The health benefits of green tea have been trumpeted in the media recently. Even though the claims may be exaggerated, if you're going to drink much of any beverage other than water, tea is probably your best choice.

Tea is water plus phytochemicals including caffeine, and very little else unless you add a lot of sugar. Both green and black tea come from the same plant, camellia sinensis. To make green tea, the leaves are steamed, rolled and dried. For black tea, the leaves are dried, then fermented and fired.

Both green and black tea contain phytochemicals that have been linked to reduced rates of certain types of cancers. When brewed at normal strength, both contain about half of the caffeine found in a cup of coffee. If caffeine is a concern, de-caffeinated teas are available.

Herbal teas are dried leaves of a wide variety of plants, which you steep in hot water as you would regular tea. They are generally caffeine free. Many claims are made for the phytochemicals found in herbal teas, but all we can safely say is: yes, they do contain phytochemicals, which may be beneficial or harmful, depending on the plant used and the amount you drink. If you have hay fever or other allergies, be aware that herbal teas made from plants in the family you are sensitive to can trigger the same reactions.

Tea appears to be healthful and may contribute phytochemicals to your diet that you would not otherwise get. So enjoy your tea, but remember, what is beneficial in moderation may be harmful in large amounts. That's true for all foods, not just tea. If you need to drink more than a few cups of a beverage, make it water.

Checked 5/3/07

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