Matcha green tea is a popular drink enjoyed by health foodies, gourmet chefs, and everyone in between.
Originating from Japan, this frothy tea drink was originally consumed as a mindful component of religious observances and spiritual practices. Today, it’s a staple on most coffee shop menus. Matcha can be enjoyed hot or iced, and many people drink it with sweetener and a variety of milks as a coffee alternative.
Aside from the strong taste and energy boost, it’s also worth considering the many health benefits of matcha. Here’s how matcha can be healthy—and which precautions to consider.
Matcha comes from the same plant as traditional green tea, but it’s prepared differently. Traditional green tea comes from the Camellia Sinensis Sinensis plant. These leaves are heated, dried, and chopped. Once they’re in a tea bag or tea strainer, the chopped tea can be added to hot water and steeped to make green tea.
The same process is followed for matcha, except the leaves are crushed, not chopped. This preparation creates a fine, vibrant green powder that you can stir into water or milk using a wooden or bamboo whisk. This is how matcha is traditionally prepared in Japan, and it helps disperse the fine particles quickly to prevent clumping.
Matcha has a stronger, smoother, and creamier taste than traditional tea. It’s also more concentrated: Drinking matcha means you’re drinking tea leaves directly, rather than drinking their steeping liquid. This preparation difference influences the caffeine content.
An 8-ounce cup of steeped green tea has about 30-50 milligrams of caffeine, while matcha has closer to 70 milligrams. (In comparison, a standard cup of coffee has around 90 milligrams, which can vary depending on strength). This makes matcha more energizing than traditional green tea—but that’s not all. Matcha is also more concentrated with minerals and nutrients.
One of the greatest health benefits of matcha green tea is its high polyphenol content. Polyphenols are micronutrients found in a range of plant foods, including tea. Though research is still emerging around the extensive benefits of polyphenols, current studies show that they contain antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds that promote overall well-being.
The plant compounds in matcha have shown beneficial for elevating immunity and reducing inflammation, which plays a crucial role in disease prevention.
In particular, matcha’s polyphenols may help minimize oxidative stress, which is an imbalance between free radicals (which contribute to disease) and antioxidants (which detoxify the body from free radicals). High-fat diets, smoking, pollution, and exposure to toxins can all contribute to oxidative stress. Moreover, oxidative stress is an underlying factor in many modern diseases.
The polyphenols present in green tea may help prevent cancer in certain circumstances, according to recent research. The anti-carcinogenic effect (meaning they fight cancer) of polyphenols can also make them a suitable treatment alongside chemotherapy.
That’s because they’ve been shown to inhibit tumor development and the aggressive growth of current tumors. Breast cancer, prostate cancer, and colon cancer have all shown to be positively impacted by green tea consumption.
Research has shown that the polyphenols in green tea can help ward off neurotoxicity, which can cause neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia. Specifically, it can inhibit the effects of the beta-amyloid protein that contributes to Alzheimer's disease.
Additional scientific findings show that matcha can improve memory and focus. Matcha also contains L-theanine, a nootropic that can boost relaxation and focus while reducing distraction and tension—especially when combined with caffeine. The calming, attention-boosting effects of green tea have also been shown to lower anxiety.
Matcha has a range of proven health benefits. However, like anything, matcha is best consumed in moderation to avoid potential side effects and health risks.
Matcha has much higher caffeine than an ordinary cup of tea. If you’re sensitive to caffeine, keep in mind that the caffeine count in a cup of matcha is closer to a cup of coffee. Too much caffeine can cause restlessness and exacerbate anxiety.
It can also contribute to insomnia, dehydration, rapid heartbeat, and headaches. Another drawback of drinking caffeine is that it can create a dependency, meaning you need to drink it daily (and increase your intake) to feel an energy boost and prevent withdrawal symptoms, like headaches, dizziness, and nausea.
If you suffer from sleep disorders, anxiety, or migraines, or you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, it’s best to avoid large amounts of caffeine. Certain medications can also interfere with caffeine, so be sure to check with your doctor if you’re not sure.
Perhaps the biggest drawback to drinking matcha is an increase in lead exposure. Green tea plants naturally absorb lead from the environment. When green tea is steeped, the ingestion of lead is minimal. But with matcha, the green tea leaves are consumed directly.
This means that more lead may be consumed directly. There’s also the risk of ingesting heavy metals like cadmium and arsenic. Lead exposure is dangerous in humans. Side effects of short-term lead exposure include headaches, memory loss, fatigue, and general weakness, among others. Long-term lead exposure can lead to chronic abdominal pain, fatigue, forgetfulness, nausea, heart disease, high blood pressure, and kidney disease. Long-term lead exposure can also impede fertility.
Some brands of matcha contain much higher lead content than others. The best way to avoid lead exposure while drinking matcha is to opt for consumer-tested matcha brands without high lead levels. Besides researching the lead content of tea brands, it’s best to limit your intake to one cup of matcha per day.
Matcha green tea has a range of health benefits that exceed traditional green tea. For example, matcha is shown to boost brain health and protect against neurodegenerative disorders. Research also shows that the polyphenols in matcha can boost a person’s defenses against inflammatory conditions, including cancer.
However, matcha is high in caffeine. It also can put a person at risk of lead exposure, which entails a range of damaging side effects. When drinking matcha, be sure to research the brand you’re buying and stick to no more than one cup per day.
Michelle Polizzi, MPW - Contributing Writer, Physician’s Choice
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