A sip of tea flushes the body with beneficial polyphenols to refresh your system. True tea contains unique types of polyphenols that are hard to find elsewhere. For example, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) in green tea helps calm and focus the mind. Black tea has theaflavins to help regulate fat cells. All true tea from the Camellia sinensis plant will contain polyphenols. From clearing environmental toxins to protecting against disease, a cup of tea is a delicious way to support your health.

What are Polyphenols?

Polyphenols are chemical substances that are abundant in most plants. Scientists have identified over 8,000 unique varieties. Polyphenols help plants produce their bright colors to attract pollinators while protecting them from sun damage. The bitter or astringent taste of polyphenols deters bugs that might try to nibble away their fruits and leaves. This natural defense system also turns out to be beneficial to humans. When our diet is high in polyphenol-rich plant foods, we live longer and are more resistant to disease.

There are five main types of polyphenols:

  • Phenolic acids – (turmeric, berries, garlic)
  • Coumarins – (cinnamon, citrus)
  • Flavonoids – (tea, coffee, cocoa)
  • Stilbenes – (grapes, wine, peanuts)
  • Lignans – (seeds, whole grains, kale)

Plants often have more than one type of polyphenol and fall into several of these categories. All are healthy and have a variety of benefits. Flavonoids are the biggest group of polyphenols. They are easy to find in fruits, vegetables, coffee, cocoa and most importantly – tea!

Polyphenol or Antioxidant?

These terms are sometimes used interchangeably but have different meanings. All polyphenols are antioxidants, but not vice versa.

  • Polyphenols are chemically defined by having multiple phenol units which are a type of aromatic and acidic compound. All polyphenols are antioxidant.
  • Antioxidants are any chemical compound that can neutralize harmful free radicals in the body. Common antioxidants include polyphenols, vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, and more.

Antioxidants are important for clearing toxins from the body. Pollution, sun damage, physical strain and other stressors produce unstable molecules called free radicals. These can damage cells in the body and lead to disease. Antioxidants save the day by using their free electrons to neutralize the free radicals. With ample amounts of antioxidants, our bodies can overcome stressors and maintain good health.

Health Benefits of Polyphenols

Polyphenols have been studied for helping prevent major health issues including:

  • Cancer
  • Neurological disorders
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • Asthma/Respiratory conditions
  • Heart disease

Clearly the health benefits of polyphenols are vast. Aside from helping to prevent disease, they may even increase our lifespan. Some theories suggest that ‘oxidative stress’ from environmental toxins and waste produced by our cells may be responsible for the aging process. Polyphenols can combat these toxins with their antioxidant effect. This means that a diet rich in polyphenols may slow the aging process and help us live longer.

Polyphenols in Tea

A diet rich in fruits and veggies is our primary source of polyphenols. Fruits like berries and apples have up to 200-300 milligrams of polyphenols per 100 grams of fresh weight. But to boost your polyphenol intake and maximize your health, you can add in tea, coffee, red wine, and chocolate. Tea is an optimal choice since you can drink several cups a day without overloading on caffeine, alcohol, or sugar. An 8 ounce cup of tea will have around 100 milligrams of polyphenols.

Polyphenols in tea will vary depending on the type. Look for these teas with the highest polyphenol content:

  • Green Tea
  • Matcha
  • Black Tea
  • Pu-erh Tea
  • Purple Tea

Green tea is the most popular choice because it is high in a type of polyphenol called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). It is especially beneficial for the brain and heart, helping to calm anxiety and reduce inflammation. EGCG promotes longevity and good health with strong antioxidant effects.

Matcha is a type of green tea that provides the most polyphenols per cup. Because matcha is powdered, you consume the whole leaf and absorb more EGCG than regular green tea. Matcha is prepared by whisking the powdered tea with hot water and enjoying it as a thick green drink.

Black tea is full of theaflavins, a polyphenol that protects against a variety of health issues. Like EGCG, it can help lower inflammation and protect against viruses, bacteria, cancer, and cardiovascular conditions. It also helps to regulate fat cells and boost metabolism.

Pu-erh tea has a similar polyphenol content to black tea with the added benefit of fermentation. This makes the tea especially soothing to the digestive system. It is believed to help lower cholesterol levels, especially when sipped after a heavy meal.

Purple tea is a relatively new variety of tea that is grown in Kenya. It has a trio of beneficial polyphenols. Anthocyanins are powerful antioxidants that cause its purple color. It also has EGCG, the same anti-inflammatory polyphenol found in green tea. The last and most important polyphenol is GHG. This is entirely unique to purple tea and may help reduce excess abdominal fat and increase lean body mass.

Now that you know about polyphenols in tea, it’s time to get steeping!