In the last decade, research from both the East and the West has set out to uncover the truth behind the claims that green tea and weight loss tea varieties are truly efficient for shifting the pounds. While we’d all like to believe that it’s as easy as boiling the kettle and sitting back for a relaxing brew to achieve a great figure, we have to ask: is that just too simple?
Some teas are believed to help curb the size of expanding waistbands in the US and the UK, including standard green tea and more fancy names like Tava, Wu Long and Chaoji. While those titles can sound inviting, and will almost certainly make tea consumption more attractive, are they really effective?
Before deciphering the myths from the truth, it is worth looking into the history of tea. Bearing that in mind, we also have to take tea’s origins as context for why it may seem to be beneficial for health.
The Rich History of Tea
It is no secret that tea is most commonly associated with China, although the UK has certainly managed to make a claim on the brew considering it is among the world’s top ten tea drinkers per capita.
We have to go back around 4,000 years to appreciate the extensive history of the beverage. Legend has it that Chinese emperor and inventor Shennong liked to boil his water before consuming it to ensure it was clean, which sounds logical. While on a journey across a distant region, the emperor took a rest to enjoy his hot water. His servant set it to boil when a dead leaf from a wild tea bush fell into the pot. The servant failed to notice the water’s brownish colour, served it to the emperor, and luckily enough, he enjoyed it so much it marked the birth of cha, sometimes pronounced more like tea.
So that explains the expression “have a cup of cha”.
The Han Dynasty, an imperial dynasty in China between 206 BC and 220 AD, used the hot brew as medicine and it was also consumed as a pleasurable beverage by the Tang Dynasty (circa 700 AD).
Tea plays a great role in Chinese culture, including in weddings where a parent’s desire for their son to marry is summed up by the phrase “wanting to drink ‘daughter-in-law’s tea”. A traditional wedding ceremony involves the bride and groom kneeling together in front of their parents, who serve them tea. It’s a way for the newlyweds to say thank you to their parents for all they’ve done for them.
The Chinese show appreciation and respect with tea and young people will greet older generations with a hot brew. It is so significant in Chinese culture that you can use a cup of tea as a formal sign of an apology or regret. As such, there is no doubting its important social role in China.
Tea and Japan
Looking a little further afield, one notes that green tea is the traditional hot brew of Japan. Now this specific tea is basically the foundation for all the fuss about the health benefits and metabolism-boosting advantages of weight loss teas.
Green tea also had its roots in China and was enjoyed by the Song Dynasty that ruled between 960 and 1279. The Japanese Buddhist priest Myaon Eisai is famed for bringing green tea across the East China Sea to the shores of Japan.
The tradition of green tea drinking in Japan is less about enjoying the beverage and a lot more about using it as a social tool. The Japanese tea ceremony, known as Sado or Ocha, is all about putting all of one’s attention into preparing the brew and serving it in the right way. It is more akin to a ritual than anything else, especially as there is great significance in how the utensils used to make the tea are placed.
So as we can see, tea is massively important in China and Japan, with its popularity spreading throughout Asia to countries like India, Korea, Thailand and Vietnam. It hit England between 1652 and 1654, when it began to trump ale as the national drink.
With all that in mind, it’s only right to examine some of the facts (and fiction) behind the goodness of green tea and weight loss varieties.
What Does the Research Say?
Research published by the official journal of the European Menopause and Andropause Society, Maturitas, suggested green tea can be beneficial in the fight against cancers such as breast, prostate and ovarian. It may also play a role in reducing cholesterol. The study, from the University of Bristol, also states:
There is no robust evidence to support a reduction in coronary artery disease risk in green tea drinkers.
Let’s pause for a minute there – the research has said green tea could be good for cholesterol but won’t necessarily reduce the risk of heart disease. Okay, this is not directly related to weight loss but it is certainly linked, although the findings are somewhat confusing.
Green tea is renowned for its phenolic content, particularly flavonoids which are believed to aid well-being. Effectively, green tea is said to act as an antioxidant and there seems to be evidence to support this. But is it strong enough or sufficiently effective to help shed weight?
Marketing Jargon and the Facts
Consider Oolong tea, which combines the flavonoids of both black and green tea in a brew that is said to be particularly great for fat-busting. This seems like a promising hot beverage as it uses the best of both teas to promote better health. It is this very idea of bringing together the goodness of numerous tea varieties that has led to a surge in interest in weight loss teas.
How can you argue that matching one great antioxidant with another wouldn’t result in something even better? Take for example a brew like Dragonfly Rooibus Breakfast Tea, as sold by Sainsbury’s. Although this tea doesn’t purport to aid weight loss, it is a good example of a tea that is said to be “rich in antioxidants” which “may support your immune system against free radicals”. This use of the word “may” is paramount as it is merely a way of saying you could still fall ill even if you drink this tea.
The reason teas have to be marketed subtly is effectively because studies have been inconclusive about the benefits of drinking slimming teas. This is not because studies are in short supply. Research has shown it is beneficial for health. It has also proved that its well-being properties are limited. What you have to remember about slimming teas is that they may be backed by evidence that they are good for health, but this is not necessarily linked to weight loss.
They should perhaps be marketed as “well-being teas” instead.
So Why Might Tea be Good for Health?
What you have to understand is that research carried out on the benefits of green tea has largely been focused on Asian study participants. As we have seen, countries like China and Japan have been drinking tea for centuries. If it is good for health, it has had plenty of time to take effect on Asian tea drinkers. But considering it only hit Britain in the mid-1600s, it may yet take time for it to kick in.
Moreover, in the UK or the US, we will tend to drink alternative teas for their health properties. But in Asia, it is far more to do with tradition and culture. It is ingrained in society in many Eastern regions but in the West, we’ve been a lot slower to pick up the trend. But why should that affect how well it works now?
Earlier we stated that it was not only where tea originated that was significant, but also the context in which it developed. That context is the larger diets and drinking habits of the Chinese, Japanese and other Asian countries. Japanese people top rankings of the world’s longest life expectancies at an average of 82.7 years. Look at the UK and it trails at number 15, with the US coming in at 37, with expectancies of 80.1 and 78.2, respectively.
While that may not seem like a hugely significant gap, it is. The Japanese are known for their healthy diets filled with fish and rice, which in moderation are great for weight management. In the UK and the US, we do not have the same reputation for wonderful diets.
What Role Does my Western Diet Play?
There is also that suggestion that when we turn our attention to weight loss, particularly through teas, we are in the mood to lose pounds. That means we switch from enjoying milky tea with sugar to a dairy-free beverage with no sweeteners. Of course that’s going to cut our calorie count and help with weight loss.
The study from the University of Bristol concluded:
There are a considerable number of RCTs (randomised controlled trials) to suggest that green tea does reduce body weight in the short term, but this is not likely to be of clinical relevance
An Expert’s Conclusion
A general consensus among weight loss experts and scientists appears to be that drinking green tea at the very least will do you no harm. It could even be good for your health. But will it result in a reduced waistband? Perhaps in the short term, but not as a long-term strategy.
Diet and fitness expert Laura Williams summed up the benefits of slimming teas as well as any research could by saying:
Studies have shown that green tea can help to boost metabolism but you probably need to drink at least three cups a day, and some argue that it’s the caffeine content that does this.
Put simply, there is just not enough substantiated evidence to support the idea that drinking green tea or slimming teas truly results in weight loss.