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Brew up a steaming mug of health benefits

Tea has more antioxidants than many fruits and could be a leading defense against cancer and heart disease.

Though it may sound too good to be true, there is a beverage that not only has more antioxidants than most fruits and vegetables, studies have shown it also may help prevent cancer, boost heart health and protect against arthritis. Even more surprising is that it contains zero calories and costs less than 15 fils per cup. Wondering how you can get your hands on this superfood? Chances are it is already in your kitchen cupboard.

Tea is one of the world's most popular prepared drinks, and with good reason. It's affordable, widely available and has a long list of health benefits. With an increasing variety of speciality teas gracing grocery store shelves across the UAE, this is one beverage worth adding to your diet. There are four types of tea: black, white, green and oolong, all of which come from the Camellia sinensis plant that is grown in tropical climates. The main difference between the varieties has to do with how the leaves are processed. White tea is derived from the young, new leaves of the tea plant, while green, black and oolong teas are made from more mature leaves. Green tea is processed before the leaves are allowed to oxidise and ferment, while black and oolong teas are made from dried and crushed fermented leaves, resulting in a darker colour and richer flavour.

As for herbal tea and the popular South African red rooibos tea - neither contains leaves from the camellia plant. They are made from a blend of herbs, flowers, spices and roots of a variety of plants. More accurately called tisane, these two beverages don't deliver the same health benefits as black, white, green and oolong teas. Tea is rich in potent disease-fighting compounds called catechins, which act as antioxidants to prevent and repair damage to cells. While it doesn't often get touted as such, tea is one of the best sources of antioxidants in the diet. In fact, it is estimated that a cup of brewed tea has a higher antioxidant capacity than carrots, sweet potatoes and tomatoes.

While all four types of tea are high in antioxidants, green tea retains the most catechins after being processed, and as a result leads the pack when it comes to proven health benefits. There have been hundreds of studies documenting the goodness of tea. One of the most notable, published in 2006, found that women who drank at least five cups per day of green tea were more than 20 per cent less likely to develop breast cancer than women who skipped out on the daily drink. In other studies, green tea has been linked to a lower risk of lung, prostate and ovarian cancers.

Another landmark study, out of Saudi Arabia in 2003, found that people there who drank more than six cups of black tea per day lowered their risk of heart disease by more than half. Other studies have found that drinking two cups of black tea per day protects against heart disease. There may also be a link between green tea consumption and weight loss. One study published this year in The Journal of Nutrition found that drinking green tea might enhance exercise-induced abdominal fat loss. While this sounds promising, more conclusive evidence is needed before the beverage can be recommended as a weight-loss supplement.

So how much tea should you be pouring? There is no clear-cut recommendation but most studies have shown that drinking anywhere from one to five cups per day can be beneficial. If you're an avid tea drinker, the good news is that it contributes to your daily fluid intake, despite contrary reports. Be mindful that tea does contain caffeine, although not nearly as much as coffee. One cup of tea has about 40 milligrams of caffeine.

If you're not a tea drinker, consider making the switch to this steeped beverage for a health boost. Try swapping your morning coffee with a mug of green or black tea, or enjoy the warm beverage with a mid-afternoon snack. Adding a splash of milk to your brew provides some calcium, but go easy on the sugar, which can quickly drive up the calorie content.

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