If you’ve become bored with your “same old, same old” morning coffee or tea, it’s time to stir things up a bit! Here are three brewed drinks that you might try to revive your taste buds and give you some health perks at the same time.
Matcha tea is a powdered green tea from Japan. Matcha has been used for centuries as part of traditional Japanese tea ceremonies; recently, its popularity has spread like wildfire, thanks to its beautiful green color, flavor, and possible health benefits. Matcha is basically green tea leaves that are stone-ground into a fine powder. In part because of the work involved in making matcha, it tends to cost more than many other types of tea.
What makes it healthy?
Polyphenols. Matcha contains antioxidants called polyphenols. These natural substances are linked with preventing some diseases, such as heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer. In addition, polyphenols can help lower blood pressure and possibly help boost metabolism (meaning, you burn more calories).
Caffeine. Matcha contains more caffeine than a regular cup of tea. While you may not think of caffeine as being good for you, it actually does have a few redeeming qualities. For example, caffeine is a natural pain reliever, it can give your workout an energy boost, it helps keep you alert, it can sharpen your memory, and it may even lower your risk of skin cancer. Caffeine may even be helpful in protecting against Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.
L-theanine. L-theanine is an amino acid that can promote a state of relaxation and well-being (it’s not a surprise, then, that monks in Japan drank matcha during their meditation practice). This amino acid is actually found in all types of tea, but matcha contains higher amounts. L-theanine may also help improve concentration and memory and act as a damper to prevent matcha’s caffeine content from making you too jittery.
A teaspoon of matcha powder contains about 12 calories and 2 grams of carb.
As beautiful and beneficial as matcha is, there are a few considerations to keep in mind. First, if you decide to purchase matcha, make sure you buy a traditional matcha powder, and not a mix, which could contain sugar. Also, watch out for high-calorie drinks, such as smoothies or lattes that contain matcha. Expect a somewhat high price tag for quality matcha. Second, go easy on how much matcha tea you drink, as it does contain lead. Third, the taste of matcha may be somewhat acquired: it can have a strong grassy flavor. And fourth, if you’re not a big fan of tea, you can sprinkle matcha powder onto (or into) your foods, such as yogurt, eggs, or fish, for example.
Speaking of tea, another type of tea you might be interested in sipping is pu-erh tea. Pu-erh tea is a Chinese tea made from fermented Camellia sinensis leaves (the same leaves used to make black, green, and white tea). However, pu-erh tea is “super” fermented in that it’s aged (much like wine) after the leaves are processed. The longer the leaves are aged, the better (supposedly) the benefits. Some pu-erh teas are very old and expensive (again, like a fine wine). This tea is often packed into cakes or bricks; a piece is broken off to brew into a cup of tea.
What makes it healthy?
Caffeine. Like matcha powder (and other types of true tea), pu-erh tea contains caffeine, although the longer it ages, the less caffeine it may contain.
Antioxidants. Studies show that pu-erh tea has higher concentrations of antioxidants than other types of tea, and other research has shown that this tea can halt the growth of tumors.
Lovastatin. Lovastatin is a substance that helps to lower cholesterol levels. Oddly enough, pu-erh tea contains lovastatin, and in rat studies, it was shown to lower cholesterol levels.
Pu-erh tea can vary in flavor, depending on how long it’s allowed to ferment. The flavor may be grassy or more mellow. A musty smell or taste may be due to bacterial or mold contamination. The good news is that pu-erh tea contains no calories and no carbs — unless you add sugar or milk!
If tea isn’t your, well, cup of tea, you might be interested in an “alternative” form of coffee (especially if you’re a chocolate fan). Brewed cacao is pretty much like brewed coffee, except that it’s made from cacao beans instead of coffee beans. Cacao beans are the unprocessed beans from which cocoa and chocolate are made.
Cacao beans are roasted and then ground; they can then be made into a hot beverage that has a chocolate flavor and aroma — but without all of the calories and carbs.
What makes it healthy?
Flavonoids. Flavonoids are types of antioxidants that have anti-inflammatory and immune system benefits. Specifically, they’re thought to protect against cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.
Theobromine. Theobromine is a substance that’s similar to caffeine and that is found mainly in cacao beans. Like caffeine, it can act like a stimulant, but in a milder manner. It may also lower blood pressure levels and relax bronchi muscles in the lungs, helping with breathing and with coughing.
Caffeine. Brewed cacao does have caffeine, but in smaller amounts compared to coffee.
You can brew cacao using an auto-drip coffee maker or a French press. It’s best made with boiling water to help bring out the chocolatey flavor. A popular brand to look for is called Crio Brü. Enjoy this beverage hot or cold. An 8-ounce cup contains 13 calories and 2 grams of carb.
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Amy Campbell: Amy Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition and Meal Planning and a frequent contributor to Diabetes Self-Management and Diabetes & You. She has co-authored several books, including the The Joslin Guide to Diabetes and the American Diabetes Association’s 16 Myths of a “Diabetic Diet,” for which she received a Will Solimene Award of Excellence in Medical Communication and a National Health Information Award in 2000. Amy also developed menus for Fit Not Fat at Forty Plus and co-authored Eat Carbs, Lose Weight with fitness expert Denise Austin. Amy earned a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from Simmons College and a master’s degree in nutrition education from Boston University. In addition to being a Registered Dietitian, she is a Certified Diabetes Educator and a member of the American Dietetic Association, the American Diabetes Association, and the American Association of Diabetes Educators. Amy was formerly a Diabetes and Nutrition Educator at Joslin Diabetes Center, where she was responsible for the development, implementation, and evaluation of disease management programs, including clinical guideline and educational material development, and the development, testing, and implementation of disease management applications. She is currently the Director of Clinical Education Content Development and Training at Good Measures. Amy has developed and conducted training sessions for various disease and case management programs and is a frequent presenter at disease management events.
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