Hold onto your kettles, green tea drinkers: Your healthy brew may not be as powerful as you think.
ConsumerLab.com, an independent research group that reviews health and nutritional products, measured the level of epigallocatechin gallate—EGCG, the main green tea antioxidant credited for aiding in weight loss, heart health, and more—in bottled and brewable green teas as well as supplements.
“We found that the amounts of EGCG and caffeine in green teas can vary widely and are often much lower levels than the packages claim," says Tod Cooperman, M.D., president of ConsumerLab.com.
In general, bottled green teas had the least amount of EGCG—for one brand, you’d have to drink about 20 bottles to obtain the recommended amount of the catechin! As far as steeping your own, your best bet is Lipton Green Tea bags, which contained about 71mg EGCG per serving, providing the most EGCG at the lowest cost (27 cents to obtain 200mg).
But if you’re drinking tea primarily for the benefits of EGCG, you may want to consider a pill instead, Cooperman says. “Our tests show that the most efficient and most effective way to get the most EGCG is to take a supplement of green tea extract.” The highest-rated supplement provided 200mg EGCG (the recommended daily serving) for 10 cents.
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Alarmingly, Consumer Lab.com also discovered small levels of lead contamination in the brewed tea leaves of four products. But no need to panic about this known carcinogen— the liquid portions of the teas brewed from the products contained very low levels of lead, posing no health concern. Because of the filtering process, whether it’s a tea bag or K-cup, the lead-tainted leaves are kept separate from the drinkable liquid. Just don’t ingest the leaves, unless you are confident of their purity, Cooperman says. (And supplements are fine since they’re made from green tea extract, which is free of any traces of lead and provides a more concentrated, pure product, he adds.)
“Of course, we are not advising anyone to stop buying green tea,” Cooperman says. “Our goal was simply to help consumers figure out exactly what they’re drinking when they purchase green tea, especially since most people buy it to improve their health.”
Will these findings affect your tea-drinking habits? Tell us in the comments below or on Twitter @Shape_Magazine.