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Sunday
Sep052010

Hold the Milk?

Polyphenols called catechins are the antioxidant compounds found in tea that confer its well-known health benefits. They're present in all types of true tea (from the plant Camellia sinensis. Catechin content is the highest in white tea, the least processed type. Green tea has the next highest catechin content, then oolong and, finally black tea.

If you add milk to your tea, the milk protein, casein, binds catechins, making them unavailable to the body. German researchers recently focused on this effect in a small study, which included 16 postmenopausal women who first drank black tea without milk. The investigators found that the tea improved the ability of arteries to relax and expand, increasing blood flow. But when skim milk was added to the tea, this healthy effect was blocked. They also looked at how tea alone and tea with added milk affected blood vessels in rats and observed the same effects seen in the women.

Not surprisingly, this study got a lot of attention in Britain, a nation of tea drinkers, most of whom take their tea with milk. The findings may explain why the lower rates of heart disease and cancer seen in Asians (who traditionally don't add milk to tea) haven't shown up in the UK.

Like tea, cocoa is rich in polyphenols, but of a different chemical class. A study published in the April 2007 Journal of Food Science found that milk proteins don't reduce the bioavailability of the polyphenols found in cocoa. The reasons for the difference in milk's effects on polyphenols in tea and cocoa aren't completely understood. I don't imagine the tea-drinking Brits are going to change their ways and give up adding milk to their tea, but if you really want the health benefits of green tea, you should try to develop a taste for it without milk.

How do you take your tea? Feel free to elaborate in the comments if your preferred additions are not listed here.

Read about My Life with Tea.

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Reader Comments (29)

I wonder why honey is not listed in your poll of foods added to tea?

September 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGin

Yes, I take honey in my tea as well.

September 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKristen

What about soy milk and non-dairy alternatives? Do they have a type of protein that does this?

September 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

I add hazelnut milk and agave to my green tea....mmm!

September 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPaula

Raw honey for me too! Just a bit!

September 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSherry

I think honey counts as sugar. I voted nothing although I do occasionally add "Sugar in the Raw" to green tea only (not white or oolong). milk in tea does not sound good to me.

September 5, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterfluid9sally

Wry interesting. I usually drink the English Breakfast Blend, very strong with a mere splash of semi-skimmed milk. I don't really like milk but it cuts the bitterness of very strong tea. However green tea or Jasmine tea I like on their own.

I would like to know more about this study, it says a small study so I naturally worry about the validity of the study. Just how many people need to be monitored for a study to be a good one? I don't know the answer. But any study which you state, included 16 postmenopausal women, makes me think the study wasn't very big and would now require a larger study before jumping to any big conclusions. I'm not doubting the study, it is interesting to me. I just feel a lot of small studies are used to promote products somewhat misleadingly.

September 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPed

daily, I drink a matcha latte with soy or rice milk and now wonder if I am getting
it's full benefits...any idea if the proteins in these sources bind and negate the benefits
as well?

September 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBach

i drink black tea in the morning with raw honey and cream. I really don't care for black tea without milk, and i'm mostly drinking it for the caffeine, the L Theanine and the comfort/habit factor. In the evening i take green or white tea with nothing in it. As a kid, i always dumped a packet of sugar in my green tea at Chinese restaurants, but now i really prefer to enjoy the subtle tones and flavors of various teas from oolong to gunpowder to silver needle. This article was informative and now i'm glad i still consume the straight green tea almost daily.

September 6, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterrawgypsy

I put agave nectar in my tea

September 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmelia

I use stevia and coconut milk.

September 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRock Star Dog

The almond milk I've been using for a splash in my morning matcha says it's "casein-free"....

September 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAndy

If you get high quality tea and prepare it properly there is no need to add anything.

September 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

Lemon and orange juice increase the bioavailability of catechins from tea, thus providing more beneficial effects.

September 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNMD

I usually put a little agave nectar in my tea....If I don't have that, honey or sugar. I like a little lemon now and again, too. How about rice milk or almond milk in tea? Does that disrupt the healthful benefits, too?

September 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRuthie

I stopped drinking coffee in favor of black tea about a year ago and stopped having menstrual cramps and stomach acidity, and started to sleep better. Yet, i found out that if I drink my black tea (or green tea) without milk it makes me noxious. The news here disappoint me... what do i do to get a bit of caffeine and flavor on a healthy cup?

September 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTeresa

Green tea is fantastic for anti-oxidant protection but also for weight LOSS...in clinical trials either drinking 6 glasses a day or supplementing with green tea extract has been shown to be effective...I have included a video on the topic...be well everyone!!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q2FqA2DctB4

September 7, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjim scheibel

What about real cream? It only has trace amounts of casseins. I'm allergic to milk but not to cream because of casseins. I presume the absorbtion would then be better?

September 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterD

Please somebody weigh in on adding soy or rice milk question to tea~these proteins are not the same as dairy milk protein, they are not animal proteins. Dr. Weil! Help!

September 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEileen

So, can we assume non-dairy milks like soy or rice would not negate tea's health benefits?

September 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLisa Arrow
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