To Your Health

I've decided I'm ready to give up coffee and thinking of switching to tea. What are my other options for a replacement?

Q. I've decided I'm ready to give up coffee and thinking of switching to tea. What are my other options for a replacement?

A. You are not alone in making the switch. The sale of tea (green, oolong, or black) has been increasing dramatically. Actually, next to water, tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world, and while it is better for you than coffee, the caffeine can still be habit-forming.

However, while you adjust to life without coffee, the caffeine in tea may be an advantage by reducing the symptoms of caffeine withdrawal. While tea brewed the ordinary way has about half the caffeine as an ordinary cup of coffee, tea can be brewed with much less caffeine so you can adjust the caffeine by adjusting the brewing conditions. Caffeine is only about 1% as soluble in cold water as in boiling water, so "cold steep" tea made in the refrigerator has hardly any caffeine at all. Other components are also reduced such as oxalic acid, which people with kidney stones should avoid, but so is theanine, which may have benefits.

The significant presence of antioxidants in tea is well established. The oxidation of LDL cholesterol, associated with an increased risk of heart disease, is inhibited by tea. The incidence of many cancers that are caused by lifestyle factors, such as tobacco use, are reduced by tea. Nutrition-linked cancers of the breast, colon, prostate, and pancreas can be inhibited by tea. Gastric cancer, associated with Helicobacter pylori infection, is lower in tea drinkers. Thus the regular use of this tasty and inexpensive beverage is valuable as a preventive in several chronic human diseases.

While you are investigating the joys of the many kinds of tea available, go another step into the herbal teas. Health food stores usually devote an entire wall to the various herbal teas, most of them there for their medicinal qualities rather than taste. To find an herbal tea that you like, sniff the box or package; if you like the smell, you will probably like the taste. If you prefer the taste of regular tea, check the herb rooibos (pronounced "roy-boss"). To most people it tastes remarkably like regular tea, without any caffeine, oxalic acid, etc.

Rooibos is an Afrikaans word meaning "red bush." Although the leaves are green when picked, they turn mahogany red when fermented, which is done to bring out the flavor. As with regular tea, rooibos has some interesting characteristics. According to studies conducted in South Africa and Japan, rooibos has been effective in infants in relieving stomach cramps and colic, as well as headaches, insomnia, nervous tension, and hypertension in adults. It can also be used topically to treat eczema. In animal studies, rooibos protected rat brains from the age-related accumulation of lipid peroxides, one of the objective signs of aging. Research hints that it is also possible that daily intake of rooibos tea helps suppress HIV infection.

The world of tea, both regular and herbal, is fascinating from both medicinal and culinary aspects. Hot or iced, plain or spiced, with sugar or without, for health or pleasure, tea provides us with good health and serenity.

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