August 24, 2010

Got Tea? Pick Cup Over Bottle for Health Benefits

Think swigging back a bottle of iced tea will provide the same health benefits as a cup of green tea?  Think again.  Researchers found that health-conscious consumers may not be getting what they pay for in many popular beverages.

Scientists reported that bottled tea beverages that account for $1 billion in annual sales in the U.S., contain fewer polyphenols or healthy antioxidants than a single cup of home-brewed green or black tea.  Some bottled teas contain such small amounts that consumers would have to drink 20 bottles to get the polyphenols present in one cup of tea.

"Consumers understand very well the concept of the health benefits from drinking tea products," Shiming Li, Ph.D., an analytical and natural product chemist at WellGen, Inc. in North Brunswick, N.J., was quoted as saying.  "However there is a huge gap between the perception that tea consumption is healthy and the actual amount of the healthful nutrients found in bottled tea beverages.  Our analysis of tea beverages found that polyphenol content is extremely low."

Researchers found that in addition to the low polyphenol content, bottled tea contains large amounts of sugar as well.

Li and his colleagues measured the level of polyphenols - a group of natural antioxidants linked to anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, and anti-diabetic properties - of six brands of tea purchased from supermarkets.  Half of the brands contained virtually no antioxidants while the others had such infinitesimal amounts that they carried no health benefits.  With no industry or governments standards or guidelines for measuring and listing the polyphenolic compounds in a given product, manufacturers can write whatever they want.

The six teas analyzed contained 81, 43, 40, 13, 4, and 3 milligrams (mg) of polyphenols per 16-ounce bottle.  The average cup of home-brewed green or black tea, which costs mere cents, contains 50-150 mg of polyphenols.

"Polyphenols are bitter and astringent, but to target as many consumers as they can, manufacturers want to keep the bitterness and astringency at a minimum," Li said.  "The simplest way is to add less tea, which makes the tea polyphenol content low but tastes smoother and sweeter."

SOURCE: 240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society