Okay, this is going to be one of those ‘did you know’ beginnings. Did you know that a lot of the tea that was dumped into Boston harbor during the Boston Tea Party was, in fact, green tea? This is because until the early decades of the 20th century, green tea was a far more popular import into the United States than black tea. And of late, the wheel has turned full circle as the popularity of green tea as a weight loss aid gains ground, making it the beverage of choice in large parts of the Western world, whereas earlier, its consumption was more widespread in the Far East.
In fact, in many Asian cultures, green tea has a proud tradition as a healing beverage. There is archaeological evidence to prove that green tea has been consumed in this part of the world for close to 5,000 years, and that India and China were the first countries to grow it. Traditional texts indicate that green tea has been medicinally used in countries like India, China, Japan and Thailand to help everything from healing wounds to regulating blood sugar and promoting digestion. Spot the green tea-weight loss link here? Happily, modern science has started to recognize these properties too, which has led to widespread research on green tea, adding to its popularity.
Before we proceed further, you need to know that green tea is tea (L. Camellia Sinensis) in its purest form, which means that it has undergone minimal oxidation while processing. So while all tea (black or green) comes from the leaves of the Camellia Sinensis tree, green tea undergoes less fermentation and is therefore much lighter than other (black) teas, usually a pale green or yellow in color.
Green tea and weight loss
In 2000, scientists at the University of Chicago’s Tang Center for Herbal Medicine Research announced that a major chemical component of green tea caused rats to lose up to 21 percent of their body weight. Rats injected with epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) derived from green tea leaves lost their appetites and consumed up to 60 percent less food after seven days of daily injections (Source: University of Chicago Medical Center press release).
Yet another study, the results of which appeared in the January 2005 issue of American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, established that people who drank green tea extract every day for three months lost more body fat than those who drank regular oolong tea for the same period. The researchers said that catechins, which are crucial ingredients found in green tea, could cause weight loss by stimulating the body to burn more calories and thereby decreasing body fat.
Now that scientists have gone such a long way toward establishing a link between green tea and weight loss, corporate entities are not to be denied a great marketing opportunity. Therefore, in 2006, we had Coca-Cola in collaboration with Nestlé launching the green tea energy drink Enviga, which is said to have not zero, but negative calories, but this is not yet a scientifically proven fact. Lipton followed suit with its Green Tea (150 mg of natural antioxidants per serving).
Does green tea weight loss really work?
Whatever the current state of the scientific research involving green tea and weight loss, the fact remains that green tea is rich in catechin polyphenols, particularly EGCG, a powerful antioxidant which, besides stimulating the body to burn more calories, also lowers LDL (or bad) cholesterol levels. As nutritionist Becky Harman says, “All tea contains polyphenols, which are natural substances that possess antioxidant, anticancer, and antiviral properties. And green tea is even better because it is not processed as intensively as black tea, which leaves the ECGC pretty much as they are.” How far wrong can you go with something like that?
But I digress. My objective was to show you whether green tea weight loss works. With apologies, I must direct your attention to yet another scientific study, this time emerging from the University of Geneva. In December 1999 (yes, its’ a little far back), scientists in the United States and Switzerland published the results of a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and Urology, claiming that certain ingredients in green tea promote weight loss, among other things.
I have chosen this particular study because it seemed to me the most definitive in terms of demonstrating the weight loss benefits of green tea. The control (or sample) group for the study was a team of men whose average age was 25 and whose body types were ‘lean’ to ‘mildly overweight’. The journal article said that all the men were on a standard diet of about 13% proteins, 40% fats and 47% carbohydrates. For six weeks, the men took two capsules of either green tea extract + 50 mg of caffeine, 50 mg of caffeine only, or a placebo (properly defined as “a preparation that is pharmacologically inactive but which may have a therapeutic effect based on the power of suggestion”).
In the end, based on their findings, the University of Geneva scientists reported as follows: “Green tea has thermogenic properties and promotes fat oxidation beyond that explained by its caffeine content per se. The green tea extract may play a role in the control of body composition via sympathetic activation of thermogenesis, fat oxidation, or both.” Allow me to translate: drinking green tea equals burning lots of fat.
What was that bit about caffeine?
Having talked only about the pros of green tea, it would be unfair to neglect the cons. Sharp-eyed readers may have spotted by now that green tea contains caffeine (in accordance with the ancient principle of All Good Things Come At A Price). However, it actually has less caffeine than black tea, and if you keep your green tea intake down to two or three cups (300 to 400 mg if you prefer green tea extracts) per day, you should be in the clear.
That still leaves quite a few people — heart patients, those with kidney disorders, stomach ulcers, and anxiety disorders – who should not drink green tea. The same applies to pregnant and breastfeeding women. And anyone on any kind of medication should consult a doctor or qualified nutritionist before drinking green tea.
All other weight loss aspirants are free to indulge in green tea. Of course, if you’re the kind who gorges on double burgers and then expects green tea to pack the excess fat, forget it. As with all other weight loss techniques, green tea will work wonders given the right conditions, so follow a healthy diet, drink green tea, and watch the fat run!