fruits, or floral notes for some dimension. Adding some lemon juice or a small amount of honey can help too. Pre-made, sweetened teas can contain as much sugar as sodas, defeating the purpose of opting for tea! Remember, the body is very adaptable. If you lighten up on the sweetener, your palate will get used to it. It’s similar to salt; the more you put on your food, the more accustomed you become to it and feel that you “need” it to make food taste good. Your body will thank you for reducing added sugar (and salt, if that is a vice of yours) in your diet.

A great way to make tea more accessible and affordable is to bring a travel tea mug with you (I know you have one for coffee already). One I recommend and use is the tea infuser travel mug by Libre. It has a glass interior and BPA free plastic exterior. It can brew tea three ways – by putting the tea on the top of the filter (for loose leaf teas), in the glass, or just with the lid and no filter. There are many different brands, so find one that pleases you so you will want to use it.

Cat Senet, Director of Fitness, Powerhouse Gym and Studio

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