Running Buddies

Thursday, June 24, 2010

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Going Green

In an effort to make better health choices and reduce my risk of developing colon cancer and other life threatening diseases, I decide to start small.  Studies suggest that small, sustained changes over a long period of time are more effective than big sweeping changes made all at once, particularly if they are lifestyle changes.

First up, tempering my lifelong love of Southern Sweet Tea (and yes, I think it deserves the capitals...) against the notable health benefits of green tea.  Let me begin by saying that I am not a big fan of green tea.  I tried it once in college during a Japanese art class and it made me gag.  To be fair, that was matcha designed for the tea ceremony and it is very strong compared to the green teas that are the market today.  I have tried commerical green tea since then in various guises but always found it wanting. 

My solution?  I took a page out of my best friend and sweetheart's book and decided to switch over one bag at a time.  First, we switched to decaf.  One painful bag at a time.  Last week I made my sweet tea just like I always do, except instead of seven bags of black tea, I used six black and one green.  That wasn't bad so when I refilled my supply, I moved to five black and 2 green.  Every few days, I add another green and remove a black.  Tonight I am sipping a refreshing glass that started out as three black and four green.  Not bad at all.  As a bonus, I've noticed that the more green tea I add, the sweeter it tastes so I have been slowly decreasing the amount of sugar I add as well, usually by a tablespoon per bag of tea.  It really adds up fast!  I'm nowhere near as awesome as my baby who is to six green to one black and zero sugar, but I am on my way and I'm feeling pretty good about it.  I had a McDonald's sweet tea the other day and it nearly knocked me on the floor.  I used to guzzle that stuff, but now it seems like too much.  I have no doubt that I will still enjoy the sugary sweet nectar once in a while, but for now, I'm pretty happy with my current brew and I think I might even be ready for another level next week. 

The research on green tea is confusing and often counter indicative.  Current scholarship suggests that all tea drinking inhibits folate absorption which can reduce the risk of developing colon cancer by as much as 40%.  Ironically, once cancer is diagnosed, the same quality actually increases the growth of tumors.  As a result, it is important that each person consider their personal health when making the decision to switch over.  Pregnant women, in particular, should avoid drinking an excessive amount of tea due to an increased risk of fetal abnormalities including spinal bifida. 

The added benefits of tea, however, should be considered.  Green tea has been linked to increased metabolic activity and has been shown to help increase weight loss when paired with diet and exercise.  It appears that the lack of fermentation during the processing of green tea may be at the root of these benefits.  "Green tea is particularly rich in a type of polyphenols called catechins. These substances have also been shown to have anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties, but recent research in animals show that catechins may also affect body fat accumulation and cholesterol levels." (Jennifer Warner, WebMD Medical News)  The news is even more encouraging, however.  In addition to these benefits, green tea drinkers have shown better bone density and improved dental health.  The antioxidants in green tea help fight free radicals and cellular damage, antimicrobial molecules may help preserve teeth, antibacterial proteins aid in gum and joint health, and it tastes great too?  Sign me up!

So if you want something simple to help kick start your healthy lifestyle, start GREEN by increasing your intake of green tea.  Be careful, however, as research is ongoing and studies suggest that sugar and sweeteners may counteract the benefits of the tea.  As with all changes, I advocate slow and steady to increase your likelihood of sticking to it. 


I've tasted a lot of green teas and there are a few that really stand out. 

For a basic iced tea, I stick to Lipton Decaffeinated Green Tea.  It tastes great, is readily available, and is reasonably priced.  With rare exception, every grocery store in the country should stock it.

When I want something special, I love Harney & Sons Green Tea with a Thai Twist.  I got mine at the Starbucks in Barnes & Nobel.  It is a soft, delicate tea with a hint of coconut and perhaps a tiny touch of ginger.  I rarely even need to sweeten it and it actually tastes creamy as though it has coconut milk in it.  Sometimes I drink it hot, but I really enjoy it iced with just a touch of honey.  Their website describes it as "An Organic green tea with lemongrass, ginger, vanilla and sweet coconut. A fragrant aroma reminiscent of Thai cooking."

Harney & Sons have a lot of other flavored green teas as well, but my favorite flavored teas have always been from Republic of Tea and when it comes to their greens, they do not disappoint.  Their newest, Sea Buckthorn, is awesome and refreshing plus it is loaded with vitamin C.


Green Tea Shake


1 cup vanilla ice cream
3/4 cup brewed green tea
3 tablespoons white sugar
2 drops green food coloring (optional)
12 cubes ice cubes

1.Combine the ice cream, green tea, sugar, food coloring, and ice cubes in a blender. Blend on high until smooth.
*note:  i like it better with honey instead of sugar and i prefer a frozen yogurt to the ice cream. 

Not a fan of green tea?  That's okay!  White tea is loaded with antioxidant as well, so give it a try!  The main things to consider are caffeine and sugar.  Moderation is always a good thing, but just replacing one drink a day with a powerhouse like green or white tea can make a huge difference in how you feel and reaching your health goals.

Resources: Tea