You’ve mastered the art of making the best cup of tea, but is this beverage—brimming with good-for-you polyphenols like catechins (EGCG found in green tea, for example) and flavonols like quercetin—actually dehydrating you?
As Michelle Routhenstein, MS, RD, CDE, CDN, a preventive cardiology dietitian at EntirelyNourished.com, reassures, tea is often misunderstood as a dehydrating drink because it contains caffeine, which is a diuretic, meaning it can increase urine production. “However, the amount of caffeine in tea is generally much lower than in coffee, so its dehydrating effect is relatively minimal,” she explains.
“Tea is surprisingly rehydrating, since it is basically a large amount of liquid with a small dose of caffeine,” echoes Yelena Wheeler, MPH, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist of National Coalition on Health Care (NCHC) in Los Angeles.
With this in mind, you may be wondering if you can rely on your cuppa, say, green or chamomile tea for a hydration lift over water. Or, which comes out on top in the coffee vs. tea hydration challenge? We cover that and more, starting with the overall health benefits of tea.
Health Benefits of Tea
Routhenstein shares that tea, especially green tea, contains antioxidants like catechins, a type of polyphenol, that may help reduce the risk of heart disease by improving blood vessel function, insulin sensitivity, and lowering levels of bad cholesterol. “Regular consumption of tea has been linked to potential heart-protective effects due to its ability to support cardiovascular health through its antioxidant properties,” she says.
Speaking of those catechins, Wheeler zooms in on the high amounts of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) found in green tea. “Polyphenols have been shown to have a positive impact on cognition, mood, cardiovascular health and cancer prevention,” says Wheeler.
Plus, per Wheeler, tea has a lot of anti-inflammatory properties and has continued to demonstrate that its consumption can assist with decreasing blood pressure.
Tea vs. Water for Hydration
Since tea is so good for us, can we drink it in place of water and still hit daily hydration goals? Wheeler says not quite.
“While tea does contribute to your overall fluid intake, it's essential to supplement it with other hydrating beverages, primarily water, for optimal hydration,” says Wheeler.
“Relying solely on tea might not provide all the hydration your body needs,” she continues, noting that while for most individuals, consuming up to three-to-four eight-ounce cups of tea a day is unlikely to cause significant dehydration, it can't be your only beverage.
Wheeler adds that ideally plain water is the most optimal way to maintain hydration. If you’re someone who doesn’t enjoy sipping on plain old H2O, she suggests infusing it with a squeeze of lemon or lime or sliced fruit and/or cucumbers to give it more flavor.
It’s also prudent to remember that since some types of tea do contain caffeine, the recommended daily limit is 400 mg per day.
Does Tea Hydrate More Than Coffee?
In addition to tea being a valid hydration source, it's also considered more hydrating than brewed coffee, since tea tends to have less caffeine.
Roughenstein confirms, “tea is more hydrating than coffee because it contains less caffeine and has higher levels of helpful hydrating compounds like polyphenols and antioxidants, compared to coffee.”
Of course, there may be exceptions. As Wheeler points out, there are various types of teas and their preparations, just as there are various ways to prepare coffee. “Therefore, it is not always apples to apples when comparing caffeine content,” she says, adding that if caffeine is a factor to consider when looking for flavored hydrators, then herbal teas have very minimal caffeine levels while still delivering great taste.
There’s no need to go overboard with your daily tea ritual, either. “Just as with all things in life, tea needs to be consumed in moderation,” says Wheeler. “It can be a great addition to an overall balanced diet due to all of its health benefits and can serve as a great hydration tool.”