I am a proud Gold Level Starbucks member. It wasn’t hard to enter this club, but it took a bit of determination in the beginning. However, once I got the hang of it, I’ve never turned back.
What’s Starbucks Gold? Well, it’s a program that started at the end of Summer, 2008 as a $25 a year membership that gives you benefits for being a loyal customer (despite the fact you’re paying for those benefits). Collect 30 Stars within 12 months and step up to the Gold level for one year.
At Gold level you get:
- A free drink (including bottled items such as Evolution Fresh™ juices) or food item for every 12 stars
- A personalized Gold Card
- Special Offers just for you
Once you’re at Gold level it takes another 30 Stars to maintain Gold level for another 12 months. And since you get a free drink or food reward every 12 Stars, you get at least two rewards for just staying Gold! If you don’t qualify for the Gold level again by your anniversary date (i.e. the date you qualified for the Gold level), you’ll revert to the Green level and lose all your Stars. Don’t let that happen! If it does though, don’t worry—if you earn 30 Stars again within 12 months, you’ll move from Green level right back to Gold level.
Good to know, but why is this even slightly important to life long health? Well, pull up a seat, grab that hot coffee or tea and read on.
Medical science has learned a great deal about cholesterol in the last five years. For decades the whole conversation revolved around drugs like statins to reduce your LDL cholesterol. Now, researchers have found that the amount of cholesterol in your bloodstream is not nearly as important as the type – large or small – and what happens to it while it’s in your arteries. New evidence suggests cholesterol becomes particularly harmful when it is oxidized in your bloodstream, but that these harmful effects may be partially neutralized with powerful anti-oxidants.
Green tea is known to possess some of the most powerful natural anti-oxidants known to man. Let’s take a look at the science behind using green tea to “neutralize” your cholesterol and why it might be an important addition to your heart disease prevention diet and lifestyle.
What exactly is green tea?
True teas (not the various herbal and spice teas that proliferate the store shelves) all come from the leaves of the Camelia sinensis plant. What differentiates the various teas is how the plant is processed after harvesting. Like most plants, tea leaves are naturally green. However, the common black teas are dried and subjected to processes that essentially oxidizes the leaves and turns them “black.” For example, Oolong tea is a popular type of black tea often associated with Chinese or Japanese restaurants. Unfortunately, this oxidation process radically changes the natural chemical make-up of the tea. Green teas are prepared by heating or steaming the leaves in order to inactivate the enzyme responsible for oxidizing them.
What is so special about green tea?
The health effects of green tea are from a special group of natural substances called flavonoids. Flavanoids have been shown to exhibit numerous healthful qualities such as anti-allergic, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, anti-cancer and anti-diarrheal properties. But perhaps its most powerful effect in humans is due to its anti-oxidant properties. Flavanoids exhibit anti-oxidant capabilities far greater than more well-known natural anti-oxidants such as Vitamin C.
But what makes green tea so special is that it is especially rich in catechins – the most powerful anti-oxidant of all the flavonoid compounds. Catechins are also the most readily absorbed flavonoid and account for approximately one-third of the dry weight of green tea leaves.
Compare the total flavonoid content per 100 gram serving of green tea versus many other popular natural sources:
Blueberries: 224 mg
Red Wine: 28 mg
Green tea: 133 mg
But, consider that a typical 8oz “serving” of green tea contains 227g of tea that yields a whopping 302 mg per cup of brewed product. Green tea does contain caffeine – about 25 mg per 8oz cup, or roughly 25 percent that of coffee. It should be noted that flavonoid content for decaffeinated green tea is less than half this amount as many flavonoids are lost in the decaffeinating process. An alternative for those who want a lower caffeine product, but still want to benefit from the health benefit of catechins, is white teas. White teas contain nearly the same catechin content but are much lower in caffeine.
Heart health benefits of green tea
There are numerous studies that tout the benefits of tea consumption of any kind. One 2001 study associated an 11 percent reduction in risk for cardiovascular mortality over 11 years of consumption.
A study of 40,530 Japanese found that that those who drank five 3-4oz servings of green tea per day had a 31 percent reduced risk for cardiovascular mortality compared to those who did not.
A recent combined analysis of multiple clinical studies suggests that those who consumer 5 cups per day or more of green tea reduce their risk for cardiovascular events by 28 percent with those who drank the most enjoying the greatest benefit. No such effect was seen with black tea.
We asked cardiologist Dr. William R. Davis if he could help explain some of the science behind why green tea seems to provide such an outsized cardiovascular benefit. He provided the following observations from several studies he was familiar with.500 mg per day of green tea catechins can reduce oxidized LDL by 18 percent. Interestingly, after reaction with oxidative free radicals, the anti-oxidative properties of the phenolic ring structures in catechins yield an anthocyanin-like class of compounds.Green tea extract has been shown to reduce LDL (calculated), triglycerides, and increase HDL, though effects are modest. There may be a more prominent effect in reducing postprandial lipoproteins; one small study demonstrated 28.7 percent reduction in postprandial triglycerides after 674 mg total green tea catechins. These effects likely derive from green tea catechins’ capacity to inhibit micellization in the intestinal tract (i.e. formation of absorbable forms of dietary fats, and bind cholesterol and increase liver uptake of LDL particles).
- Green tea catechins, 455 mg per day, have been shown to reduce expression of multiple inflammatory markers such as phosphatidylcholine hydroperoxide (oxidation of phosphatidylcholine leads to oxidized LDL particles), CRP, sICAM-1, MCP-1, and TNF-α. Green tea has been associated with reduced urinary and serum measures of oxidative phenomena.
- Green tea has been associated with reduced body weight and visceral fat, both of which can result in improved insulin responsiveness and lipoprotein patterns.
- Green tea improves endothelial function (i.e., increased dilation of the brachial artery) at doses equivalent to two 8 oz cups per day.
- Green tea inhibits the action of inflammatory enzymes, metalloproteinase-2 and metalloproteinase-9 that erode atherosclerotic plaque supportive tissue and are believed to lead to the plaque ruptures of heart attack. Blocking metalloproteinase enzymes may also reduce the growth of smooth muscle cells that underlie plaque growth.
- Green tea modestly reduces blood glucose and hemoglobin A1c (a reflection of prior 60-90 days blood glucose). Green tea inhibits platelet aggregation via reduced arachidonic acid and thromboxane release.
- Weight loss can result with green tea. Pooled data from seven trials demonstrated modest effects, including reduction in BMI of 0.38, reduction in body weight of 0.44 kg (1 lb.), and reduction in waist circumference of 0.49 cm. Total green tea catechin doses ranged from 583 to 714 mg/day administered over 12 weeks, usually with caffeine 21-23 mg. Green tea without caffeine showed no effect on any measure.
- Green tea has been shown to increase energy expenditure.
A carefully conducted study of energy usage in young slender males demonstrated that 150 mg caffeine and 375 mg green tea catechins. Again it was noted that caffeinated green tea was necessary for full effect. Neither green tea nor caffeine by itself was as effective.
Beyond increased energy expenditure, there may be effects on satiety that contribute to the weight loss effect. The protective cytokine adiponectin has been shown to increase modestly with consumption of green tea extract. The activity of fat digesting enzymes, pancreatic lipase and phospholipase A2, are reduced by the high concentrations of green tea catechins in the intestinal tract, slowing or reducing fat digestion. Carbohydrate absorption is also reduced 25 percent by 400 mg of tea catechins.
Whew, that certainly is a mouthful and I’ll leave it to those who want to really dig in to look up all the three-letter acronyms and six-syllable words! But, it is safe to say there is plenty of hard science to back up the health benefit claims of green tea.
What is the best way to enjoy green tea?
As you might imagine, the best way to enjoy the full advantages of green tea is to drink it freshly brewed and caffeinated as decaffeination reduces the flavonoid content nearly 50 percent. Unfortunately, bottled (or canned) green tea available in most supermarkets typically has negligible quantities of flavonoids. If you choose instant teas make certain they are not black teas, which have far lesser quantities of flavonoids.
When brewing your own tea many tea manufacturers recommend steeping the tea for one to three minutes at 150-190° F. However, to maximize flavonoid extraction for heart health purposes three to five minutes may be necessary. There is a trade-off as longer steeping times will also increase bitterness. It is recommended that you adjust steeping time and temperature to match your personal tastes in an effort to achieve both flavor and effectiveness.
Dr. Davis further noted that loose green tea is preferable to most teabags sold in grocery stores since loose tea is made from tea leaves while bags often contain the less desirable fragments. He also suggests that a good alternative to brewing green tea is to grind loose tea in a coffee grinder or food processor to yield an edible green tea powder that contains high levels of catechins as well as the other constituents of the whole tea leaf. However, only small quantities should be consumed as a tablespoon of green tea powder can contain somewhere around 1,000 mg green tea catechins. Green tea powder is easily added to smoothies, spinach dips, condiments, sauces, and other recipes.