Mucha 'bout Matcha

Updated: Jul 8, 2020

Most people by now have probably heard of matcha, since it has exploded in popularity in recent years. Traditionally drank in Japan, matcha tea is ground green tea leaves, so it is much more potent than regular green tea. Numerous studies have shown the health benefits of matcha, and the significant results may help convince you to try matcha or perhaps even switch out your coffee for matcha a couple days a week.

Matcha has been showed to have numerous health benefits, including an effect on mood and cognitive performance. This is due to three components: L-theanine, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), and caffeine (1). In one human intervention study, matcha consumption was shown to improve participants' cognitive performance, in particular their memory and attention speed (1). A systematic review on 21 separate studies showed that the combination of caffeine and L-theanine (the main constituent in matcha and green tea) reduced anxiety, improved memory and attention, and affected working memory (2). This is a great option for people who might get jittery or anxious from coffee, but want a source of caffeine. Matcha will give you energy (it has about 2/3 the amount of caffeine as a regular cup of coffee), but at the same time will make you feel calm.

Another study done on mice fed a high-fat diet showed that matcha lowers blood glucose (sugar) and increases lipid (fat) metabolism and antioxidant activity. This suggests that matcha may help play a beneficial role in diet-induced high lipid and glucose levels (3). EGCG has anti-obesity and anti- diabetic effects (4). This is why many people drink matcha in hopes to reduce body fat. Matcha has high amounts of powerful antioxidants, called polyphenols, which have been linked to the prevention of many chronic diseases (e.g. heart and liver disease) and many different types of cancer (4). Matcha can also help lower inflammation (5).

The EGCG in matcha also has antiviral properties (7), and shows potential to help inhibit SARS-Cov-2. One preliminary study found that compared to the drugs remdesvir and chloroquine, EGCG was much more active in its inhibitory effects on the viral proteins (8).

Hearing all of this might make you drop everything and go buy some matcha, but before you do there are a few things you need to know:

1. Drinking matcha or green tea on an empty stomach can cause nausea. This has happened to me before, and I had no idea why! If you drink matcha on an empty stomach as a latte and not how it's traditionally brewed (with just water and matcha powder) you won't have this issue.

2. Matcha and green tea can decrease your iron absorption from food you eat, so be cautious if you are anemic.

3. Lead contamination from green tea grown in China does exist (the plants absorb lead from the soil). Unlike regular green tea where the leaves are discarded (and thus it poses less of a risk of lead contamination), when you drink matcha you are drinking the whole leaf, which contains the majority of the lead. Because of this, make sure your matcha is from Japan and not China. Additionally, you may want to limit the amount of matcha you have every day.

4. Children and women who are breast feeding or pregnant may want to limit or avoid matcha because of the possible lead contamination and caffeine levels.

5. When buying matcha to drink make sure you purchase ceremonial grade matcha. Getting organic is important as well, since there are many pesticides used on traditionally grown matcha leaves (6). Quality matcha is expensive, and unfortunately in most cases the matcha lattes you buy at your local coffee shop are most likely not ceremonial grade or from Japan, as those come with a steeper price tag. Beware of cheap matcha, as it is likely low quality. Making matcha at home and knowing where it's sourced from is the safest bet.

Matcha is an amazing drink, and if you'd like to improve your memory, lower inflammation, lose body fat, increase your antioxidants, improve your blood lipid and glucose levels, and lower your risk of cancer and other chronic diseases, it's definitely worth considering including it in your diet.






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