Drinking Tea for Weight Loss?
By Dietitian, Juliette Kellow BSc RD
Most of us enjoy a cup of tea, but could the nation’s favourite drink help us shift those excess pounds?
Forget the latest diet and exercise fads. According to recent hype, it seems losing those excess pounds could be as easy as sitting back and drinking tea all day. It sounds like the perfect solution for a nation that already has a healthy relationship with the teapot – in fact, on average, us Brits get through a huge 165 millions cups of tea day. There’s just one hiccup though – if drinking tea is all it takes to give us Hollywood bodies, why as a nation, are we getting fatter?
Sadly, that’s where there’s a catch. Because it’s not our humble cup of PG Tips or Tetley’s that reportedly has the power to melt away the pounds! Instead, we need to turn to more exotic leaves. And unsurprisingly, it’s A-listers that have led the way!
While everyone from Kate Moss and Kylie Minogue to Madonna and Robbie Williams have been spotted drinking a good old cuppa, some celebs have gone as far as ditching their regular teabag for one that supposedly aids weight loss.
For years, supermodel Sophie Dahl championed the way for slimming brews after she claimed that drinking green tea boosted her metabolism, helping her to drop from a size 16 to a size 12. More recently Victoria Beckman has taken centre stage, following rumours that she drinks pu-erh tea, an ancient Chinese brew that reportedly helps you stay slim and keeps you looking younger!
Burning More Calories
But whilst green tea and pu-erh tea have made headlines thanks to their celebrity followers, they aren’t the only brews that have been linked with shifting those pounds. A quick Internet search reveals there are literally hundreds of teas that claim to help us lose weight – and most of them are about as far away from a cup of Earl Grey as you can get when it comes to taste and expense!
Amongst one of the most popular is Wulong or oolong – a tea that falls somewhere between black and green tea and reportedly boosts metabolism.
Boost Energy Levels and Metabolism
Porangaba tea has received recent media interest following reports that Brazilian babes frequently drink it from beach stands in Rio. The brew, which is made from the leaves of a small tree found in the Amazon, apparently suppresses appetite, boosts metabolism and increases energy levels.
Weight Loss Benefits
Okinawan tea is another variety that frequently gets promoted for its weight loss benefits. But read beyond the hype and it’s simply a variety of green tea that’s frequently drunk by people living on the Japanese island of Okinawa. Granted, the people who live on this island are known for having one of the highest life expectancies in the world and, until recently, have had few problems with obesity.
But experts believe their good health is due to a number of factors including low levels of stress, regular activity into old age and a diet that includes plenty of fish, vegetables and soya – in other words, their longevity and slim figures aren’t just down to drinking green tea. As a more Western way of life is being adopted on the island, obesity is becoming an increasing problem, regardless of tea drinking habits!
Reduce Cholesterol, Detox and Suppress Appetite
Feiyan tea – a Chinese herbal tea that includes green tea, lotus leaves, cansia seeds and vegetable sponge – promises a huge number of health and slimming benefits.
As well as claiming to improve metabolism, marketing materials suggest it will also reduce blood fat and cholesterol, reduce bloatedness, detox the body and suppress your appetite. For a small cuppa, these are big promises that are largely based on unfounded science!
Herbal Tea Weight Loss
Adding to the confusion are the large number of herbal teas that sometimes link themselves with weight loss, thanks to specific herbs they contain. Herbal teas that include dandelion or nettle – two herbs that are considered to have diuretic properties – often claim to eliminate excess water and so reduce weight. Teas that contain fennel – an ingredient that reportedly suppresses appetite – sometimes make claims related to weight loss.
You don’t even need to surf the Net, take a trip to Chinatown or visit your local health food shop to get hold of slimming teas, many are now available in supermarkets. Birt & Tang’s Figuro Herbal Tea is available in Sainsbury's and combines pu-erh tea with cassia tora, apple, water lily leaf, Oriental water plantain, Tianyeju, tangerine peel, notoginseng, Chinese cinnamon and cloves.
And whilst, the product doesn’t blatantly make a slimming claim on its packaging, it does infer weight loss by highlighting that it’s “for people who care about their figures”. Dr Stuart’s Slim Plus, also available from Sainsbury’s, combines fennel with linden leaves, dandelion root, corn silk, galangal root, green oat and natural orange flavour, and claims it’s “a really refreshing way to kick start your day and get into shape”.
But can having a brew really help you lose weight?
It sounds too good to be true – and according to most experts that really is the case. In fact, some herbal teas may actually do more harm than good if they include certain herbs that have potent diuretic or laxative effects. Excessive urination, diarrhoea and stomach cramps may be just some of the side effects associated with some of the more unusual ‘tea’ preparations that can be bought on the Net or from practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine.
Limited Scientific Evidence
There’s also limited scientific evidence to confirm that slimming teas actually work to shift those pounds. To date, most research has focussed on green tea. Both green and black teas come from the same plant – Camelia sinensis – but the leaves are processed differently.
As a result, both teas contain similar amounts of flavonoids, which act as powerful antioxidants in the body. However, because of the processing differences, they contain different types of flavonoids. As black tea is fermented, the flavonoids have a more complicated structure and consist of theaflavins and thearubigins.
In contrast, unfermented green tea contains flavonoids called catechins, which have a simpler structure. The most abundant of these catechins is epigallocatechin gallate or EGCG.
Together with caffeine – which is found in both green and black tea – it’s thought that catechins, and specifically EGCG, are responsible for the slimming effects of green tea. Consequently, research has focussed on these ingredients.
Fat Burning Properties
Sadly though, whilst studies have revealed that green tea may reduce fat and boost metabolism, most work has been carried out in test tubes or animals such as rats and mice. In fact, very few studies have looked at the fat-burning or weight loss potential of green tea in humans – and in many cases, although a positive link has been found between green tea consumption and weight loss, these studies have been poorly designed or included only a handful of subjects.
Bottom line: more well-designed clinical studies are needed to firmly confirm the weight loss benefits of green tea.
Cynics argue that any weight loss benefits are probably down to the calorie savings made by switching from a milky, sugary cup of black tea to a calorie-free cup of green or herbal tea. And in reality, this is a feasible argument. A standard mug of tea with semi-skimmed milk and 1tsp sugar contains 38 calories.
Four cups a day totals 152 calories, adding up to a massive 55,480 calories a year – ultimately, enough to help you lose 16lb in a year if you replaced those mugs with calorie-free green tea! Plus, chocolate digestives don’t taste as good with green tea!
Slimming Benefits Need Investigation
It’s clear that the slimming benefits of tea need more investigation, but that shouldn’t put you off drinking your regular brew. Whether you prefer black or green tea, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that both can potentially benefit health, thanks to the antioxidants they contain.
Health Benefits Clear
Whilst the slimming benefits of green tea remains unclear, a large amount of robust research has focussed on the overall health benefits of flavonoids in tea. As a result, many health experts now suggest that as part of a healthy lifestyle, four cups a day could help to protect our bodies from the effects of free radicals – potentially harmful molecules that can damage cells. In turn, this may help to lower our risk of many health problems including heart disease, cancer, strokes, Alzheimer’s disease and even cataracts.
Tea is a natural source of fluoride, a mineral that’s important for healthy teeth. And even though both green and black teas contain caffeine, health experts say there’s an insufficient amount in a cup of tea to cause a diuretic effect. As a result, both the Food Standards Agency and the British Dietetic Association say that tea counts towards our daily fluid requirement.
So even if a cuppa won’t make you slim overnight, chances are it’s not going to do you any harm. Our advice: put the kettle on, skip the sugar and biscuits and enjoy your favourite brew!
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