Saturday, January 3, 2015

Healthy Eating: Tea, the Good, the Bad, the Disgusting

For my New Year's resolution, I vowed to cut out all highly processed and chemical-filled foods. I have done a lot of research and one of the first places I plan to start cutting out the chemicals in my food is with my tea.

Tea is a staple in my world. I drink anywhere from 2 to 5 cups a day. I never gave it a second thought until reading an article on 100 Days of Real Food. Which lead me to Food Babe. Which lead me to an article on The Atlantic. Which sent me off to do some real research.

Arguments can be made that 100 Days of Real Food and Food Babe simply read as promotional for certain types of tea. One thing lacking is real sources being sited for their articles. So I did a lot of research. Most of it through Google Scholar (links to REAL scientific studies).

Here is what it boils down to...

Teas are touted around the world as being good for you. You read countless articles about how tea is rich in anti-oxidants and may contain cancer-fighting properties. Tea can provide a magnitude of benefits....stress relief, a pick-me-up for an energy boost, calming to help you sleep. But what is really in your cup?

You can search online and find countless studies about what is really in the tea we drink. It is all fairly simple though.

The Tea Bag
I've found that most tea bags contain things I have no interest in putting in boiling water. (I am in no way saying that these are safe/unsafe, just that I personally will avoid using them.)

Many tea bags contain epichlorohydrin. The EPA states "Epichlorhydrin is used for making glycerine and as a monomer/building block for making plastics and other polymers, some of which are used as coagulant aids in water treatment. It is also used in the paper and drug industries as an insect fumigant." The CDC lists it as a "potential carcinogen" as well as "reproductive effects" and that it targets the "eyes, skin, respiratory system, kidneys, liver, reproductive system." Read more about the uses of epichlorohydrin.

Most brands use what I call a "traditional tea bag." These bags made from wood, that sounds safe enough, right? Unfortunately, it is highly processed and bleached, then chemically treated to neutralize the bleach. 

Another popular tea bag, marketed towards the health/eco conscience is listed as "corn-based" or "biodegradable." A better alternative to chemical laced, plastic, or bleached; however I am anti-GMO, so these bags are a no-go for me as well.  

The final type of tea bag that is common among popular US brands of tea is the mesh pyramid, that brags about the design being ideal for steeping the best cup of tea. I am not going to argue the shape of the tea bag being ideal. I am however going to argue that these "mesh teabags" are made of plastic material. 

Tea Leaves
Like most produce, tea is treated with a vast majority of pesticides to prevent bugs from ruining the crops. Unlike the produce you buy, you cannot wash your tea after purchasing it at the store.

Here is an article about Celestial Seasonings Tea. The study found that 91% VIOLATED US standards for pesticides. The FDA already allows a certain percentage of pesticides, insects/pests, and other less-than-desirable things to slip into our food supply. So not only are their teas full of legally allowed pesticides, they have gone and exceeded that limit. They've also had two prior warnings from the FDA. For me this brand is a definite to avoid.

CBC News in Canada has tested top brands of tea. Their study shows just how many chemicals are in the top brands, many of which we drink here in the USA.

Other Ingredients
Natural Flavors-sounds good right? WRONG. This is one of those tricky things that makes something sound better than it is. Natural Flavors imply anything in natural that can be broken down to taste like what you want. That means the flavor could come from a rock that has been chemically treated. If you have to add "natural flavoring" to something and can't come out and list what it is, you probably want to avoid it.
Artificial Flavors-artificial...enough said.
Soy Lecithin-soy based products. It mostly comes from soy bean oil that is chemically extracted. Again, not something I want in my tea.

What to Look For
Tea Bags: organic bag, non-GMO
Tea: organic, non-GMO

My personal recommendation is to buy a good quality stainless steel tea infuser and buy any brand of organic tea. If you buy tea already in a tea bag, just cut it open and pour the contents of the teabag into the tea ball and steep your tea that way. I prefer a mesh tea infuser just because it helps keep even the finest pieces of tea secure. Or if you're a Keurig lover, just use a mesh reusable filter.

Numi Teas-with prices varying from 27¢ to 89¢ per tea bag, it can become costly if you are an avid tea drinker. However Numi Teas are organic and have a non-GMO, organic tea bag.

Traditional Medicinals Tea- a more cost effiecent brand, averaging between 20¢ and 30¢ per tea bag. However there is a limited variety of flavors to choose from. I have found that Traditional Medicinals tends to brew a very flavorful, almost exceedingly strong cup of tea for my taste.

Rishi Tea - another quality brand, with greatly varying prices based on what type of tea you buy. However Rishi Tea is loose leaf tea, so a tea infuser is required. Or if you prefer, they also manufacture their own tea bags that you can fill yourself.

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