There’s been a lot of buzz about matcha, the green tea powder that’s been dubbed a “superfood” by some, but what exactly is it? And does it really live up to all the hype?
What, exactly, is matcha?
First, matcha is basically just a type of green tea. This type of green tea is hugely popular in Japan but is becoming more widely available here in the States. Matcha is unique from other types of green tea because you consume the entire tea leaf (instead of only what is steeped into hot water). This is because matcha is made by milling green tea leaves into a very fine powder.
To make a traditional cup of matcha tea, the powder is whisked together with hot water until frothy (no tea bags required). These days, people are getting more creative with matcha powder and its potential uses in the kitchen are endless. Some of my favorites uses are energy bars, lattes, muffins, pancakes, and smoothies.
What are the health benefits of matcha?
Because the entire tea leaf is used to prepare matcha, it has higher levels of various beneficial compounds when compared with other types of green tea.
Flavonoids are one class of phytonutrients found in especially high levels in matcha. The most common of these flavonoids is a compound called Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). EGCG is a type of phytonutrient called a catechin that seems to be responsible many of green tea’s proposed health benefits.
Flavonoids not only have the ability to act as antioxidants (they help clear up free radicals and prevent cellular damage) but studies indicate that tea flavonoids like EGCG and quercitin exert the majority of their health benefits by interacting with cell-signaling pathways. (Our cells talk with each other and through a complex cascade of events, are able to turn specific genes on or off.) This involvement with cellular communication pathways allows tea flavonoids to help decrease inflammation, support our natural detoxification system, and prevent cancer cell growth and cardiovascular disease.
Will matcha help me feel more alert?
Like all tea from the Camellia sinensis plant (unless decaffeinated during processing), matcha does contain some caffeine. Unlike coffee, the caffeine in matcha is balanced with an amino acid called L-theanine. Studies show that L-theanine can neutralize the negative “speedy” effects of caffeine without lessening its ability to keep us energized and alert. Research also indicates that supplemental L-theanine can boost mood and improve sleep.
Will matcha help me lose weight?
It’s true that a number of short-term studies have reported an increase in energy expenditure (calories burned) or weight loss after consuming green tea but these levels are quite small (3-4%).
Drinking matcha probably won’t cause you to lose a huge amount of weight by itself but combined with an otherwise healthy lifestyle, it can serve as a refreshing, low-calorie beverage. (And help you stay hydrated!)
Any health concerns?
Matcha, as with all tea, is generally considered to be safe. Because it contains caffeine, pay attention to how you feel after consuming it. (Signs of caffeine toxicity include headaches, nausea and vomiting, and heart palpitations.) And of course, check with your dietitian before starting any green tea supplements.
Looking for recipes?
Have you ever tried matcha? Let me know your favorite way to enjoy green tea in the comments section below.