By now you’ve probably seen matcha on the menu at your favorite coffee shop. It’s been a buzz on the health scene for sometime now. But does matcha offer any health benefits? Is this tea worthy of all the attention or is it just a health fad? Well, let’s just say matcha is no exception to the rule that states “if it’s green it’s good.”
To convince you to add this grassy green tea to your caffeine rotation, we got a cup full of reasons why it’s so good for you, according to research and experts. Here’s what to know.
What exactly is matcha?
Matcha is simply the powdered form of green tea leaves (that are traditionally grown in Japan in the shade) and specially harvested, which results in the deep green color. Like white, black, green, and oolong tea, matcha is made from the tea plant, Camellia sinensis.
Traditionally, about a teaspoon of matcha powder is mixed with two ounces of hot water in a bowl and vigorously whisked (with a bamboo whisk if you want to keep it authentic) and then sipped from the bowl. Drinking matcha may be trendy now, but it’s an ancient tradition—in fact it’s believed that Buddhist monks drank matcha to aid in their meditation, thanks to the calm alertness matcha offers.
“The unique way in which [matcha] is grown enhances biologically active compounds,” says Yasi Ansari, MS, RDN, CSSD, national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In other words, matcha has some additional health benefits that you may not see with other types of teas. “Matcha gives a buzz similar to coffee, and generally contains more caffeine than regular green tea but less than coffee. A cup of matcha can help keep you alert without what feels like the energy spike and drop that you may often feel with regular coffee,” she adds.
What are the health benefits of matcha?
A cup of matcha packs a punch and offers you some important health benefits.
1. It packs disease-fighting antioxidants
First, antioxidants help protect you from free radicals (unstable atoms or molecules that can damage your cells).
When there’s an imbalance between the reduction and accumulation of these free radicals, they can cause oxidative damage that they can become detrimental to our health, Ansari says. Oxidative damage can be caused by things like pollution, toxins, excessive intake of certain nutrients (especially from supplements), and even intense exercise training, like cycling, says Ansari.
Matcha is specifically rich in an antioxidant known as catechins or EGCG. In fact, the amount of EGCG in matcha is 137 times greater than the amount in regular green tea, Ansari says. That’s likely because, unlike green tea, matcha contains all nutrients from the entire green tea leaves.
Catechins can go a long way to support your overall health. Research published in Current Developments in Nutrition in June 2022 illustrates that drinking green tea extract for four weeks can improve blood sugar levels and intestinal inflammation in those with metabolic syndrome (a group of conditions that puts you at higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke), as well as in healthy participants.
Matcha is also high in chlorophyll, which has antioxidant properties. Because matcha is grown in the shade the levels of chlorophyll are higher in it than other teas.
Vecause of the high level of antioxidants in matcha, this type of tea can bring balance to help prevent the damaging of cells, support longevity, and overall health, Ansari says.
A systematic review, published in Molecules in 2021, supports matcha’s health benefits, stating that it “contains high amounts of substances with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, and shows promising potential health benefits, primarily through a high concentration of catechins.”
2. It has a beneficial amino acid
Another benefit of matcha is its naturally occurring L-Theanine. L-Theanine is an amino acid (found primarily in green and black tea, as well as mushrooms), which has been known to help ease stress, increase relaxation, can help to improve sleep, increase mental focus, and also helps to support the immune system, says Ansari.
Research supports the benefits of this amino acid. According to a small study published in the journal Nutrients in 2019, 30 healthy participants who consumed L-Theanine, over four weeks, showed a marked reduction in their self-score assessments of stress, depression, and anxiety symptoms, and an increase in sleep quality.
What’s more, L-Theanine paired with caffeine has promising benefits. “The combination of L-theanine and caffeine may enhance concentration and efficiency to a higher extent than the use of either compound alone,” Ansari says. According to research published in Nutritional Neuroscience researchers found that the combination of caffeine and L-theanine showed favorable results for increased speed and accuracy of attention-switching tasks and lowered susceptibility of distractions in the study’s 27 participants, compared to a placebo.
What’s more: You might not feel the jitters typically associated with a regular cup of coffee, because of the presence of L-Theanine in matcha. L-Theanine raises levels of some neurotransmitters (chemical messengers in the body that carry signals from one nerve cell to another) that elicit a calming effect, which works to counter the stimulating effects of caffeine.
3. You get a dose of caffeine
Speaking of caffeine, Ansari says one serving of matcha (around ½ to 1 tsp of the powder) contains about 40 to 180 milligrams of caffeine.
One benefit of matcha is that it may be better tolerated than a regular cup of coffee, due to its slow release of caffeine, thanks to the L-theanine, Ansari says. The slower the caffeine is released usually means better tolerance, and that you’re less likely to be jittery, and less likely to experience any GI distress that may result after drinking too much coffee, she says.
Caffeine also offers some benefits for performance. One of the benefits of caffeine consumption for athletes is its influence on perceived effort. Caffeine has been shown to decrease perceived effort, which makes a training session feel easier on the body, and those in endurance sports (like cycling) may see more of these benefits, Ansari says.
She also points out that the International Society of Sports Nutrition position says caffeine has been shown to, “acutely enhance various aspects of exercise performance in many but not all studies.”
How often should you drink matcha to gain its benefits?
First, as with any caffeinated beverage, you want to see how you tolerate matcha before a training session, as caffeine can sometimes cause GI issues. “Caffeine consumption is generally recommended one to two hours before activity,” Ansari says.
If you’re a regular coffee drinker Ansari advises alternating matcha with your regular cup of coffee.
How to Prepare Matcha at Home
Ansari prefers to pour some matcha tea into a bowl, add hot water and mix it with a bamboo whisk. “It helps to create a uniform consistency and I love the earthy aroma of the matcha,” she says.
You can then opt for adding a hint of milk or milk alternative to make it creamy. “The great thing about making your own matcha is that it’s more financially friendly and you’re less likely to consume a matcha drink that has a ton of extra ingredients,” Ansari adds.
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