Green teas go under microscope

 

San Antonio Express-News

There are plenty of good reasons to drink green tea. Studies suggest it can lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease, some cancers, even diabetes. It can help you lose weight and keep you from gaining it, too. So whether it’s brewed, bottled or taken as a supplement, green tea apparently is good for your health. Trouble is, at least according to recent headlines, what you see may not be what you get.

What those headlines were referring to was a recent study by ConsumerLab.com that measured levels of epigallocatechin gallate in more than two dozen green tea products. Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG from here on) is believed to be the most active of the many good-for-you compounds called catechins found in tea. Green teas tested included those from well-known brewed tea companies Bigalow, Lipton and Celestial Seasonings, bottled teas from Arizona and Snapple and supplements manufactured or distributed by Costco, Solgar and The Vitamin Shoppe.

“We picked products that are popular, along with a smattering of less-well-known ones,” said Dr. Tod Cooperman, president of ConsumerLab.com, an independent lab that has tested nutritional supplements and food products since 1999. (The full list of products tested is at http://bit.ly/WH6eSu). But while many news outlets played the results with scary, "What's in your green tea?” headlines, overall the findings were “not distressing,” according to Cooperman. "You could even call them educational,” he added.

Of the 14 bottled tea and tea supplements that listed levels of EGCG on the label, only three contained significantly less than the amount claimed. The 17-ounce bottle of Honest Tea Green Tea with Honey, for example, had only about two-thirds of the 190 milligrams of the listed catechins, which includes EGCG and other beneficial compounds. (Experts recommend consuming 200 milligrams of EGCG a day for the greatest benefit.)

Among products that don’t list EGCG levels — including all of the brewed teas — findings were more varied. Teavana Green Tea Gyokuro Imperial, sold as loose tea, had 86 milligrams of EGCG per serving, while one bag of Bigelow Green Tea had only 25 milligrams. To get the recommended amount of EGCG, you’d have to drink about 2 1/2 cups of the former, eight cups of the latter. (Helpful hint: Steep tea in hot water for three to five minutes to fully extract the EGCG.) Such variations shouldn’t be surprising, considering that tea is harvested from different regions of the world and at different times of year. Time, heat and light can also degrade EGCG.

In an email, Honest Tea spokesman Dan Forman called the ConsumerLab.com results “misleading,” adding that “we do not know at what point in the product’s shelf life it was tested.” He added that the company has changed its label to list levels of flavonoids instead of EGCG. Flavonoid level, he wrote,“… is a more comprehensive classification of tea-based antioxidants that reflects all types of catechins and polyphenols.”

The company that makes Enzymatic Therapy Green Tea Elite (only 83.2 percent of EGCG found) has also announced it will add an extra 30 percent of EGCG to its products to make up for any loss between the product’s manufacture and consumption.

Despite the failure of several tested products to make the grade, the study was still beneficial, said Mark Blumenthal, founder of the American Botanical Council. “Only a few didn’t pass muster, but it’s important to get the word out that drinking green tea is a healthy choice,” he said.

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