A look at the origins of the beloved drink.
Tea, from the leaves of the plant Camellia sinensis, is one of the most widely consumed beverages in the world. In fact, it is only second to water. Originally from China, it has been consumed for nearly four thousand years, often as a medicinal tonic. Both green and black tea are made from the leaves of the same plant, but the leaves for black tea are wilted and fermented before drinking.
Matcha is a fine powder made from green tea leaves. It is shaded towards the end of its growth, which makes it such a bright green, and increases its helpful properties. Matcha is also enjoyed as a drink (mixed together with hot water or milk), although recently it has become a very popular ingredient in cakes and other confectionery, as well as ice creams.
Matcha and green tea have significant health benefits and are increasingly popular all over the globe. Matcha has now come to be known as a ‘mood and brain food’.
Green tea has had a long history in traditional Chinese medicine, being recommended for many different reasons. Some of the issues it’s been used for include prolonging life and energy, and a cure for headaches, body aches and pains, digestive issues and depression. Because of this, the health benefits of green tea have been relentlessly studied.
More recently, it has been found that green tea’s benefits are due to its amino acid, antioxidant and vitamin content. It is rich in polyphenols, carotenoids, Vitamin C, and minerals like Zinc, Selenium, Chromium, and Manganese. The benefits of green tea are greater than for black tea, as the former has higher levels of polyphenols, which are plant compounds with antioxidant properties. In green tea, the polyphenols take the form of flavonoids, the most active of which are catechins and epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG).
One of the main positive elements of catechins is that they have antibacterial properties, so may help against issues like tooth decay and exert a positive influence on gut flora. Green tea may also have the ability to enhance mood, as it contains the major amino acid L-theanine, which can exhibit a stress-reducing effect in humans.[6, 7]
Other experimental studies suggest that green tea possesses anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic potential, beneficial to a variety of skin disorders.
Further epidemiological studies have seen that green tea consumption is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, may provide a protective effect against the development of several cancers, and may act positively against diseases such as Parkinsons and Alzheimers.
In addition, a number of small clinical studies have found that green tea may also be helpful in losing and managing weight and cholesterol.
The word “matcha” comes from the Japanese words ma, which means ground, and cha, or tea, to describe the fine powder made from steamed and dried green tea leaves. Japanese monks have traditionally drunk it to enhance meditation, as it can induce feelings of both calmness and alertness.
Because matcha plants are shaded towards the end of their growth, they can produce higher amounts of phytochemicals and amino acids than tea plants fully grown in the sun. It helps that matcha powder contains the whole tea leaves rather than just an infusion in water, as its consumption leads to a much higher intake of the useful phytochemicals than regular green tea.
Matcha contains high concentrations of phenolic acids, quercetin, rutin, and l-theanine. As mentioned earlier, the amino acid l-theanine has stress-reducing capabilities, as it is believed to lower cortisol levels in stressful periods.
The antioxidant EGCG and caffeine are also present in matcha, and have been shown to have a positive effect on mood and cognitive performance as well.
Along with mood, there have been studies that have seen a potential for matcha in antimicrobial therapy, and also possibly to reduce the carriage of drug-resistant bacteria like MRSA within the body.[10, 5]
There is also some suggestion that the immunomodulatory and antiviral effects of the antioxidants may support the prevention and regulate the immune response of infectious diseases, including Covid-19.
As a result of these studies and the fact that green tea and matcha have both been used for so many years, some have suggested that it would be advisable to consider the regular consumption of green tea in western diets, as it may have a positive effect on both physical and mental health.[4, 11]
Thankfully it is becoming a more common sight in coffee shops and on ingredient lists in the west. Green tea’s infusions and extracts (including matcha) may find potential applications in preventing lifestyle diseases of free-radical and inflammatory origin, as well as in preventing premature ageing processes.
However, in spite of these encouraging results, it is clear that tea should not be considered a panacea to replace a diet high in fruits and vegetables. Instead, it should be used to replace other beverages such as coffee and sodas that are actually detrimental to good health.References
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