While green tea has long been a recommended part of a healthy diet, another brighter shade is becoming increasingly popular: matcha. Here’s what you should know about the beverage.
What is matcha tea?
Matcha is a type of green tea made by taking young tea leaves and grinding them into a bright green powder. The powder is then whisked with hot water. This is different from regular green tea, where the leaves are infused in water, then removed. Drinking brewed green tea “is a bit like boiling spinach, throwing away the spinach and just drinking the water,” says Louise Cheadle, co-author of The Book of Matcha and co-owner of the tea company teapigs. “You will get some of the nutrients, but you’re throwing away the best bit.” With matcha, you’re drinking the whole tea leaves.
Like green tea, matcha comes from the Camellia sinensis plant. However, it is grown differently and has a unique nutrient profile.
Farmers grow matcha by covering their tea plants 20–30 days before harvest to avoid direct sunlight. This increases chlorophyll production, boosts the amino acid content and gives the plant a darker green hue.
Once the tea leaves are harvested, the stems and veins are removed and the leaves are ground up into a fine powder known as matcha.
Matcha contains the nutrients from the entire tea leaf, which results in a greater amount of caffeine and antioxidants than are typically found in green tea.
Studies of matcha and its components have unearthed a variety of benefits, showing that it can help protect the liver, promote heart health and even aid in weight loss.
Here are 7 health benefits of matcha tea, all based on science.
1. High In Antioxidants
Matcha is rich in catechins, a class of plant compounds in tea that act as natural antioxidants.
Antioxidants help stabilize harmful free radicals, which are compounds that can damage cells and cause chronic disease.
When you add matcha powder to hot water to make tea, the tea contains all the nutrients from the entire leaf. It will tend to have more catechins and antioxidants than simply steeping green tea leaves in water.
In fact, by one estimate, the number of certain catechins in matcha is up to 137 times greater than in other types of green tea (1).
One study showed that giving mice matcha supplements reduced damage caused by free radicals and enhanced antioxidant activity (2).
Including matcha in your diet could increase your antioxidant intake, which may help prevent cell damage and even lower your risk of several chronic diseases (3).
The liver is vital to health and plays a central role in flushing out toxins, metabolizing drugs and processing nutrients.
Some studies have found that matcha may help protect the health of your liver.
One study gave diabetic rats matcha for 16 weeks and found that it helped prevent damage to both the kidneys and liver (4).
Another study gave 80 people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease either a placebo or 500 mg of green tea extract daily for 90 days.
After 12 weeks, green tea extract significantly reduced liver enzyme levels. Elevated levels of these enzymes are a marker of liver damage (5).
Furthermore, an analysis of 15 studies found that drinking green tea was associated with a decreased risk of liver disease (6).
However, it’s important to remember that there may be other factors involved in this association.
More research is needed to look at the effects of matcha on the general population, since most research is limited to studies examining the effects of green tea extract in animals.
Some research shows that several of the components in matcha could help enhance brain function.
One study in 23 people looked at how people performed on a series of tasks designed to measure brain performance. Some participants consumed either matcha tea or a bar containing 4 grams of matcha, while the control group consumed a placebo tea or bar.
The researchers found that matcha caused improvements in attention, reaction time and memory, compared to the placebo (7).
Another small study showed that consuming 2 grams of green tea powder daily for two months helped improve brain function in elderly people (8).
Additionally, matcha contains a more concentrated amount of caffeine than green tea, packing in 35 mg of caffeine per half teaspoon (about 1 gram) of matcha powder.
Matcha also contains a compound called L-theanine, which alters the effects of caffeine, promoting alertness and helping avoid the crash in energy levels that can follow caffeine consumption (12).
L-theanine has also been shown to increase alpha wave activity in the brain, which may help induce relaxation and decrease stress levels (13).
Matcha is jam-packed with health-promoting compounds, including some that have been linked to cancer prevention in test-tube and animal studies.
Matcha is especially high in epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), a type of catechin that has been shown to have powerful anti-cancer properties.
One test-tube study found that the EGCG in matcha helped kill off prostate cancer cells (15).
Keep in mind that these were test-tube and animal studies looking at specific compounds found in matcha. Further research is needed to determine how these results may translate to humans.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for an estimated one-third of all deaths in people over the age of 35 (19).
Some studies have shown that drinking green tea, which has a similar nutrient profile to matcha, may help protect against heart disease.
It may also help prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, another factor that may protect against heart disease (22).
When combined with a well-rounded diet and healthy lifestyle, drinking matcha may help keep your heart healthy and protect against disease.
Take a look at any weight loss supplement, and there’s a good chance you’ll see “green tea extract” listed in the ingredients.
Green tea is well known for its ability to enhance weight loss. In fact, studies show that it may help speed up metabolism to increase energy expenditure and boost fat burning.
Another study in 14 people found that taking a supplement containing green tea extract significantly boosted 24-hour energy expenditure, compared to a placebo (26).
A review of 11 studies also showed that green tea reduced body weight and helped maintain weight loss (27).
Although most of these studies focused on green tea extract, matcha comes from the same plant and should have the same effect.
Taking advantage of the many health benefits of matcha is simple — and the tea tastes delicious.
You can make traditional matcha tea by sifting 1–2 teaspoons (2–4 grams) of matcha powder into your cup, adding 2 ounces (59 ml) of hot water and mixing it together with a bamboo whisk. You can find a bamboo whisk at a specialty tea or Japanese store.
You can also adjust the ratio of matcha powder to water based on your preferred consistency.
For a thinner tea, reduce the powder to a half teaspoon (1 gram) and mix with 3–4 ounces (89–118 ml) of hot water.
If you prefer a more concentrated version, combine 2 teaspoons (4 grams) of powder with just 1 ounce (30 ml) of water.
If you’re feeling creative, you can even try whipping up matcha lattes, puddings or protein smoothies to boost the nutrient content of your favorite recipes.
As always, moderation is key. Although matcha is brimming with health benefits, more is not necessarily better.
In fact, liver problems have been reported in some people who drank six cups of green tea daily. This translates to about two cups of matcha tea, since it’s more concentrated than green tea (28).
It’s best to stick to one or two cups per day and look for certified organic varieties to take advantage of matcha’s many health benefits without risking any side effects.
Matcha comes from the same plant as green tea, but since it is made from the entire leaf, it packs in a more concentrated amount of antioxidants and beneficial plant compounds.
Studies have revealed a variety of health benefits associated with matcha and its components, ranging from enhancing weight loss to decreasing the risk of heart disease.
Best of all, the tea is simple to prepare, so you can incorporate it effortlessly into your diet and give your day a burst of extra flavor.
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