For thousands of years, tea has been revered as a refreshing cure-all. The health benefits attributed to tea include promoting weight loss, lowering cholesterol, fighting bacteria, preventing heart disease and even fighting cancer. Is tea really such a powerful substance, or is it over-rated because of its cultural importance?

The Science Behind Tea’s Power

There are several kinds of tea, including green, black, white, oolong and pu-erh varieties. These all come from the Camellia Sinensis plant, which is grown in China and India. The leaves contain polyphenols and flavonoids, powerful antioxidants which are responsible for most of the health benefits attributed to the drink. Antioxidants can help to slow down the effects of aging.

In addition to Camellia Sinensis-based drinks, there are herbal teas that are made from fruits, herbs, roots or seeds steeped in water. These drinks contain a much lower concentration of antioxidants, but have their own health benefits because of the flavonoids and nutrients in them. Chamomile teas have been linked to cancer prevention, and they are also thought to help prevent diabetes-related complications. Echinacea is thought to be effective in fighting the common cold, although research on this topic is inconclusive.

A Truly Paleo Beverage

Traditional teas, if taken black, are a good fit for the Paleo diet. However, it is important to note that this is only true for the “leaves boiled in water” versions of the drink. Iced, creamed, sweetened and flavoured drinks are a different matter. Once you start adding sugars, syrups and flavourings, the potential health benefits are outweighed by the fact that you are essentially consuming empty calories. Be wary of instant teas which contain artificial sweeteners or additional flavourings. The best drinks are the ones made from plain leaves. In addition, stay away from decaffeinated drinks, especially ones that have had the caffeine removed through chemical processes. Caffeine is not harmful if it is consumed in moderation, and it can even be beneficial because it makes you more alert and helps you feel energised. If you are concerned about caffeine making you sleepless, avoid caffeinated beverages in the evenings.

Supplements Are Not Medicines

The FDA has published several warnings about tea-based supplements which contain added aloe, buckthorn, senna or other laxatives. In addition, they advise people to avoid comfrey, ephedra, germander, chaparral, willow bark and lobelia. There is scientific evidence to back up the claim that flavonoids and antioxidants can improve your health and may slow the development of cancer, but teas are not drugs, and any company claiming that their drinks can “fight cancer” or act as a pain killer is on dangerous ground. Drinking large quantities of herbal supplements could damage your liver or kidneys. Herbal medicine is not a good substitute for professional medical advice.

Most popular modern drinks, such as soda, energy drinks and flavoured fruit juices, are not suitable for someone following a Paleo diet. Traditional teas are a great and refreshing option for a Paleo follower who wants a break from drinking plain water.