BEHIND THE SCENES OF FOOD LABELING

SHORT ABSTRACT:

  • What are the differences between the labels organic, “green”, eco, bio and natural?
  • The three main reasons for purchasing organic products are concerns related to health, product quality, and environmental protection.
  • When we are talking about the “organic” labels, we must differentiate between “organic”, “made with organic (specified ingredients)” and “100% organic”.
  • “Green products” differs from organic products in the controlled and limited use of synthesized fertilizer, pesticide, growth regulator, livestock and poultry feed additive and gene engineering technology.
  • The USDA provides guidance on “natural” labeling on meat and poultry, but there is no formal rule. The FDA also does not have a formal rule to ensure the consistent and meaningful use of the “natural” labeling claim. 
  • Eco-Agriculture is an ecological rather than an industrial approach to food and fiber production. It represents a sophisticated system of farming, and offers farmers an alternative to increasing dependence on petrochemical inputs.
  • The Governments’ policy for bio-food production encourages farmers to avoid using synthetic agro-chemicals and move to eco-friendly crop production, pesticide-free production, bio-farming, zero budget/natural farming and permaculture.
  • Permaculture involves integrated farming methods that are based on principles learned from the study of natural ecosystems.
  • Biodynamic farming is a method of organic agriculture, which recognizes farm as a living system, and where one activity affects the other.

 

Is food really just food? Should you eat something because it does or does not have a certificate that is “eco”, or “bio”? And what about “natural” and “organic”? Are these words representing the same thing?

Yesterday I went to a store and what I noticed was that, we are overexposed to commercials that poke our eyes with colorful leaflets of “perfect for your body” food or “100% natural!”Sure.

Customers’ trust is everything these days, after all, the relationship between the industries and customers is mutualistic: the industries feed the customers and the customers feed the industries. It’s never-ending. Labels on foods can easily influence customers’ way of thinking and their choices. But, do they buy a good product?

 

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Choosing the right food to eat is a complicated task. I know how this sounds – if our food source was limited, like in places where there is famine, drought or floods, we would be more grateful for everything in our lives. Still, we are surrounded not by one type of product, but by millions of choices within a type of product.

Take for example – milk; in the nearby store, these choices are available: cow milk, pasteurized milk (full cream, reduced fat, skim milk, calcium enriched, calcium and iron enriched, flavored…), goat milk, sheep milk, organic milk… One big shelf in the store – all reserved for milk. And other products? You’ve been in your nearby store, so you know what I’m talking about!

 

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A research shows that most consumers have difficulty understanding the information provided by both – FOP (front –of – package) and BOP (back – of – package) food labels. (1)

Let’s find out what really hides behind the terms “bio”, “eco”, “natural” and “organic”.

ORGANIC – THE REAL DEAL

 

The three main reasons for purchasing organic products are concerns related to health, product quality, and environmental protection.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), an organic label suggests to the consumer that a product was produced using certain production methods. In other words, organic is a process claim rather than a product claim(2)

Organic agriculture is regulated under various laws and certification programs. It is unique, because all synthetic inputs are restricted, and “soil building” crop rotations are administered.

The specific goal of organic agriculture is to strengthen sustainability. But, some negative effects may occur, which means that the production system is not an exclusive method for sustainable farming. The soil and water protection and conservation techniques of sustainable agriculture used to combat erosion, compaction, salinization and other forms of degradation are apparent in organic farming.

Properly managed organic farming reduces or eliminates water pollution and helps save water and soil on the farm (although incorrect use of manure can severely pollute water). A few developed countries urge or sponsor farmers to use organic techniques as means to fight water pollution (e.g. Germany, France).

 

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Organic farmers rely on natural pest controls (e.g. biological control, plants with pest control properties) rather than synthetic pesticides which, when applied wrongly, are known to kill beneficial organisms (e.g. natural parasites of pests, bees, earthworms), cause pest resistance, and often pollute water and land. Reduction in the use of toxic synthetic pesticides, which the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates to poison three million people each year, should lead to improved health of farm families. (2)

When we are talking about the “organic” labels, we must differentiate between organic, made with organic (specified ingredients) and 100% organic.

 

  • 100% organic – can be used to label any product that contains 100 percent organic ingredients (excluding salt and water, which are considered natural). Most raw, unprocessed farm products can be designated “100 percent organic.” Similarly, many value-added farm products that have no added ingredients—such as grain flours, rolled oats, etc.—can be labeled “100 percent organic” as well. (3) 
  • Organic label means that a product contains a minimum of 95% organic ingredients (excluding salt and water). Up to 5% of the components may be nonorganic agricultural products that are not commercially available as organic and/or nonagricultural products that are on the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances. (3) This list identifies the synthetic substances that may be used and the non-synthetic (natural) substances that may not be used in organic crop and livestock production. It further identifies a limited number of non-organic substances that may be used in or on processed organic products. (4)
  • Made with organic (specified ingredients) can be used to label a product that contains at least 70 % organically produced ingredients (excluding salt and water). There are a number of detailed restrictions regarding the ingredients that form the nonorganic portion. The remaining 30% of ingredients do not have to be certified organic; federal standards ban the use of genetic engineering, irradiation and sewage sediment for all ingredients. (3)(5) 

“GREEN” FOOD – ALMOST AS STRICTLY REGULATED AS ORGANIC

 

What about “green” food? According to government classification standards, that type of food is produced without certain pesticides and fertilizers and with biological methods. (2) 

 

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So, “green products” differ from organic products, in the controlled and limited use of synthesized fertilizer, pesticide, growth regulator, livestock and poultry feed additive. The primary driver of demand for “green food” is the lack of confidence in the safety and quality of produce, along with improvement in living standards and the expansion of the middle class. (6) 

NATURAL – FAKE

Next – we jump to the “Natural” category. According to the USDA, the “natural” label can be placed on a product “containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed (a process which does not fundamentally alter the raw product). The label must explain the use of the term natural (such as – no added colorings or artificial ingredients; minimally processed.)” This label in no way refers to the way an animal was raised, or if the animal was raised without hormones or antibiotics. (7)(8)

 

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This is why the label has to include a statement explaining the meaning of the term “natural” (such as “no artificial ingredients; minimally processed”). (8) 

Also, there is no organization behind the label. Each company can determine its own definition for the “natural” labeling claim. There are no standards as well. The USDA provides guidance on “natural” labeling on meat and poultry, but there is no formal rule. The FDA regulates processed food, produce and most fish, but again – the agency does not have a formal rule to ensure the consistent and meaningful use of the “natural” labeling claim. So, the label “natural” is not meaningful at all. (9)

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By Srijankedia [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The label “Natural”, however, must not be confused with the label “Certified Naturally Grown”, which is a whole different ball game. If you see this seal displayed at a farmers’ market, farm stand, or your local farm, it means that the farm’s methods are similar to those of a certified organic farm. The differences in the standards are minor, the main difference is in how those requirements are verified. There are fewer requirements for record-keeping compared with organic certification, since there is no annual review of records by a certification agency.

The bottom line is that the seal signifies that the farmer shares a commitment to farming procedures that build soil health, do not rely on synthetic pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, animal drugs, and GMOs, and provide humane living conditions for farm animals. This type of food is yearly inspected by another farmer, a local extension agent, or three of the farm’s customers. (10)

ECO – NOT WHAT YOU THINK

 

Eco-Agriculture is an ecological rather than an industrial approach to food and fiber production. It developed in the 1930s (but the term was first used in 1970 by Charles Walters who was an economist, author, editor, publisher, and founder of Acres Magazine) partly in response to recognized natural phenomena and partly in reaction to the dominance of mechanism and specialization. Today, it represents a sophisticated system of farming, and offers farmers an alternative to increasing dependence on petrochemical inputs. Eco-Agriculture minimizes adverse environmental effects and promotes soil conservation and construction. (11)

 

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Photo by Tim Mossholder from Pexels

Consumers believe that “eco-labeled” products taste better, which, at least in part, may be an effect of the label. However, studies show that there is almost no difference in taste between foods produced by eco-agricultural methods and conventional foods.

In a recent set of experiments, participants were asked to taste two cups of coffee. The cups actually contained identical coffee, although the participants were told that one cup was “eco-friendly” coffee and that the other was not. A systematic taste-preference bias for the eco-friendly alternative was revealed, especially in participants with a generally positive view toward eco-friendly consumer behavior. The participants were also ready to pay more for the “eco-friendly” coffee. Similar findings were achieved with other products, as well. The results point toward the same conclusion: an eco-label tends to enhance the taste sensory evaluation of consumable products. (12)

BIO –MORE COMPLICATED THAN YOU THINK

When we talk about “bio” it usually means that we’re talking about foods that are produced through organic farming.

The word “bio” is thrown everywhere these days. There’s bio-fuel, bio-farming, bio-food, bio-pesticides, bio-dynamic farming….

We’re gonna talk a bit about permaculture and bio-dynamic farming.

Consumers are concerned over the negative impact of agro-chemicals, which is why over the years the demand for safe fruits and vegetables has increased.

The Governments’ policy for bio-food production encourages farmers to avoid using synthetic agro-chemicals and move to eco-friendly crop production, pesticide-free production, bio-farming, zero budget/natural farming and permaculture. 

Permaculture is standing out among the various forms of sustainable farming. It involves integrated farming methods that are based on principles learned from the study of natural ecosystems. It aims to bring food production closer to consumers, restore soil fertility, and cultivate land in such ways, that maximize long term productivity, while minimizing artificial inputs and effort. It depends on small-scale, land and energy-efficient, multi-cropping systems, by which it avoids and reverses problems caused by modern agriculture. Permaculture encourages the cooperative approach, and build communities around food production. It supports healthy and sustainable food habits. (13)

 

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 photo credit: Local Food Initiative Vegetable garden Permaculture via photopin (license)

 

In the 1920s, an Australian philosopher by the name Rudolf Steiner, created the term biodynamic farming. It is a method of organic agriculture, which recognizes farm as a living system and where one activity affects the other. The term “biodynamic” comes from the Greek word bios meaning life and dynamikós meaning power. Hence biodynamic farming means “working with the power that creates and maintains life”.

BD farming has two main characteristics: using certain farming inputs from various herbal, mineral and raw materials processed in complex ways and finally applying them in small and minimal doses on soil and crops; and observation of rhythms in nature which go beyond the most obvious influences of sun, weather and season – we’re talking about lunar, planetary and stellar constellations. (14)

 

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Biodynamic farms aim to become self-sufficient in compost, manure and animal feeds, and additionally, an astronomical calendar is used to determine favorable planting, cultivating and harvesting times. This is how BD farming differs from organic farming.

BD farming includes organic agriculture’s priority on manures and composts and prohibition of the use of artificial chemicals on soil and plants. The farming practices are learned through experience and from other farmers.

Biodynamic agriculture assumes that the farm is an organism, an independent entity with its own individuality. Integration of crops and livestock, recycling of nutrients, maintenance of soil and the health and well-being of crops and animals are all priorities of BD farming. The farmer, too, is considered as part of the whole. (14)

People need to be aware of where their food comes from. We live fast paced lives, and sometimes, we think it’s impossible to eat healthy or live “green”. It all starts with a shift in consciousness. Although, it is impossible to isolate ourselves from pesticides (which are literally everywhere around us), it is less difficult to choose unprocessed foods, fresh fruits and veggies. Start small, but think big… about health and environment.

“When health is absent, wisdom cannot reveal itself, art cannot manifest, strength cannot fight, wealth becomes useless, and intelligence cannot be applied.”

~ Herophilus

 

REFERENCES:

  1. Temple, Norman J. et al.: Food labels: A critical assessment. Nutrition. 2014. 30 (3): 257 – 260. 
  2. FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations). Committee on Agriculture, Fifteenth Session, Rome, 25-29 January 1999: Organic Agriculture. Online Source: http://www.fao.org/docrep/meeting/X0075e.htm (27.04.2018).
  3. USDA (United States Department of Agriculture). Agricultural Marketing Service: Organic Labeling Standards. Online Source: https://www.ams.usda.gov/grades-standards/organic-labeling-standards (27.04.2018). 
  4.  USDA (United States Department of Agriculture). Agricultural Marketing Service: The National List. Online Source: https://www.ams.usda.gov/rules-regulations/organic/national-list (27.04.2018). 
  5. Consumer Reports: Made With Organic [Specified Ingredients]. Online Source: http://greenerchoices.org/2016/11/16/made-with-organic/ (27.04.2018).
  6. McCarthy B, Liu HB, Chen T: Green Food Consumption in China: Segmentation Based on Attitudes Toward Food Safety. Journal of International Food & Agribusiness Marketing. 2016. 28 (4): 346-362. Online Source: https://researchonline.jcu.edu.au/39263/9/39263%20McCarthy%20et%20al%202015.pdf (27.04.2018). 
  7. Online Source: http://www.twinoaksfarm.net/what-do-food-labels-really-mean (27.04.2018).
  8. USDA (United States Department of Agriculture). Food Safety and Inspection Service: Meat and Poultry Labeling Terms. Online Source: https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/food-labeling/meat-and-poultry-labeling-terms/meat-and-poultry-labeling-terms/!ut/p/a1/jZDNCsIwEISfxQcI2doqepSCtFVbRNSYi6ya1kCblCYq-vRaREHxp7unZb5hh6GcMsoVHmWGVmqFeX3z7hqm0HX6PkRJ3xlCGC-mycj3oTfr3IDVDyB2G_q_zAD–aMGD9rVxJ9klJdo90SqVFOWCUtQmZOoDGWp1jtiMBX2TFLcWmL2QtiHkONG5FJllBUCa9eOlPqQ2-r8lIgVVWH-A0vKX-OCc9swdmdeEMUuJN478KHPO_C9sLKYs8t4EIAMW1dofMrM/#14 (27.04.2018).
  9. Consumer Reports: Natural. Online Source: http://greenerchoices.org/2016/11/16/natural-label-review/ (27.04.2018).
  10. Consumer Reports: Certified Naturally Grown. Online Source: http://greenerchoices.org/2017/08/07/certified-naturally-grown/ (27.04.2018). 
  11. Merrill MC: Eco-Agriculture: A Review of its History and Philosophy, Biological Agriculture & Horticulture. 2012. 1. (3): 181-210. 
  12. Sörqvist P, Haga A, Langeborg L, Holmgren MWallinder M, Nöstl A, Seager PB, Marsh JE: The green halo: Mechanisms and limits of the eco-label effect. Food Quality and Preference. 2015. (43): 1-9. Online Source: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0950329315000312 (27.04.2018). 
  13. FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations): Strategic Plan 2016 – 2020 for the Non-Sugar Sector. 2016. Page: 43. Online Source: http://extwprlegs1.fao.org/docs/pdf/mat159356.pdf (27.04.2018).
  14. Nabi A, Dr.Narayan S, Afroza B, Mushtaq F, Mufti S, Ummyiah HM and MM Magray: Biodynamic farming in vegetables. Journal of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry 2017. 6. (6): 212-219. Online Source: http://www.phytojournal.com/archives/2017/vol6issue6/PartD/6-5-383-396.pdf (27.04.2018).
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TOP 10 HEALTHY REASONS TO BE MORE PASSIONATE ABOUT TRAVELING

SHORT ABSTRACT:

  • How does travel affect our mental health or our health in general?
  • What exactly is mental health? Mental health involves our emotional, psychological and social well-being. It determines many things, like – how we interact with others, how we make choices, how we handle stress.
  • 10 reasons why traveling is good for us.

 

First, Happy New Year! 

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via GIPHY

A month ago, I went to Munich and then a week after that, I traveled to Florence, Luca and Pisa in Italy. I don’t have to mention that I love traveling, do I? I traveled by train and by bus. I love the conversations I have with people, I love meeting new people, I love observing how people interact with each other and how they are dressed. Don’t worry, I’m not a weirdo. I don’t stalk people or scarily stare at them. But, as a writer, I love observing everything and I love reading.

 

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Can you guess, which one is me? 

 

These two travels made me think: how does travel affect our lives, or more accurate question that popped in my mind was – how does travel affect our mental health? What are its benefits to our health in general?

What exactly is mental health? Mental health involves our emotional, psychological and social well-being. It determines many things, like – how we interact with others, how we make choices, how we handle stress. It also affects our thoughts, feelings and actions. A good mental health does not only mean an absence of depression, anxiety or other psychological issues. A dose of anxiety and feeling blue from time to time is a normal occurrence in life. How we handle those disturbances can tell a lot about our mental well-being. A good mental health means having an appetite for living, to laugh and have fun, to have the ability to deal with stressful situations and bounce back on one’s feet quickly after being knocked down, to have a sense of meaning and purpose in life, to be flexible to change, to know when to work and when to play, to be able to build and maintain relationships, and to have a good dose of self-confidence and self-esteem.

 

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So, the question here would be, can travel boost all those good characteristics? And, I’m not talking about losing your luggage in a foreign airport. It sounds stressful (although, I actually enjoyed solving that problem (long story), my mom did not – again, long story… It happened in Paris… No, wait… It really is a long story. I better save it for another day!)

So, let’s dive in – 10 reasons why traveling is good for us:

1. We learn through travel.

Traveling gives the opportunity to collect useful information about other people’s culture, language, cuisine and traditions. According to a study published in the Journal of Hospitality, Leisure, Sport & Tourism Education, travel has the potential to create dynamic situations of learning, (1) in which one learns not only about the foreign land, but also a lot about self. In a nutshell, travel can help us learn many things about our own view of the world and of life. Priceless knowledge.

 

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2. Travel improves our social skills.

Humans are social creatures. We communicate in multiple ways multiple times a day. We don’t just communicate face-to-face, but also through phones, radios, videos, etc.. We sometimes communicate even when we don’t realize it, and therefore, even the shiest, introverted person communicates with the world, one way or the other.

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As a solo traveler or as part of a group (friends or tourist agency group) we improve our social skills. We often start with a small talk, and soon find ourselves sharing opinions and learning new information. We observe body language and learn to analyze it. We observe manners and tone and volume of voices. All of this helps us learn a lot of things about ourselves and the people around us.

3. We develop new skills.

This one is especially directed to those people who plan their own journey without using a travel agency. Now, this doesn’t mean that people who travel with travel agencies don’t learn new skills. They probably do. But, when people plan a journey by themselves, they are directly responsible for time management, documents, finances and transportation.

 

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There is no one to show you the way, you have to find it by yourself. There is no one to tell you, that certain places are opened or closed at a particular time, you have to find that out by yourself. In short, solo travelers, or groups of travelers who plan their own journey, are somehow forced to concentrate and think in different ways than tourists who are following a tour guide. To sum things up – we learn how to solve problems on our feet and unlock skills we thought we never had in the first place. How cool is that?!

4. Adventure. 

Sure. We are not all the same. Some people don’t like adventures. (I’m not one of those people). But studies have pointed out that adventures can have direct positive impact on subjective well-being and perceived stress. Benefits of adventures are, according to numerous evaluations, a more positive self-concept and increased self-esteem. (2)

 

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5. Increased creativity.

We are so accustomed to our environment, that even if there is something creative in it, like a building or new appliances, new cars, we might not even recognize their potential. Our lives are busy and happening fast. We don’t have time for noticing things that don’t help us move forward… Or do we? We cannot let the world around us become invisible to us! So, we escape. For a short while. Outside of our comfort zone, we are more concentrated on what’s going on around us. All our senses are heightened and awoken, and when that happens, creativity slowly starts streaming in our brains, until it runs free. When that happens (at least for me), it represents an epitome of freedom and internal piece.

 

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6. Making new friends.

This one goes hand in hand with our social skills. But, when we travel, it is inevitable that we will meet new people. Some of them will be our companions only for a short time (for example while we sit in a train or a bus), and with some people we will just…click. Making friends is not easy. Ironically, in the 21st Century, the time of social media and hyper-communications, many people feel disconnected more than ever. Stepping out of one’s shell is never easy, or comfortable, but you know what they say about the comfort zone – great things never came from there. Not even friendships.

 

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7. Memories!

Traveling gives us moments to remember. I will never forget my trip to Munich and my trip to Italy. Munich and Florence are majestic cities! Love Pisa as well. The architecture, the history behind it, the people, the fun – all of it worth visiting, all of it unforgettable!

 

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8. Increased productivity.

When we travel, our must-does and to-does are muted. In this day and age, we usually work for a minimum of 40 hours per week, and after a while we run out of juice. But instead of sleeping in, going on a journey for a few days, away from everything is not a bad idea, right? It will clear the old thoughts and replace them with new ideas. Excessive working hours can negatively affect sleep quality, and inadequate sleep habits can potentially cause health problems. (3) A study, published in the Journal of Occupational Health, has found that an overtime work is an important factor of cardiovascular disease and obesity. (4) Quality of both – work and life, in these cases, drops and therefore productivity decreases. This is why taking a time off is very important.

 

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9. Bigger self-esteem.

This one is especially true for those people who decide to travel alone. The fact that they have to find a way in and out of any situation by themselves is a big boost to the self-esteem. Solo traveling is often times (at least for me) related to feelings of personal freedom (you go wherever you want, whenever you want), relaxation (nothing better than a single-bed hotel room and a relaxing bath or hot shower without anyone knocking on the door for you to hurry up), and personal discovery – I have learned a lot about myself through solo traveling.

 

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10. Diversity. 

This is my favorite part, so I saved it for last. When we travel we are introduced to greater diversity of population. It’s interesting and amazing to see so many cultures, races and religions living together in one place. Like a garden with beautiful flowers. Someone once said: The beauty of the world lies in the diversity of its people. I agree.

 

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REFERENCES:

  1. Roberson DN Jr.: Learning While Traveling: The School of Travel. Journal of Hospitality, Leisure, Sport & Tourism Education. 2018. 22: 14-18.
  2. Mutz M, Müller J: Mental Health Benefits of Outdoor Adventures: Results From Two Pilot Studies. Journal of Adolescence. 2016. 49: 105-114.  
  3. Afonso P, Fonseca M, Pires JF: Impact of Working Hours on Sleep and Mental Health. Occupational Medicine. 2017. 67(5): 377–382. 
  4. Kawada T: Long Working Hours and Obesity with Special Reference to Sleep Duration. Journal of Occupational Health. 2014. 56: 399-400.

 

 

 

 

ARE HEALTH BENEFITS OF OUR DAILY CUP OF TEA REAL?

SHORT ABSTRACT: 

  • Chemistry of tea: what exactly is in our teacup? Fresh tea leaf is extraordinarily rich in the flavanol group of polyphenols (catechins), which may constitute up to 30% of the dry leaf weight. 
  • Tea and antioxidants. Tea is a major source of flavonoids, which are now well known antioxidants. 
  • Tea and cholesterol. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition has showed that black tea consumption notably lowered serum concentration of LDL (bad) cholesterol, specifically in subjects with higher cardiovascular risk. 
  • Tea and diabetes. Some epidemiological studies also present interesting and optimistic data, which indicate that drinking at least 4 cups of tea per day, regardless of its type, may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by 20%. 
  • Tea and liver disease. A study has shown that tea protects us against non-alcoholic fatty liver disease by limiting hepatic lipid accumulation.
  • Tea and cancer. There are more than ten catechin compounds in tea. Catechins are a group of natural antioxidants, and they suppress DNA damage by enhancing antioxidant enzymes and promoting the repair of damaged DNA. 
  • Tea and weight loss. The topic of the effect of tea on weight loss is not new. A study indicated that taking green tea, capsaicin and ginger co-supplements for 8 weeks among overweight women had beneficial effects on weight, BMI, markers of insulin metabolism and plasma glutathione levels. 
  • Tea and depression. A study conducted in Japan showed that higher tea consumption was associated with a lower prevalence of depressive symptoms.
  • When is tea bad? Some experts claim that having considered the concentration of caffeine, its diuretic properties and the negative effect on iron absorption, the maximum consumption of black tea should not exceed 8 cups per day. 

 

Fresh tea leaf is extraordinarily rich in the flavanol group of polyphenols (catechins), which may constitute up to 30% of the dry leaf weight. Flavanols and their glycosides; depsides, such as chlorogenic acid, coumarylquinic acid; and theogallin (3-galloylquinic acid) –  one that is unique to tea, are other polyphenols present in the tea leaf. 

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3-galloylquinic acid

By Edgar181 (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

On average level, caffeine is present in 3%, along with very small amounts of the other common methylxanthinestheobromine and theophylline.

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Caffeine

By Vaccinationist, via Wikimedia Commons

The amino acid theanine (5-Nethylglutamine) is also unique to tea.

Theanine

Theanine

By Benrr101, via Wikimedia Commons

Tea accumulates aluminum and manganese. In addition to plant cell enzymes, tea leaf also contains an active polyphenol oxidase (an enzyme), which catalyzes the aerobic oxidation of the catechins during black tea manufacture. The enzymatic oxidation generates a lot of compounds, including bisflavanols, theaflavins, epitheaflavic acids, and thearubigens, which give the characteristic taste and color properties of black tea.

 

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There is no tannic acid in tea. Thearubigens compose the largest mass of the extractable matter in black tea, but their composition is not well known.

The catechin quinones also trigger the formation of many volatile compounds found in the black tea aroma fraction.

Green tea composition is very similar to that of the fresh leaf except for a few enzymatically catalyzed changes which occur extremely rapidly following plucking. New volatile substances are produced during the drying stage. Oolong tea is intermediate in composition between green and black teas. (35)

So, now that we know the tea chemistry, we can move on to the part of how tea affects our health. The health benefits of tea are known since the early centuries AD. Tea was such an important part of Chinese Pharmacopoeia, that demand for tea increased greatly by the end of the fifth century. (3) Many people have long believed in the medical efficacies of tea and other herbs, although effectiveness is not rigorously verified in scientific ways yet. (36)

Tea is a natural, low-processed and calorie free beverage. Many studies have been made to determine its effects on peoples’ health. Some studies claim that tea has antioxidative, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, anticarcinogenic, antihypertensive, neuroprotective, cholesterol-lowering, and thermogenic properties(37)

However, to every good news, there are also countering bad news. Figures. There are many studies as well, that have tested the level of contamination of teas, especially with heavy metals and pesticides.

We will have a quickie with both sides – the good one and the bad one. No, it’s not what you think! Dirty mind!

Ok, first – the benefits of tea. We’re talking about the tea from dried leaves of the plant Camellia Sinensis (green, oolong, white, yellow and black tea). Many scientific studies are trying to answer these important questions:

  • Are all teas the same?
  • What exactly are the health benefits of drinking tea?
  • How do the different ways of tea preparation affect the availability of its components?
  • How much and how long should one person consume tea to obtain the health benefits?

 

TEA AND ANTIOXIDANTS

Tea is a major source of flavonoids, which are now well known antioxidants. Tea catechins and theaflavins are, respectively, the bioactive phytochemicals accountable for the antioxidant activity of green tea and black tea. (38) Green tea and green tea extracts, now more than ever, are used in various industrial products, such as cosmetics, foods and beverages. (39) 

Due to fermentation, black tea and green tea have different phenolic compound profile. The main polyphenols in green tea are: (-) – epicatechine (EC), (-) – epicatechine gallate (ECG), (-) – epigallocatechine (EGC) and (-) – epigallocatechine gallate (EGCG). Conversly, theaflavins and thearubigins are the main additional families of polyphenols present in black teas. (40) EGCG, which is viewed as green tea’s most significant active component, is used as its quality marker. (41) 

Epigallocatechin_gallate_structure.svg

EGCG

By Su-no-G, via Wikimedia Commons

The level of polyphenols in the tea plant varies depending on climate, cultivar and processing. This means that the concentration of EGCG varies. Moderate concentrations of EGCG could help people to cope with conditions where the oxidative stress is increased (alcoholic fatty liver, obesity-induced inflammation). (42) Of course, more studies are to be made, to confirm this claim. 

A study published in the Natural Product Sciences Journal, by the Korean Society of Pharmacology estimates, that green tea extract and EGCG together have a bigger antioxidant ability than EGCG taken alone. (43) This is why green tea has been reported to exert beneficial effect against various diseases. It has excellent antioxidant properties and is a great choice of beverage.

Green tea has definitely higher total phenolic and flavonoid content than black tea, which means that green tea has better antioxidant properties than black tea(44)

Oolong tea, yellow tea and white are in the middle, they have more antioxidants than black tea, but less than green tea.

TEA AND CHOLESTEROL

While green tea is the obvious winner in the antioxidant race, black tea and white tea are said to be doing great in the lowering-of-cholesterol-race. It is true, that more studies have to be made in order to confirm this claim, but the number of research papers that show good results increases.

A study published in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition has showed that black tea consumption notably lowered serum concentration of LDL (bad) cholesterol, specifically in subjects with higher cardiovascular risk. (45) Same can be said about white tea, according to a study published in the Journal of Food Chemistry. (46) This does not mean that green tea doesn’t have these properties. Green tea has been suggested to improve cardiovascular disease risk factors, including circulating lipid variables. However, more evidence is needed to confirm this claim. (47)

TEA AND DIABETES

Some epidemiological studies also present interesting and optimistic data, which indicate that drinking at least 4 cups of tea per day, regardless of its type, may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by 20%. (48) Similar results were obtained for coffee, but that’s another story to be told. Of course, diet, lifestyle and genetic predispositions are also in the game here (as well as everywhere else), but we have to do everything that we can, to live a better and healthier life – change diet, do exercise, lower stress… you know the drill. Drinking tea without doing much of anything else will not help. Tea is just a helping tool to get to the wanted results. 

TEA AND LIVER DISEASE

Diet plays a large role in the development of metabolic disorders, including non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, metabolic syndrome, etc… Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is an accumulation of fat in the liver despite a low level of alcohol intake, with signs of hepatomegaly (having an enlarged liver). (49) Metabolic syndrome is defined as a constellation of interconnected physiological, biochemical, clinical, and metabolic factors, which directly increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and all cause mortality(50) 

Liver_01_animation1

By Database Center for Life Science(DBCLS)[2], via Wikimedia Commons

Recently, a study published in the Journal of Clinics and Research in Hepatology and Gastroenterology, indicated that green tea extract did not affect hepatic antioxidant status and lipid metabolism, but protected against non-alcoholic fatty liver disease by limiting hepatic lipid accumulation. (49) Roughly speaking, this means that the green tea extract would limit accumulation of fat in the liver, but would not influence the chemical processes that transform the fat.

Many more studies are giving similar results, however, more long term randomized clinical trials are needed to evaluate the health benefits of tea.

TEA AND CANCER

Many different studies point out at the protective effect tea has on the body, that drinking green tea lowers the risk for lung, breast and stomach cancer, but according to the Food and Drug Administration, study results are so vague, that based on the current state of knowledge it is not possible to acknowledge, that tea may decrease the risk of the mentioned cancers. (48) 

In the Journal Nutrients, scientists published a study about the effects of catechins from the tea on breast cancer. They introduced (somewhat disputing) in vitro and in vivo test results showing the association between green tea consumption and the decreased risk of breast cancer. The results between in vitro and in vivo studies were inconsistent probably because of the low oral bioavailability and the biotransformation of catechins in vivo(51) 

There are more than ten catechin compounds in tea. Catechins are a group of natural antioxidants, and they suppress carcinogen-induced ROS (Reactive Oxygen Species) and DNA damage by enhancing antioxidant enzymes, scavenging ROS, and promoting the repair of damaged DNA. Among them EGCG is the most abundant, and shows the most promising suppressing effects on breast cancer. (51) The role of tea in breast cancer (or any cancer) is uncertain and yet to be proven, but a cup of tea, or two, or three wouldn’t hurt anyone. 

TEA AND WEIGHT LOSS

There are many factors that influence a person’s weight: genetics, lifestyle, stress, gut microbiota, etc, etc… The topic of the effect of tea on weight loss is not new. Some say that tea boosts metabolism, others say its diuretic properties help the body get rid of toxins, and then others theorize that the antioxidants play a role in the process of weight loss. But, we’ve seen that it’s not really that simple. As mentioned above – oral bioavailability and biotransformation of tea components are pretty low, and higher above I mentioned that green tea extract does not influence lipid metabolism, only accumulation of fat in the liver. I’m not trying to be a kill-joy here – there are tons and tons of studies out there about the beneficial effects of tea on weight loss. In fact, a study indicated that taking green tea, capsaicin and ginger co-supplements for 8 weeks among overweight women had beneficial effects on weight, BMI, markers of insulin metabolism and plasma glutathione levels. (52) 

 

teacup-2324842_1920

 

BUT, I’ve said it once and I’ll say it million times – only drinking tea will not get anyone achieve long term results. Tea is a tool, that combined with other lifestyle and diet choices will help anyone achieve their weight goals. 

TEA AND DEPRESSION

Whether tea consumption decreases the risk of depression remains controversial. A study conducted in Japan showed that higher tea consumption was associated with a lower prevalence of depressive symptoms. (53) 

A meta-analysis of eleven studies (22,817 participants with 4,743 cases of depression) showed that drinking 3 cups of tea per day decreased the risk of depression by 37%.

WHEN IS TEA BAD?

We’ve looked at many reasons (not all, there are so many other reasons, but if I write about all of them, these post series will never end) why tea is good for us, and it is time to review some bad aspects of tea drinking.

Tea (especially black tea) contains caffeine. Too much caffeine results in insomnia, increased heart rate and increased stress. Furthermore, the polyphenols from the tea bind the non-heme iron and in that way they reduce its absorption. Black tea tannins inhibit absorption of iron to a larger extent compared to catechins in the green tea. This means that people with anemia should refrain from drinking black tea during meals. (48)

Contamination of food, food products and natural health products is a growing concern. The Journal of Toxicology published a study with results of toxic element testing of off-the-shelf teas sold in tea bags (black, green, oolong and white). They found that most tea samples were contaminated with heavy metals. Unfortunately, there are no guidelines for routine testing and reporting of toxicant levels in teas and other “naturally” occurring products. (54) Hopefully, public health warning will be issued to protect consumer safety.

This one goes for any hot food or beverage, but drinking hot tea, according to a study published in The British Medical Journal (The BMJ), was found to be strongly associated with a higher risk of esophageal cancer. (55)

Black tea will lead to staining of your teeth. It’s as bad as coffee and as bad as red wine. And I still am not giving up any of those things!

So, how many cups of tea should we drink?

Some experts claim that having considered the concentration of caffeine, its diuretic properties and the negative effect on iron absorption, the maximum consumption of black tea should not exceed 8 cups per day. (48)

I think, tea as part of a lifestyle and as part of a meaningful ritual along with its many benefits outclass its few reported negative effects. Tea is a good companion in any time and at any place.

See you again soon!  

REFERENCES FOR THE TEA SERIES (YOU CAN FIND PART ONE HEREPART TWO HERE AND PART THREE HERE):

  1. Hall CM, Sharples L, Mitchell R, Macionis N and Cambourne B: Food Tourism Around the World. Development, Management and Markets. Butterworth-Heinemann. 2003. Page: 125. Online source: http://shora.tabriz.ir/Uploads/83/cms/user/File/657/E_Book/Tourism/Food%20Tourism.pdf#page=138).  (28.11.2017)
  2. Heiss ML, Heiss RJ: The Story of Tea. A Cultural History and Drinking Guide. Ten Speed Press. 2007. Page: 6.
  3. Martin LC and Raymond C: Alternative and Complementary Therapies. 2011. 17 (3): 162-168.
  4. Heiss ML, Heiss RJ: The Story of Tea. A Cultural History and Drinking Guide. Ten Speed Press. 2007. Page: 22.
  5. Ukers WH: All About Tea. Kingsport Press Inc. 1935. Page: 23.
  6. Ukers WH: All About Tea. Kingsport Press Inc. 1935. Page: 49.
  7. Online Source: http://www.tea.co.uk/tea-a-brief-history. (28.11.2017)
  8. Ukers WH: All About Tea. Kingsport Press Inc. 1935. Page: 67.
  9. Chang K.: World Tea Production and Trade: Current and Future Development. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Rome. 2015. Page: 3, 5.
  10. Hall CM, Sharples L, Mitchell R, Macionis N and Cambourne B: Food Tourism Around the World. Development, Management and Markets. Butterworth-Heinemann. 2003. Page: 126. Online source: http://shora.tabriz.ir/Uploads/83/cms/user/File/657/E_Book/Tourism/Food%20Tourism.pdf#page=138). (28.11.2017)
  11. Online Source: https://www.britannica.com/plant/tea-plant. (28.11.2017)
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  13. Online Source: https://hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/duke_energy/Camellia_sinensis.html. (28.11.2017)
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  16. International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour Safety and Health Fact Sheet Hazardous Child Labour in Agriculture. Tea. Geneva. 2004. Online Source: http://www.ilo.org/public//english/standards/ipec/publ/download/factsheets/fs_tea_0304.pdf. (28.11.2017)
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  18. Online Source: http://www.madehow.com/Volume-5/Green-Tea.html. (28.11.2017)
  19. Online Source: https://www.teaclass.com/lesson_0208.html. (28.11.2017)
  20. Online Source: https://www.dethlefsen-balk.de/ENU/10943/Gelber_Tee.html. (28.11.2017)
  21. Hilal Y. and Engelhardt U.: Characterisation of white tea – Comparison to green and black tea. Journal of Consumer Protection and Food Safety. September 2007 (2): 414 – 421. (Online Source: https://www.tu-braunschweig.de/Medien-DB/ilc/w_t.pdf) (28.11.2017)
  22. Online Source: http://www.ethicalteapartnership.org/for-business/global-tea-production/ (28.11.2017)
  23. Hall CM, Sharples L, Mitchell R, Macionis N and Cambourne B: Food Tourism Around the World. Development, Management and Markets. Butterworth-Heinemann. 2003. Page: 121. Online source: http://shora.tabriz.ir/Uploads/83/cms/user/File/657/E_Book/Tourism/Food%20Tourism.pdf#page=138)
  24. Tong L.: Chinese Tea. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK. 2012. Page: 19. Online Source: https://books.google.mk/books?hl=en&lr=&id=q9NYpm7vX-8C&oi=fnd&pg=PA1&dq=chinese+tea+ceremony&ots=2hD-5M2wM-&sig=6ggokAILvd2fpNp1-PHxvUBoNSM&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=tea%20ceremony&f=true (02.12.2017)
  25. Tong L.: Chinese Tea. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK. 2012. Page: 5. Online Source: https://books.google.mk/books?hl=en&lr=&id=q9NYpm7vX-8C&oi=fnd&pg=PA1&dq=chinese+tea+ceremony&ots=2hD-5M2wM-&sig=6ggokAILvd2fpNp1-PHxvUBoNSM&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=tea%20ceremony&f=true (02.12.2017)
  26. Tong L.: Chinese Tea. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK. 2012. Page: 114. Online Source: https://books.google.mk/books?hl=en&lr=&id=q9NYpm7vX-8C&oi=fnd&pg=PA1&dq=chinese+tea+ceremony&ots=2hD-5M2wM-&sig=6ggokAILvd2fpNp1-PHxvUBoNSM&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=tea%20ceremony&f=true (02.12.2017).
  27. Online Source: http://www.realestate-tokyo.com/news/sado-japanese-tea-ceremony/ (03.12.2017).
  28. Online Source: https://www.ohhowcivilized.com/korean-traditional-tea-ceremony/ (03.12.2017)
  29. Online Source: http://www.foodandwine.com/tea/tibetan-butter-tea-cold-weather-breakfast-champions (03.12.2017)
  30. Online Source: https://russianlife.com/stories/online-archive/tea-time-in-russia/ (03.12.2017)
  31. Online Source: http://www.turkishculture.org/culinary-arts/turkish-tea-53.htm (03.12.2017)
  32. Online Source: https://www.german-way.com/the-mysterious-world-of-german-tea/ (03.12.2017)
  33. Online Source: https://www.tea.co.uk/a-social-history (03.12.2017)
  34. Rowland S.: The Heat Denaturation of Albumin and Globulin in the Milk. Journal of Dairy Research. 1933. 5 (1). 46-53 (Online Source: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/journal-of-dairy-research/article/71-the-heat-denaturation-of-albumin-and-globulin-in-milk/358ECEC3211867DEF43C813D9EEE0FE6 (03.12.2017)
  35. Graham HN Ph.D.: Green Tea Composition, Consumption, and Polyphenol Chemistry. Preventive Medicine. May 1992. 21 (3): 334-350. Online Source: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/009174359290041F?via%3Dihub
  36. Eto H, Dey N, Liu, IC, Mahujchariyawong, P & Roy P: Comprehensive Study of Tea Culture and its possible Contribution to Creativity Education in Locals. International Journal of Research in Sociology and Anthropology. 2015. 1 (1): 54-64.
  37. Hayat K, Iqbal H, Malik U, Bilal U & Mushtaq S: Tea and Its Consumption: Benefits and Risks. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 2015. 55 (7): 939-954. Online Source: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10408398.2012.678949
  38. Peluso I, Serafi M: Antioxidants from Black and Green Tea: From Dietary Modulation of Oxidative Stress to Pharmacological Mechanisms. June 2017. 174 (11): 1195–1208.
  39. Shahidi F: Handbook of Antioxidants for Food Preservation. Elsevier UK. 2015. Page: 219. Online Source: https://books.google.si/books?hl=en&lr=&id=LEOdBAAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PA219&dq=antioxidants+in+tea&ots=YTbysq-GbZ&sig=kr2r5DeyyCPnkrhCZpnT8UPT11s&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=antioxidants%20in%20tea&f=true
  40. Shahidi F: Handbook of Antioxidants for Food Preservation. Elsevier UK. 2015. Page: 219-220. Online Source: https://books.google.si/books?hl=en&lr=&id=LEOdBAAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PA219&dq=antioxidants+in+tea&ots=YTbysq-GbZ&sig=kr2r5DeyyCPnkrhCZpnT8UPT11s&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=antioxidants%20in%20tea&f=true
  41. Shahidi F: Handbook of Antioxidants for Food Preservation. Elsevier UK. 2015. Page: 221. Online Source: https://books.google.si/books?hl=en&lr=&id=LEOdBAAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PA219&dq=antioxidants+in+tea&ots=YTbysq-GbZ&sig=kr2r5DeyyCPnkrhCZpnT8UPT11s&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=antioxidants%20in%20tea&f=true
  42. Km HS, Quon MJ, Kim J: New Insights into the Mechanisms of Polyphenols beyond Antioxidant Properties; Lessons from the Green Tea Polyphenol, Epigallocatechin 3-Gallate, In Redox Biology.2014. 2: 187-195. Online Source: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2213231714000056
  43. Kim MJ, Ahn JH, Kim SB, Jo YH, Liu Q, Hwang BY, Lee MK. Effect of Extraction Conditions of Green Tea on Antioxidant Activity and EGCG Content: Optimization Using Response Surface Methodology. Natural Product Sciences. 2016. 22 (4): 270-274. Online Source: https://synapse.koreamed.org/DOIx.php?id=10.20307/nps.2016.22.4.270
  44. Shah S, Gani A, Ahmad M, Shah A, Gani A, Masoodi FA: In vitro antioxidant and antiproliferative activity of microwave-extracted green tea and black tea (Camellia sinensis): a comparative study. Nutrafoods. 2015. 14 (4): 207-2015. Online Source: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13749-015-0050-9
  45. Zhao Y, Asimi S, Wu K, Zheng J, Li D: Black Tea Consumption and Serum Cholesterol Concentration: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials, In Clinical Nutrition. 2015. 34 (4): 612-619. Online Source: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0261561414001678
  46. Tenore GC, Campiglia P, Giannetti D, Novellino E: Simulated Gastrointestinal Digestion, Intestinal Permeation and Plasma Protein Interaction of White, Green, and Black Tea Polyphenols. In Food Chemistry. 2015. 169: 320-326. Online Source: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308814614012151
  47. Samavat H, Newman AR, Wang R, Yuan JM, Wu AH, Kurzer MS: Effects of Green Tea Catechin Extract on Serum Lipids in Postmenopausal Women: A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial. American Society for Nutrition. 2016. Article ID: 137075. 12 Pages. Online Source: http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/early/2016/11/01/ajcn.116.137075.abstract?papetoc&from=groupmessage&cited-by=yes&legid=ajcn;ajcn.116.137075v1&related-urls=yes&legid=ajcn;ajcn.116.137075v1
  48. Wierzejska R: Tea and Health – A Review of the Current State of Knowledge. Epidemiological Review (pl. Przegląd Epidemiologiczny). 2014. 68: 501-506. Online Source: http://www.przeglepidemiol.pzh.gov.pl/files/peissues/Przeg_Epidem_3-2014.pdf#page=108
  49. Shin JH, Jung JH: Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease and Flavonoids: Current Perspectives. In Clinics and Research in Hepatology and Gastroenterology. 2017. 41(1): 17-24.
  50. Kaur J: A Comprehensive Review on Metabolic Syndrome. Cardiology Research and Practice. 2014. Article ID 943162. 21Pages. Online Source: https://www.hindawi.com/journals/crp/2014/943162/
  51. Xiang LP, Wang A, Ye JH, Zheng XQ, Polito CA, Lu JL, Li QS, Liang YR: Suppressive Effects of Tea Catechins on Breast Cancer. Nutrients. 2016. 8(8): 458. Online Source: http://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/8/8/458/htm
  52. Taghizadeh M, Farzin N, Taheri S, Mahlouji M, Akbari H, Karamali F, Asemi Z: The Effect of Dietary Supplements Containing Green Tea, Capsaicin and Ginger Extracts on Weight Loss and Metabolic Profiles in Overweight Women: A Randomized Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial. Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism. 2017. 70: 277-285. Online Source: https://www.karger.com/Article/Abstract/471889#
  53. Pham N, Nanri A, Kurotani K, Kuwahara K, Kume A, Sato M, Mizoue T: Green Tea and Coffee Consumption is Inversely Associated with Depressive Symptoms in a Japanese Working Population. Public Health Nutrition. 2014. 17 (3): 625-633. Online Source: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/public-health-nutrition/article/green-tea-and-coffee-consumption-is-inversely-associated-with-depressive-symptoms-in-a-japanese-working-population/C449CBB1917421AAD3A0DDE26BFFF15E#
  54. Schwalfenberg G, Genuis SJ, Rodushkin I: The Benefits and Risks of Consuming Brewed Tea: Beware of Toxic Element Contamination. Journal of Toxicology. 2013. Article ID: 370460. 8 Pages. Online Source: https://www.hindawi.com/journals/jt/2013/370460/abs/
  55. Farad I, Akram P, Dariush N, Farin K, Saman F, Ramin S et al.: Tea Drinking Habits and Oesophageal Cancer in a High Risk Area in Northern Iran: Population Based Case-Control Study. 2009. BMJ. 338: b929. Online Source: http://www.bmj.com/content/338/bmj.b929

THE ABSOLUTELY THRILLING TEA CULTURE AROUND THE WORLD

This is PART THREE, of the POST SERIES!

SHORT ABSTRACT:

  • Historically, tea played a central role in social and political life. Today, tea culture refers to the way people prepare tea, how they interact with tea and how they drink it.
  • Bellow are presented the cultural tea traditions from around the world.

 

The word “tea” has many connotations. It can refer to a plant, a beverage, a meal service, an agricultural product, an export, an industry, an art, or a dedicated pastime. (23) 

Tea plays an important role in many cultures. But why tea? Historically, tea played a central role in social and political life. Today, tea culture refers to the way people prepare tea, how they interact with tea and how they drink it. Aesthetics surrounding the tea drinking is also very important. Tea ceremonies are beautiful, and each culture has an intricate ritual which honors values, heritage, spirituality and tradition.

Tea ceremonies are not mystic, rather natural and elevated. Some people say, that tea ceremonies in China are like the character of Chinese people – natural and casual, and not restricted by certain patterns. (24) 

The tea ceremony in China consists of many elements, such as: choice of tea, type of water, utensils, time, presentation and manner of drinking the tea. With the popularization of tea, people from different regions and nationalities developed their own unique customs of drinking tea. (25)

Ceremony tea sets in various historical times are different, depending on what was in fashion in those particular times. The tea apparatus must fully exhibit the fragrance of the tea and display its visual aesthetic beauty.  It is also important when and where drinking of tea occurs. (26)

 

 

お茶

Japanese tea ceremony is choreographic ritual of preparing and serving Japanese green tea Matcha. The whole process is not about drinking tea, but about aesthetics, preparing a bowl of tea from one’s heart.

At first tea was prepared and drank only by Buddhist priests and noblemen. In the 13th century the samurai noble warrior class became fascinated with tea preparation, and so tea parties of various sorts became very popular. Eventually, the art of tea ceremony came to be enjoyed by people of all classes. (27)

 

 

The Korean tea ceremony is not as formal as the Japanese and with more natural ease of movement than the Chinese. This means – fewer formal rituals, fewer restrictions, greater freedom for relaxation, and more creativity in enjoying a broad variety of teas, services, and conversation. (28)

 

 

चाय

India’s national drink is called Chai. It is a black tea infused with different flavors (ginger, cardamom, nutmeg, pepper, cinnamon and cloves). It is very popular, and is always offered to visitors in Indian homes, offices and places of business. 

 

 

བོད་ཇ

Drinking butter tea is part of every day life in Tibet. It is called Po Cha in Tibetan and it is made out of tea, water, butter and salt. Tibetan medicine supports the combination of butter and tea as a means of sharpening one’s mind and body. (29)

 

 

Чай

Tea was introduced to Russia in the mid 1600s. It is appealing to the Russian lifestyle because it’s warm and hearty. Typical Russian tea is a combination of two or three types and flavors. The Russian process of tea making is a bit different: first, they produce zavarka – this is a dark, concentrated brew; then, they separately boil water. When they make tea, first they fill the cup with zavarka and then they dilute it with hot water. Zavarka is made in a special pot called samovar. Tea is served to guests as a welcome gesture. (30)

 

 

Çay

Tea was introduced to Turkey in the 1500s, but Turkish people ware not convinced by its specialness. It was given another chance much later – in the 1870s. Today, tea is an important part of Turkish culture. Not only that, but Turkey has one of the highest per capita consumption rates of tea, averaging about 1,000 cups per year. Yes, tea is the king! (And coffee is the queen, together they rule not only Turkey, but the whole world).

Turks use a double tea pot to prepare tea. Water is boiled in the lower pot and loose-leaf tea is steeped in the top pot. This allows each person to drink tea as they desire – strong or light. In some parts of Turkey, people use samovar to prepare tea in.

Turkey is the sixth largest producer of tea in the world. Travel to any town of Turkey, and you are sure to find a tea house or a tea garden. (31) 

 

 

أتاي

The Maghrebi mint tea (in Moroccan Arabic: atay) is a green tea with spearmint leaves and sugar.

It is the traditional drink of Morocco. Similar tea is prepared in Spain and it is called Moorish tea. Tea is a very important part of Moroccan culture. Drinking it in company symbolizes hospitality and friendship.

 

 

Tee

The Frisian tea time was developed in the west part of North Germany. The so-called “Ostfriesentee” is a strong black blend, and it is served in a large porcelain tea pot. The tea pot is warmed up with hot water, which is then discarded. Next, the tea is poured into the pot and offered in small cups made out of thin porcelain. Before serving the tea, a candied sugar is put in each cup, and after the tea is poured in the cup, cream is carefully added to each drink. This makes a beautiful pattern in the dark liquid, called “wulkje” (little cloud). (32)

 

 

Thé

Tea first came to Paris in the 17th Century, a few years before it arrived in London. At first it was used as a medicinal drink. It was given to King Louis XIV for his gout.

France drinks mostly black tea, and although the French tea market is rather small, it is growing steadily. 

 

 

Tea

 

 

Last, but not least – Britain and tea. A love story. 

Tea is synonymous with British culture. Since the 18th century, Britain has been one of the greatest tea consumers. 

British aristocracy was introduced to tea by a foreign (Portuguese) princess named Catherine of Braganza, the queen of Charles II. This was in the 17th century. 

In the early 1800s Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford launched the idea of having tea in the late afternoon to bridge the gap between luncheon and dinner, which in fashionable circles was not served until 8 o’clock at night. 

Later in the 19th century, tea became a very popular home beverage for women. Tea was then drank by all social classes. Rich people’s tea was accompanied by bread or toast, cold meats and pies, eggs and fish. Poor people took their morning tea with bread and butter, or maybe porridge or gruel.

Sometime in the 1860s the afternoon tea became very “fashionable”. Such teas were elegant affairs, with tea drank from the finest china. This became such a big deal, that even today, contemporary manuals on etiquette are full of advice on how to conduct a correct afternoon tea. (33) 

Yes. An instruction book on how to drink and enjoy a cup of tea. Moving on.

In the 20th century, tea played an important part in the lives of British people. During the two World Wars, the government took drastic measures and actions to safeguard the essential morale-booster. (33) They had detailed plans what to do with the tea supplies in case of bombing, ship sinking and so on. Yes – tea is that important to the Brits.

And what about milk in tea? Which one goes first in the cup? Well, there are… theories.

If we pour milk in first and then tea, this will cool the water too quickly, affecting the brewing. This provides you with a pretty lame cup of tea. That is one theory.

Another one is: if you pour milk in last (in the hot tea), it will cause denaturation of the lactalbumin and lactoglobulin (proteins in the milk) (34), which allegedly gives the tea stale taste. Again – lame. 

Some logical reasons as to why these theories are born:

in the old days, they put milk in first, so that the tea cup doesn’t crack when they poured the hot tea in.

And the theory of pouring milk in last? Orwell stated a suitable explanation – the drinker that way regulates the final tea color.

Such a violent debate. Tsk, tsk, tsk…

I don’t put milk in my tea, unless I drink it after 18.00h. Then I pour milk in last. According to the theory stated above, I’m drinking a lame cup of tea with denatured milk proteins. It actually tastes pretty damn good. So, screw the theories and take it from me – drink the tea in such a way that gives you most pleasure. 

TO BE CONTINUED…

References will be written at the end of the post series. 

 

PART TWO: THE BITTER TRUTH ABOUT THE TEA INDUSTRY (POST SERIES!)

SHORT ABSTRACT:

  • In 2013 world tea production was 5.07 million tones and world tea consumption – 4.84 million tones, which means, approximately half of the world drinks tea.
  • In India, most workers on the fields, employed as tea pluckers, are women. In the past 15 years more than 2000 workers have died of malnutrition on the tea fields. 
  • In Africa, male migrant and seasonal labor are the majority of workers, while in Asia women comprise over half the workforce.
  • Children often come to the fields with their parents and pluck leaves as well as help carry crops. They are, among other things, often not considered as employed laborers on the plantation. In India there are children who are born, live and die on the tea plantations. In 2002 IPEC (International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labor) reported that in Tanzania children were working without clothing, which would protect them from cold weather, rain or snake bites.

  • After the plucking and weighing, tea leaves go to factories for processing. In its most general form, tea processing involves different methods and degree of oxidation of the leaves, ceasing the oxidation, forming the tea and drying it. 
  • After processing, tea can be blended with other teas or mixed with flavorants. This changes the flavor of the tea. There are positive and negative sides to adding flavorants to the tea.
  • What are the differences between black, green, yellow, pu’er, oolong and white tea? 

In 2013 world tea production was 5.07 million tones and world tea consumption – 4.84 million tones, which means, approximately half of the world drinks tea – and the numbers just keep on growing. (9) 

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The tea industry consists of a layering of producers, dealers or brokers, distributors and retailers. Tea is now grown mainly in China, India, Sri Lanka (used to be called Ceylon, or British Ceylon), Malaysia, Japan, Africa, South America and some of the former Russian states. Tea may be grown in small tea gardens or in large tea plantations. (10) The most important factors for tea cultivations are: climate (the finest tea comes from a subtropical climate), soil acidity (must be acidic, pH ~5.4 or less) and labor (an acre requires on average 1.5 – 2 workers). Production can be in small units or in large factories. (11)

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TOO MANY TEARS ARE BEHIND THE TEA WE ENJOY EVERY DAY

 

Today, tea is grown as a one-meter bush, for the ease of plucking. The bushes are planted in rows, approximately 1.5 m apart from each other. Each row is approximately one meter from the other. (12) If left undisturbed a tea plant would grow into a 16-meter tree. (13) Tea leaves are plucked mostly by hand, every 7-14 days. This reminds me of the tobacco gatherers in my country:

On cold scales with bronze they weigh it-

but can they gauge its weight-

our tobacco, our troubles,

our salty sweat!




From the dark dim dawns of summer mornings

up to the godless time of winter evenings

greedily it drinks of our sorrow,

our sweat, our blood and our strength.

The yellow-gold makes faces pale

and brings a yellow guest into our chest.




On dew-laden mornings in the first dawn

bowed low in the fields of the place where we were born

listlessly we gather it in.

Pick leaf by leaf

string leaf by leaf

turn leaf by leaf over and press down,

line leaf by leaf gently, sadly

on the long string of beads of sweat

hope with an oath and green fury

with hard stares from cloudy eyes

at the soft leaves all yellow gold

a bitter tale of a life accursed

string on so, soundlessly but clear.

Don't you know this?




The day is come for the weighing-up.

There is no gauge meet, it burrows in the chest

without ceasing, without finding its level

not grief but an oath, and in the clouded eyes

un-summoned rises the tempest.




The scales bear golden leaves

while in the chest rage furious waves

of golden grief, of golden tobacco

of the golden sweat of our hands.
“The Tobacco Gatherers”, 1939 – Kosta Solev Racin (14)

 

The fact that someone out there, plucks leaves of tea by hand, under sometimes impossible heat, so that we would have a cozy Sunday morning, with an amazing beverage, is a reminder of how thankful we should be for everything in our lives, especially that particular cup of tea. 

In India, most workers on the fields, employed as tea pluckers, are women. Many of them are direct descendants of the bonded laborers brought into the gardens more than 100 years ago, but their living conditions are no better than those of their predecessors. They own no property, the houses where they stay belong to the companies, and if the company shuts down (which sometimes happens overnight), they are left with nothing – no food, no water, no money – NOTHING! In the past 15 years more than 2000 workers have died of malnutrition on the tea fields. Too many tears are behind the tea we drink every day – says one leader of an association assisting tea workers in West Bengal. The associations also share, that out of 276 tea estates across the regions of Terai, Dooars and Darjeeling, only 61 have clean drinking water, 107 lack health services and 44 have no latrines – facilities that companies are obligated by law to provide for the workers. (15) This is but one of the countries, whose workers are malnourished, undereducated and near – enslaved.

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Image Source: Pixabay

Plucking tea leaves is most intense during the rainy seasons. During harvesting, many seasonal workers are hired, but often times not legally registered. In India over 1.5 million workers work on tea plantations. In Africa, male migrant and seasonal labor are the majority of workers, while in Asia women comprise over half the workforce. Children often come to the fields with their parents and pluck leaves, as well as help carry crops. They are, among other things, often not considered as employed laborers on the plantation.

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Image Source: Pixabay

The US Department of Labor reported in 1995, that on some plantations in Brazil, workers were not formally registered, and the cost of supplied meals and pesticides were deducted from their pay. Children were exposed to pesticides. They were not equipped with protective clothing or gear to protect them from the sun or snakes in the fields; and no schools were situated near the plantations. (16)

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Photo Credit: Linda DV Tea picking model. via photopin (license)

 

In India there are children who are born, live and die on the tea plantations.

In 2002, IPEC (International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labor) conducted an assessment of tea estates in Lushoto and Rungwe districts of Tanzania. Children there were working without clothing, that would protect them from cold weather, rain or snake bites. They worked on average 8 hours, where 13 year olds carried up to 20 kg of green tea leaves, and 14 year olds up to 30 kg from fields to the weighing stations. It was also listed that children were exposed to toxic herbicides (pesticides). On top of all of that, there were reports that many girls were sexually harassed. (16)

Many complaints were filed by non-governmental organizations and subsequent investigations were made, only to confirm what has been known so far – that the lives of tea workers are severely below standard. Promises have been made to help change their lives, but as we can all see – times and times – those promises are broken.

 

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Image Source: Pixabay

 

What can we do?

We can and should drink tea, because the tea industry is the sole source of livelihood to the workers and we can use our voice to demand change!

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Image Source: Quotefancy.com

PROCESSING …

After the plucking and weighing, tea leaves go to factories for processing. In its most general form, tea processing involves different methods and degree of oxidation of the leaves, ceasing the oxidation, forming the tea and drying it. Each type of tea has different taste, smell, and visual appearance, but tea processing for all tea types consists of a very similar set of methods with some minor variations.

So first comes:

  • plucking,
  • then withering/wilting (enzymatic oxidation starts, water from the leaves is lost and proteins break down into free amino acids. Freed caffeine availability increases. The taste of the tea also changes).
  • Disruption – promoting and quickening of oxidation. The leaves are bruised, tossed and crushed. This releases some of the leaf juices and again – the taste of the tea changes.
  • For teas that require oxidation, the next step is oxidation/fermentation. Leaves are left in a climate-controlled room, where they progressively turn darker. This time the chlorophyll is the one, that enzymatically breaks down. Tannins transform. Oxidation can be stopped at certain percentage or it can be complete (100%).
  • Fixation/Kill-green. This is done when we want to stop the oxidation. Leaves are moderately heated, which deactivates the oxidizing enzymes. 

After processing, tea can be blended with other teas or mixed with flavorants. This changes the flavor of the tea. There are positive and negative sides to adding flavorants to the tea. They can give a whole new dimension to the flavor of the tea, but they can also cover the quality of sub-standard teas. Flavourants usually are: flowers (jasmine, rose), herbs (mint), spices, citrus peel, rum and so on.

So, in light of everything written, what are the differences between black, green, yellow, pu’er, oolong and white tea?

  • Black tea is fully fermented (oxidized). What does that mean? It means that there is bigger quantity of tannins in the leaves, and as a result – the tea is darker. Not all black teas are 100% oxidized, though. Some are partially oxidized (e.g. Darjeeling first flush teas from the Himalayan region) and have lighter color. The steps in the processing of black tea are: withering – rolling – roll breaking – fermentation – firing. (10) (17) 

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  • Oolong tea is partially fermented. The level of oxidation can vary, and the color can range from vibrant green to darker color (just like some black teas). Level of roast is also important. It too affects the color of the oolong tea. The steps in the processing of oolong tea are: a slight withering – fermentation – firing – rolling – brief fermentation again – rolling again – re-firing. (10) (17)

HGY_Oolong_tea_leaf_close

Iateasquirrel at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

  • Green tea is not oxidized, however due to long storage, some green teas can darken as a result of oxidation. Green tea is steamed, rolled and fired in the manufacturing process. (17) (18)

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By A Girl With Tea from USA (Four GreenTeas in White Bowls #1) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

  • Pu’er tea is divided into two types: raw (un-oxidized) and ripened (fully oxidized). Raw Pu’er tea is compressed into a cake. The steps of processing are: indoor withering – Sha Qing (“Kill The Green”) – rolling – sun drying – compressing. Ripened Pu’er cake: indoor withering – Sha Qing (“Kill The Green”) – rolling – sun drying – wet piling – compressing. Carefully aged pu’ers are some of the most expensive teas on earth. (17) (19) The flavor of pu’er is very unique. It has an earthy, woodsy aroma, like a damp forest after the rain, with flavors reminiscent of mushrooms, earthy herbs, leather, hay. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but highly valued in the high society circles in China.

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  • Yellow tea is very rare and expensive. It is un-wilted and un-oxidized (or very lightly oxidized), but allowed to yellow. As a result, it has a different taste than green tea. The steps of processing are: withering – drying – cooling – rolling – storing (in constant humidity, 26°C for 2 hours, during which time the tea changes its color to yellow) – firing (150°C – 160°C) – second firing (200°C) – cooling. Pictures of production process have never been made, as it is highly secret! (17) (20)

Huoshan_Huangya_tea_leaves_close

By Iateasquirrel [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

  • White tea – Currently there is no general accepted definition of white tea and very little international agreement. (21) White tea is the most delicate of all teas. They are usually un-oxidized. White tea production process goes like this: Fresh tea leaf – withering – drying (air drying, solar drying or mechanical drying). Although white tea originated in China, it is now mainly produced in Sri Lanka. White tea has a color of champagne, and the caffeine content is insignificant. (22)

 

Bai_Hao_Yin_Zhen_tea_leaf_(Fuding)

Iateasquirrel at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

TO BE CONTINUED…

References will be written at the end of post series. 

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