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Best Tea for Your Health

tea

When it comes to drinking tea, every culture in the world has its own opinion of what’s the healthiest. So among all the varieties out there – black, green, white, red, herbal, oolong – plus the mixes and blends at gourmet tea shops, which one TRULY offers the most health benefits?

Overall, studies have found that different types of tea offer similar and unique health benefits. Here’s why:

Polyphenols – Some studies have shown that the polyphenols present in tea may reduce the risk of certain cancers, prevent blood clotting, and lower cholesterol levels. There’s also been support that drinking tea improves our body’s immune system, helping us to fight off colds and viruses.

Did You Know?

Black, Green, White, and Oolong teas are all derived from the same tree known as Camellia sinensis. The difference between these four varieties is simply the amount of processing it goes through. The more processing, the darker the leaves, the darker the tea. Not surprisingly then, white tea is the least processed and it is derived from young leaves that are silvery white because they are too young to have developed chorophyll, the component of plants responsible for their signature green color. Don’t be mistaken though, just because black, green, and oolong teas go through more processing that results in a different taste profile and color, all of them contain polyphenols. This means you’ll experience the same health benefits no matter which type you choose!

What About Matcha?

Personally, I LOVE Japanese matcha because of the rich depth of flavor and it’s vibrant color. And while a hot cup of traditionally brewed matcha green tea is incredible in its own way, I have welcomed the addition of matcha in modern delights such as lattes, ice-creams, and baked goods too. The unique health benefit of matcha is that is contains an antioxidant called epigallocatechin gallate (short name=EGCG). This EGCG compound is over 100 times greater in Japanese matcha than in brewed Chinese green tea because matcha powder is produced by grinding entire tea leaves from the Camellia sinesis plant. The EGCG compound not only performs as a free radical fighting antioxidant in our bodies, but it’s been shown in some studies to improve weight loss by increasing the body’s ability to metabolize fat.

How About Rooibos and Herbal Tea?

Interestingly, rooibos tea and herbal teas are not technically teas. This is because they are brewed infusions made with herbs, flowers, roots, spices, or other plant parts that are not derived from the leaves of the Camellia plant. Therefore, these two types of “tea” (actual technical name would be “tisane”) do not have polyphenols and their associated health benefits. Having said this, rooibos and herbal “teas” are plant-based, which means they have their own naturally occurring antioxidants that protect themselves against extended sun exposure. This means rooibos and herbal teas are still a great choice, especially in comparison to juice or pop when it comes to quenching thirst.

Decaf or Regular?

When it comes to caffeine, a healthy rule of thumb is to have no more than about 2 cups of coffee or tea a day (1 cup = 250mL = 8 ounces). The reason for this is because caffeine can interrupt sleep, make us pee more frequently (which can make us lose important minerals and electrolytes such as calcium, chloride, potassium, and sodium).

A cup of tea can provide about 20 – 87mg caffeine.
A cup of coffee provides about 173mg caffeine.
The recommended daily limit for caffeine is 300mg per day.
Note: Don’t forget that caffeine is present in chocolate, soft drinks, and energy drinks too. So if you’ve been told by your physician that it’s really important to watch your caffeine intake, always read the ingredients label of your food product to make sure. This is especially important if you’re pregnant and have been told by your doctor to limit your caffeine intake. (Caffeine can interfere with the mother and the fetus’ sleep and high intake has been associated with higher rates of miscarriage even though there’s not enough evidence to know for sure at this time.)

Iced Tea or Hot Tea?

Expert researchers have found that the healthful polyphenols in brewed tea are consistently many times higher than bottled tea beverages, which sometimes contain no polyphenols after processing. So whenever you can, choose to drink hot teas. And don’t wait until it cools too long because polyphenols degrade and disappear as it is steeped in hot water, so drink it while it’s hot (without burning your tongue, of course!) to enjoy the highest level of benefit.

This post is dedicated to Miss Iris Chau for her thoughtful question of “Which Tea is the Healthiest?” on our Facebook fanpage. Thanks Iris!

Love Chinese Food but Not the Salt and Fat?

chinese food menu

I love Chinese food. And I know many of you do as well.

 

One of the best things about Chinese food recipes is that they’re packed in flavor from the deliberate blending of sauces, spices and oils, matched with culinary skilll to turn ordinary ingredients into masterpieces. The upside is deliciousness. The downside is that many of these seasonings and cooking methods are high in salt and fat, both of which aren’t great for your heart’s health.

 

A high intake of salt can cause your body to retain more fluid, which means there’s more volume for the heart to pump, causing a rise in your blood pressure. Eating too much salt can also worsen the condition of people with edema, which is an abnormal buildup of fluid in the body, typically in the ankles and lower limbs. The daily recommended intake level of salt for healthy adults is 2300mg, which is just shy of 1 teaspoon. You can bet your bottom dollar you’ll exceed this level when dining out at a chinese restaurant unless you make very health conscious decisions.

 

Also, many chinese food dishes require vegetable oils (typically canola or sesame oil), which are healthy fats that are great in moderation, but not so much when used in excess because it leads to weight gain and a rise in blood cholesterol levels.

 

So what is a chinese food lover to do? Well, cooking from home is a great way to start. This way, you have complete control over how much fat and salt you put into each dish and can read the nutrition facts label of prepared condiments to make a lower salt and fat choice. The Heart and Stroke foundation have a great list of heart healthy chinese food recipes for you to follow, including:

 

Tips for Eating Out

Most chinese menus have decent english translations now, but few have made the effort to list out healthier options that are better for you and your family. So until more chinese food menus take on a heart healthy approach, you’ll have to be more proactive when eating out if you want to cut down on fat and salt.

 

Ask for…

  • Roasted, grilled, baked, poached, or broiled pork, fish, or poultry
  • Fresh, steamed vegetables (ask for the oyster sauce on the side)
  • Low-sodium soy sauce (usually has a green lid instead of a red one)
  • Plain, steamed rice instead of fried rice or noodles
  • No monosodium glutamate (MSG) and easy sauce or sauce on the side

 

 

Now that we’re doing the nutrition part of things, here is some interesting pieces of chinese food history you may not have known.

 

Northern and Southern China has its own unique Chinese food culture. Chinese recipes from these two distinct regions provide a looking glass into the history of the nation. Let’s just say Chinese food calories were not the main concern when recipes were developed. More so, it was about using readily available ingredients, usually low cost and creating something filling, and indisputably delicious. As well, did you know?

 

Northern Chinese Cuisine

  • Cuisine originates in the Imperial court, so food must be “fit for an emperor.”
  • Emphasis on light, subtle flavors and the best ingredients.
  • Preserved foods and hearty foods cooked with lots of oil are common due to short growing season.
  • Herbs and spices that are commonly used: scallions, fresh ginger root, garlic and chili peppers, vinegar, star anise, cinnamon, pepper, sesame oil, and dried Chinese black mushrooms.

 

Southern Chinese Cuisine

  • Abundance of produce, seafood (fish and shellfish), and meat (poultry and soy products).
  • Famous for seafood (often steamed fish), and glazed pork and duck (golden red “roasted duck”).
  • Popular fruits and vegetables: taro root, eggplant, tomato, leafy greens, and tropical fruits such as man-goes bananas and litchis.
  • Common condiments: hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, plum sauce, sweet and sour sauce, black bean paste, shrimp paste. 
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Spice Up Your Health with Indian Food

traditional indian food

Traditional Indian food is filled with amazing spices and ingredients that are not only delicious, but may also carry health benefits as well! A little while ago, my colleagues and I did a project where we researched how common spices used in South Indian cooking may be beneficial to your health. Here’s a quick synopsis of common spices using in cooking Indian food.

 

Fenugreek is commonly used to flavor chutneys. It is thought by some to aid in digestion and hyperlipidemia as well as diabetes management. Some studies have shown that fenugreek may decrease blood glucose levels. It has also been shown in some studies to decrease triglycerides and increase HDL (healthy cholesterol). More studies are needed to be done to come to a conclusion about fenugreek and its health benefits.

 

The Bottom Line: There’s no harm in taking fenugreek, but there’s no hard science saying its beneficial. Flavor-wise though? Awesome.

 

Cinnamon is a spice that is often used in South Indian cuisine to flavor curries, not just Indian desserts! Traditionally cinnamon has been used to tackle gastrointestinal complaints. More recently, cinnamon’s claim to fame was in helping to manage type 2 diabetes by improving glucose and insulin metabolism. It has been shown that cinnamon may improve blood pressure, but this is more consistent in poorly controlled type 2 diabetics.

 

The Bottom Line: No harm in taking cinnamon, whether that’s in curry, baking, or beverages. As for how much to take daily, more research needs to be done to decide on an optimal dosage. Never take cinnamon in place of your usual diabetes and heart medications.

 

Garlic is used in the many traditional South Indian recipes to add flavor to dishes (i.e. rice dishes). Garlic is known for its heart healthy benefits. However, studies show that garlic may reduce total cholesterol only modestly and it cannot be recommended for management of hypertension (high blood pressure). Overall garlic is unlikely to prevent cardiovascular disease on its own. But adding garlic to your meals will help flavor your meals and result in lower salt intake, which WILL lower your blood pressure.

 

The Bottom Line: It is important to be aware that there are drug interactions (for example, with warfarin) when taking large doses of garlic. Ask your doctor if you’re a garlic lover or if you’re taking garlic supplements.

 

Not all Indian food menus or buffets will list the ingredients of each dish. So if you’re interested in what’s in the food and to get another perspective of spices that make up a huge part of Indian food history, ask a friendly server who is knowledgeable or at least willing to ask the chef for you.