In recent times, matcha has gained prominence as a “superfood” with many apparent health benefits. Some of these matcha health benefits are true, and some are exaggerations perpetuated by marketers. We wrote this article to help you understand what we know about matcha health benefits, understand the beneficial compounds present in matcha, and why you should question many of the matcha health benefits touted online.
How is matcha is chemically different from regular teas?
Matcha is made from ground tea leaves grown under shade for about 4-6 weeks before harvest. The shading process deprives the tea plant of sunlight, and results in two important changes.
- Increased production of amino acids
- Increased levels of chlorophyll.
Compared to sencha (or regular green tea), matcha will usually have a sweeter taste with more umami notes because of its dense amino acid profile. It also has higher concentrations of antioxidants and vitamins. Part of this is due to you ingesting the entire leaf when consuming matcha.
What is an amino acid?
Amino acids are the “building blocks” of proteins that the body uses to repair and heal itself. Amino acids can also function as sources of energy. The body is unable to produce all types of amino acids, and must obtain these from the food we eat. In the case of matcha, amino acids are also responsible for its sweet and umami taste.
Matcha health benefits we know to be true
1. Matcha is a source of energy without the side effects seen in other energy drinks
Perhaps the biggest plus point of matcha is that it helps keep you focused and awake for hours on end. This is thanks to the caffeine and L-theanine (an amino acid) present in matcha. Caffeine is a stimulant while L-theanine acts to slowly release caffeine into the bloodstream.
This prevents the jitters that you normally experience from drinking coffee. Compared to coffee, matcha is also much gentler on the stomach.
There is also no dip in energy levels that you usually get from drinking coffee and other sugary energy drinks. Personally, we found this caffeinated boost to last for a good 3-4 hours on average. For us, this is easily the biggest benefit of drinking matcha.
2. Matcha helps you focus and keeps you calm
Another benefit of the high levels of L-theanine in matcha is that it helps to keep you calm and focused. L-theanine elevates levels of neurotransmitters in the brain and nervous system. These neurotransmitters regulate your mood, concentration and other types of cognitive activity. L-theanine is sometimes used as nootropic supplements because of these properties.
While L-theanine is present in most green and black teas, matcha has a greater concentration for two reasons. First, the shading process before the harvest results in heightened amino acid production. Second, you ingest the entire tea leaf when you consume matcha. If you practise yoga or meditation, matcha could be ideal. Interestingly, this is how the Japanese first began using matcha hundreds of years ago. Monks would drink matcha to remain alert yet calm during their long hours of quiet contemplation.
Why we should question the basis of many matcha health benefits
From lab analysis performed on matcha samples, we know that matcha has certain chemical properties that are known to be beneficial to health:
- Matcha has about ten times the amount of antioxidants compared to regular teas (Antioxidants are said to help prevent various serious diseases and slow ageing)
- Matcha has significant amounts of vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, C, E, K (These vitamins are required for healthy bodily function)
- Matcha has about 50mg of chlorophyll per gram (Chlorophyll is touted as having detox properties)
- Matcha contains the highest concentration of EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate) amongst teas (EGCG is a type of antioxidant found in teas and certain fruits which is said to increase the body’s metabolic rate)
Many of the matcha health benefits touted online stem from these chemical properties above. Because these chemical properties appear to yield certain positive health effects, the logic goes that consuming matcha will give you these same health benefits.
However, we must understand that scientists are still mostly uncertain about the exact health benefits of such compounds. For example, research shows some positive correlation between antioxidants and cancer prevention. But even the researchers may not be sure as to how and why this correlation exists.
Much of the studies cited by matcha marketers fall into this category. There is a positive correlation with only a limited understanding of how and why this is so. While it is very encouraging to hear such claims, we should subject them to a healthy dose of scrutiny for these reasons.
When brands, blogs or any internet personality talks about matcha health benefits, it is always important to read and understand the basis of each health claim. Beyond citing specific scientific studies, we believe that anyone making these claims should be able to tell you the limitations and scope of the research
Our stance on matcha health benefits
We sincerely hope that matcha is a healthy superfood. But we are uncomfortable with endorsing many matcha health benefits found because we are primarily tea enthusiasts, not scientists. If more research is published that can tell us how and why matcha can help you lose weight, prevent cancer, lower cholesterol or heal acne, we will read it and be the first to endorse it if a convincing case is made.
Until then, we would focus your attention on the amazing energy boost that matcha provides as well as its wonderful taste. Consuming matcha helps you discover so many unique flavors and experiences that alone makes it a worthwhile addition to your diet.
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