Bottled Green Tea and Canned Drinks
Why More Harmful Than Healthy

How healthy is bottled green tea? What does a recent laboratory study say about which is the best bottled or canned product?



There are two reasons why bottled green tea is less healthy than steeped teas from teabags or loose-leaf tea.

First, it contains low levels of catechins (pronounced as CAT-akins), powerful antioxidants to which scientists attribute most of green tea's health benefits. Second, they have too much sweetener and too many artificial ingredients.

This article will take you through the potential pitfalls of these beverages. It will help you decide which is the best tea product to buy.

How Much Antioxidant?

According to Rod Dashwood of Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, the bottled tea products they studied contained only a fraction of the catechins found in regular tea. To quote Dr. Dashwood:

A particular concern is the bottled products that are increasing in popularity. Some of the bottled tea products studied ... have levels of polyphenols and antioxidant activity 10 to 100 times lower than conventionally brewed tea, regardless of whether they are based on green teas or the white teas that supposedly have more health value.

Many of the currently available cold bottled teas sold in the U.S. are more like diluted sugar water than something that will help protect your health. And it also appears that the antioxidant or polyphenol activity found in some of them may be due in large part to the fruit additives used as flavorings, and have little to do with the tea polyphenols.

In a separate study, ChromaDex Laboratory analyzes 14 different bottled teas for their level of catechin content. They concluded that catechin content varies wildly between brands.

Products by Honest Tea and Harney and Sons had the highest level of catechin content. Popular brands such as Republic of Tea, Snapple, Arizona and Ito En contained few antioxidants.

One bottle is 16 ounces. Here are some highlights from the test result:

Honest Tea "Green Tea with Honey"
215 milligrams catechins
Calories 74

Harney and Sons "Organic Green"
183 milligrams catechins
Calories 40

Republic of Tea "Passion Fruit Green"
3 milligrams catechins
Calories 0

Snapple All Natural Green Tea "Asian Pear"
45 milligrams catechins
Calories 120

Arizona Green Tea With Ginseng and Honey
39 milligrams catechins
Calories 175

Now, this study is just a snapshot at a point in time. It is not guaranteed that Honest Tea and Harney and Sons will always contain that many catechins. This is because catechin molecules are highly active, and oxidize easily. If your bottled green tea has been on the shelf for a longer period of time, its catechin content will be lower.

Even taking these test results at face value, it is easy to see why regular steeped tea offers better nutritional value.

The best product, Honest Tea's Green Tea with Honey, has only 215 milligrams of catechins per 16 ounce bottle. In contrast, one serving (about 3 grams) of loose green tea (Chinese Dragon Well tea) has been found to have 300 milligrams of catechins.

And then there is the calorie issue.

How Many Calories?

The main manufacturers of bottled and canned green tea are Nestea, Lipton, Snapple, Turkey Hill, and Arizona. Their products are usually heavily sweetened with corn syrup or fructose.

In health and other specialty stores, you will find other brands such as Honest Tea, Tazo, Sweet Leaf Tea and Ito En. They tend to use more natural sweeteners such as cane sugar and honey.

Now, whether it is corn syrup or cane sugar or honey, they are all refined sugars. They are digested and absorbed into the body quickly, wrecking havoc with the body's blood sugar level, causing uncontrollable food cravings and mood swings. In addition, they all carry 4 calories per gram.

Consider what happens when you steep regular green tea. You get zero calories.

Swiss scientist Dr. Dulloo conducted a human trial in 1999 to investigate how green tea raises energy and increases metabolism. He found that those who drank green tea burn 4% more energy over 24 hours. If you burn 2,000 calories a day, this translates to 80 calories a day. It may not sound a lot, but a daily saving of 80 calories a year will shave 8 pounds off your waistline.

This weight loss benefit would simply evaporate if you were to drink Arizona Green Tea with Ginseng and Honey or most other bottled green teas on a daily basis. According to ChromaDex Laboratory study, this Arizona Tea contains 175 calories per bottle. So instead of shaving 8 pounds off, you are putting on another 10 pounds!

Artificial Sweeteners

Bottled green tea that has been artificially sweetened does not contain any calories, but has its own problems.

Aspartame (also known as Tropicana Slim, Equal, NutraSweet, and Canderel) has been linked to headaches, brain tumors, brain lesions, and lymphoma. Sucralose (also known as Splenda) has been linked to migraine headaches, thymus shrinkage, weight gain and allergic reactions.

While an occasional bottle here or there will not cause any problem for most people, our bodies don't really need these artificial sweeteners. Those who drink high dosages over many years as well as young children are especially vulnerable.

Ascorbic Acid

According to a 2004 study conducted by Cornell University, canned or bottled green tea needs ascorbic acid (vitamin C) to preserve its quality.

"When green tea is bottled or canned, the taste is not as good as fresh green tea. What we were looking to do is improve the flavor quality of it," says Chang Lee, Cornell professor of food science

Lee and his students have isolated epigallocatechin (pronounced eppy-gallow-CAT-akin) (EC) and epigallocatechin-gallate (EGCG) as the major compounds responsible for changes in co lour and flavor when making bottled or canned green tea. Preserving these compounds is important because they are known to have antioxidant and anti-cancer benefits.

There is no health concern with ascorbic acid as a natural preservative. But weird thing can happen when it combines with other artificial preservatives.

Dangerous Chemicals

Bottled green tea may be loaded with artificial colorings and preservatives. Again, children are especially vulnerable.

According to a 2006 report published by the FDA, artificial preservatives such as sodium benzoate have been known to combine with ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and potassium benzoate to form benzene, a known carcinogen.

Another 2007 study conducted by Southampton University in UK reported that artificial colorings are linked to behavioral problems and may be as harmful to children as leaded petrol.

Professor Jim Stevenson from Southampton University, and author of the report, said: "This has been a major study investigating an important area of research. The results suggest that consumption of certain mixtures of artificial food colors and sodium benzoate preservative are associated with increases in hyperactive behavior in children."

Recommendation

Contrary to what beverage companies claim, bottled green tea is not a healthy beverage. An occasional bottle here and there won't hurt, but they contain too few catechins and too many calories/artificial ingredients to be an everyday drink. The important point is to read the label to decipher what your bottle does or does not contain.

It is a sobering thought that even the best brands (such as Honest Tea and Harney and Sons), as indicated by the ChromaDex laboratory test pale in comparison with loose tea.

They have not enough catechins and too many calories. Until a better unsweetened bottled tea comes along, loose-leaf tea (such as Japanese Sencha or Chinese Dragon Well tea) remains your best bet.

References

Rod Dashwood. Oregon State University News Release (2005). Health Issues Uncertain As Tea Sales Boom. http://oregonstate.edu/dept/ncs/newsarch/2005/Oct05/teaprotection.htm.

Men's Health. Which Bottled Green Tea Packs the Most Nutritional Punch? http://www.chromadex.com/News/2008/MensHealth-Article.pdf

United States Food and Drug Administration (2006). Data on Benzene in Soft Drinks and Other Beverages. http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/benzdata.html

Graham Tibbetts (2008). Artificial colourings as harmful as leaded petrol for children. Telegraph, 7 April 2008.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews
/1584172/%27Artificial-colourings-as-harmful-as-leaded-petrol-for-children%27.html

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