“Eat your vegetables.” Every child since the beginning of mankind has probably been told this. We know that vegetables provide the human body with precious nutrients, but how does tea factor into the nutrition picture? Tea has almost no sustaining nutrients such as carbohydrates, proteins and fats, but it contains an essential ingredient nonetheless; flavonoids.
Also called catechins, flavonoids are molecules that provide the backbone for a range of plant processes. Plants are living creatures that undergo chemical processes to survive, just like human beings. By deriving these flavonoids from tea leaves and ingesting them we are supplementing our basic nutrient in-take in the same way that multivitamins and probiotics are consumed.
Flavonoids are polyphenolic compounds. Phenols refer to compounds, organic or synthetic, in which the molecular shape is a ring. This basic ring shape causes the molecule to be highly versatile in many ways, including creating structure, bonding with other molecules, and breaking down into essential components for bioprocesses. Polyphenols, as found in tea, are large collections of these building block molecules.
Our bodies are a constantly churning chemical factory breaking down foods for molecules and atoms to build proteins, enzymes and a gargantuan number of chemical compounds. This process naturally creates some left overs called free radicals. Free radicals are molecules and atoms that are roaming around in our bodies performing different tasks, many of which are beneficial. These free radicals are reactive, however, and too many of them will interact negatively with our healthy cell tissues and cause them to breakdown. In fact excessive amounts of cellular interaction with free radicals leads to cell injury and death. This in turn opens the door to a multitude of diseases.
One of the many oxygen-based free radicals is called superoxide. Too many superoxide molecules create what is known as oxidative stress which has been linked to cancer, aging, inflammation and neurodegenerative diseases. Hence, the introduction of our friends, the antioxidants. Antioxidants, such as flavonoids, create a defense system that protects our tissue cells from damage just like Vitamin C and Vitamin E. The capacity of the flavonoid depends on its chemical structure, quality and quantity.
The chemical structure and quality of the flavonoid is another reason why there are so many different teas and why the health benefits have been sought after for over 5,000 years. There are even stories of truly legendary teas that have revived the fatally ill. So next time, don’t forget: “Eat your vegetables, and drink your tea.”