Another Health Halo Shattered – Bottled Teas Contain Virtually no Antioxidants

Tea is the world’s most widely consumed beverage, not coffee. Just in the US, the market last year stood at $7 Billion in sales of tea bags and bottles, including iced tea. The industry has quadrupled itself since the early 1990′s partly due to the health halo tea , and especially green tea, enjoy. Scientists discovered that tea contains antioxidants called polyphenols that may reduce risks of heart disease, cancer, and other maladies.

Unfortunately, a study presented this weekend at the National Meeting of the American Chemical Society revealed that bottled tea contains very low levels of polyphenols compared to tea brewed at home:

“Consumers understand very well the concept of the health benefits from drinking tea or consuming other tea products,” said Shiming Li, Ph.D., who reported on the new study with Professor Chi-Tang Ho and his colleagues. “However, there is a huge gap between the perception that tea consumption is healthy and the actual amount of the healthful nutrients — polyphenols — found in bottled tea beverages. Our analysis of tea beverages found that the polyphenol content is extremely low.” read more…

Just how low were the levels of polyphenols in the bottled tea products? Testing 6 different brands, a 16 ounce bottle contained on average less than 30mg, or 15mg per cup. That’s compared to a home brewed cup of tea with 50-150mg. Some bottled teas contained less than 2mg per cup.

Why such a difference? Polyphenols in tea tend to “evaporate” once the tea leaves are brewed or otherwise processed, at home as well. In addition,

“Polyphenols are bitter and astringent, but to target as many consumers as they can, manufacturers want to keep the bitterness and astringency at a minimum,” Li explained. “The simplest way is to add less tea, which makes the tea polyphenol content low, but tastes smoother and sweeter.”

Once again we see how clever marketing trumps health and nutrition.

What to do at the supermarket:

Consider any non-water drink as a treat rather than a necessary hydration vehicle. That way you won’t be expecting any health benefits and won’t need to read health claims marketing claims that dupe you into shelling out money for something that is not.

As it relates to brewed tea, it doesn’t get much easier – boil some water, pour into your favorite mug, dunk in your favorite flavored tea (Earl Grey anyone?) and enjoy. Oh, and you can add your own sugar in sane amounts.

  • Lauren Slayton

    I’ve always questioned, and had clients question, the worth of tea in snapple and arizona type drinks. However, I wonder if Ito En and other unsweetened, high quality iced/bottled teas are the same.

  • Dr. Susan Rubin

    It is so darn easy to bring tea bags along wherever you go. Pop them into cold or hot water and presto, a delicious drink awaits. Sencha tea by Eden Organic and Refresh peppermint tea by Tazo are mainstays of my pocketbook and backpack.

    Its a Tea Party movement everyone can believe in!

  • Wellescent Health Blog

    In some cases, manufacturers have quantified the amount of polyphenols in each bottle and labelled as such so unless further research indicates that these compounds break down rapidly, there are at least a few products out there that consumers can use to get some additional antioxidants in their diet. Just take a look at the bottle to see if it is attempting to provide this information.

  • J in VA

    I knew there was a reason (other than cost and jugs lugged home/ to the recycling bin) that I was making my dh a home-made version of Arizonia green tea with lemon, honey and ginseng.

  • Lamchop

    Not to mention buying tea leaves or tea bags is way cheaper than paying over a buck for these bottled teas.

  • Mendy Heaps

    Another one bites the dust…

  • mari

    I love the yerba mate teas. Just drop the bag in cold water and wait 10 minutes to drink… really makes it hard to justify buying a bottle AND it’s really easy drinking, meaning you may not even want to add honey.

  • Shreya

    Basically after the tea is brewed you have 24 hours before the antioxidant polyphenol breaks down almost completely.

    Plus, some bottled teas contain the same amount of sugar as soda!
    So if you’re trying to get your serving of antioxidants in for the day, bottled tea isn’t likely to do much for you. You’d be better off with fresh brew or blueberries.

  • Megan Mountcastle

    It never ceases to amaze me how powerful marketing is, especially in the food industry! I love the ritual around making tea at home– very relaxing and a great way to have a few quiet moments in your day.

  • Fergus

    So what about brewed tea left for a few hours (either in a Thermos or the refrigerator)?

    • Editorial Staff

      The earlier you drink, the better…

  • Anonymous

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  • Joe

    I am sure that excess insulin, high consumption of omega-6, fructose, etc., can be harmful for health in other ways and more we make you fat.

  • Joe

    I eat nuts, because they make me feel good. French fries, I feel terrible. Both are high in LA, but I doubt that makes both un-healthy.

  • Joe

    Thanks for this post. For some reason it seems to me, macronutrients drain from my health. Now, dysregulation govern my brain. . .