Leafy benefits

Raise a pinky and pretend to be proper because tea is the new healthy alternative. The health benefits of tea, such as cancer and heart disease prevention, healthy skin and weight loss promotion, are being thrust into the limelight.

The most popular and widely available healthy tea variety is green tea. According to www.green-tea.us, green tea is packed with polyphenols, catechins and antioxidants.

Polyphenols cause the slightly bitter taste in green tea and are the cancer-fighting elements usually found in foods such as strawberries and broccoli.

Catechins are a category of polyphenols that have been shown to slow aging and fight free radicals.

The antioxidant activity of catechins is about 25 to 100 times more potent than vitamins C and E, according to green-tea.us.

According to a March New Scientist magazine article, green tea fights a number of cancers. The epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) antioxidant slows the growth of cancer cells in the lungs, prostate and breasts. The cell growth slowed after drinking just two-to-three cups per day.

If green tea is too potent for your liking, white tea is a great alternative. White tea has a clear, opaque appearance because it is made from younger leaves than the darker types. While green tea is harvested in Japan or China, white tea is almost exclusively made in China. White tea has been reported to have even higher antioxidant levels than the green variety.

Black tea has a much darker, reddish appearance and more robust flavor than the lighter varieties. Like green and white tea, black tea is full of healthy flavonoids. Flavonoids are a type of antioxidant found naturally in plants that help prevent high cholesterol, according to a CNN medical news report.

So far, the negative effects of drinking tea have been minimal, especially if drinking decaffeinated versions. However, studies are still being conducted to determine if the extraction of caffeine lessens the health benefits of the tea.

A recent Prevention magazine article states that you should limit milk in tea to a tablespoon per five-ounce cup. However, sweeteners, honey or lemon have not shown a reduction of antioxidant power when added for taste.

In order to get the most flavor and benefits from tea, it must be brewed properly. The water used should not be hard or contain too much salt or iron. Distilled or bottled water is the best bet. Greentealovers.com suggests adjusting the brewing time to coordinate with the desired flavor. High-end and premium teas taste better when brewed at a lower temperature. Lower-end teas should be brewed at higher temperatures for a shorter period to attain maximum taste and antioxidant release.

Tea must be allowed to cool for a brief period before drinking to allow for the full flavor.

Many companies like Lipton and Arizona are now touting the benefits of their bottled products. While lacking the full potential of the freshly brewed varieties, bottled tea is a good alternative to sugary sodas and energy drinks. So, experiment a little to find which flavor suits you best, and enjoy the natural boost of the plethora of teas available.