Green Tea and Digestion

Coffee, tea, or how about some Matcha Green Tea? “It’s the healthiest thing I can think of to drink”, said a research scientist, Dr Christopher Ochner from Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai HospitalBut is green tea really that healthy?

The consumption of green tea for digestive health dates back thousands of years to its earliest uses in India and China. In addition to green tea, matcha green tea and barley tea are also becoming popular beverage choice to aid digestion. We learn more from Tan Shiling,  Dietitian, Nutrition and Dietetics Services about their benefits and their effects on your digestive health.

Green Tea

“Green tea contains polyphenols which is believed to provide anti-inflammatory effects,”  Shiling explained. Polyphenols are micronutrients that are present in most vegetables and fruits. In the case of green tea, these micronutrients contain catechins which made up the bulk of green tea’s antioxidants and healing potential.

“Some studies found that green tea consumption have positive impact on certain cancers and cardiovascular system, improve lipid profile and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Polyphenolic compounds present in green tea, particularly catechins, are known to have strong anti-influenza activity,” she added.

However, scientific studies linking the beverage with actual healing powers remain inconclusive. “There are limited scientific studies demonstrating a direct link between green tea and digestive health and more evidence is definitely required to confirm if green tea actually has the above said health benefits,” she advised. And while some of the benefits are from findings conducted in animal studies, it is unclear if this benefit can be replicated in humans.

Matcha Green Tea

An alternative to green tea is matcha which literally means “powdered tea.” When you order traditional green tea, components from the leaves get infused into the hot water, and then the leaves are discarded. With matcha, you’re drinking the actual leaves, which have been finely powdered and made into a solution. Unlike traditional green tea, matcha preparation involves covering the tea plants with shade cloths before they’re harvested. The dried leaves are then stone-ground into a fine powder.

There is no consensus with regards to matcha being better in aiding digestion compared to taking the traditional green tea. However, a study conducted by University of Colorado in 2003 confirmed that drinking 1 cup of matcha tea has 137 times the amount of antioxidant compared to a conventional cup of green tea, she explained.

“While it may seem like the antioxidant concentration in matcha makes it potentially beneficial, it is important not to have it in excess in view of its high caffeine content,” she added.  . “Too much caffeine from tea can hinder the body ability to absorb iron, and cause side effects such as insomnia, restlessness and irritability.”

Barley Tea

Roasted barley tea, known as boricha in Korea, mugicha in Japan and maicha in China, is known for its smoky scent and rich taste. The tea is made by brewing ground barley, unshelled roasted barley or barley seeds in hot water.

According to anecdotal evidence, one of the main reasons barley tea is so popular is that it helps with digestion. Consuming barley tea with meals, according to some studies, may help with absorption and settling the stomach. However, to date, scientific studies demonstrating a direct link between its digestive function is limited.

Drink in moderation

Whether it scientifically heals or aid digestion, like everything in life, balance is key. In the average cup of green tea, expect a dose of 50 to 150 milligrams (mg) of polyphenols. The recommended intake is two to three cups of green tea per day  as part of a healthy balanced diet.

Tea anyone?

Article contributed by Ms Tan Shiling, a dietitian at Mount Alvernia Hospital. Click here to learn more about our Nutrition and Dietetic services.