To Sugar or Not to Sugar

Not long ago, I made the Saturday morning trek to the Farmer’s Market downtown. I love the Farmer’s Market… all the fresh fruits and vegetables, flowers, organic breads, and even the balloon man. Usually, I stop to chat with a local olive oil producer whose olive oils are amazing. (Olivina if you are interested!)  This day, I mentioned my work with Compassion Tea to Charles and his ears literally perked up. “I drink way too much soda,” he shared. “I’m looking for a new beverage that doesn’t have as much sugar in it.” Well, you can imagine the next 30 minutes! Duh! ICED TEA!

I’m not sure what sparked Charles’ decision to alter his drinking habits, but it seems to be a trending topic.

You may have noticed on September 14 that New York City’s Board of Health approved Mayor Bloomberg’s ban on 16 oz. soda and/or sweetened drinks. Effective March 12, 2013, this ban will prohibit any beverage with more than 25 calories per eight ounces from being sold in a container larger than 16 ounces. So, basically, in 6 months’ time, when you take in your weekly movie or swing through Jack-in-the-Box in New York City, you won’t be able to buy the mega beverage of your choice. You can, however, drop into the grocery or 7-Eleven and purchase a 2 liter or a Big Gulp. And at the restaurants, you may have as many refills in your smaller cup as the restaurant will allow. The reason behind the ban? According to Mayor Bloomberg, banning these drinks will “curb obesity” and “save lives.” To read more about this, click here and here.

Okay, so don’t travel to NYC if you plan on consuming large amounts of Pepsi. Maybe stay in Trenton instead.

This week, the New York Times ran an article in the opinion section of the paper titled, “Is Alzheimer’s Type 3 Diabetes?” In the article, Mark Bittman explains the scientific advances that are suggesting a link between the body’s reaction to too much sugar over long periods of time, the development of type-2 diabetes, and the similarities between type-2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s. In fact, studies with rats have shown that, when the insulin in the brains of the rats is limited, the brains of the rats “show all the signs of Alzheimer’s.” (Bio refresher: Insulin is released by the pancreas and goes knocking on the doors of cells telling them to open up and grab the glucose, which is what the body turns sugar into, coursing past in the blood. When insulin becomes a constant, persistent, and annoying knocker, which is what happens when we consume large amounts of sugar regularly, the cells become “insulin resistant;” they stop listening and refuse to open the door. This is damaging to blood vessels, the heart, and other organs, and causes the kind of damage to the brain noted in the article.) The article goes on to discuss the implications of this study from a health perspective and from a “cost-to-society” perspective. It also adds the caveat that while sugary drinks and foods are instrumental in increasing the rate of type-2 diabetes in Americans, sugar may not be the only culprit. Heavily processed foods certainly have their place in the decline of American health, too, according to the article.

Interestingly enough, I was recently reading an update from Karero Medical Clinic in Kenya… yes, as in Africa. A team of doctors and dentists from the States had recently visited the clinic and had provided dental services to “dozens of people.” Rev. Jeff Spainhour, from North Carolina, was among the delegation of professionals who traveled to Karero. After watching the extraction of countless teeth among the Kenyans, Rev. Spainhour commented, “It was obvious that sugar has had a great negative impact on the health of the people seen.” Even in Africa, sugar is becoming the boogie man. It starts with the teeth, spreads to diabetes, and may even lead to the most mind-debilitating disease we know.

As our pastor always says, “So what.” As in, “What should we glean from these campaigns, comments, and studies?” I see the answer as very simple. Put down your 16 oz. Coca-Cola and pick up your tea cup! (Or maybe moderation?)

There has been lots of talk throughout time about the medicinal properties and health benefits of tea consumption. Ironically, when you look for conclusive evidence to support tea as the healthier alternative, what you find is lots of “suggestions.” “This study suggests,” “studies on this are not conclusive,” and “not enough research has been done” are the constant caveats. I’ve turned to my favorite stand-by, WebMD, for a little help here. According to a compilation of studies put together by Julie Edgar, here’s “what some studies have found about the potential health benefits of tea:
• Green tea: Made with steamed tea leaves, it has a high concentration of EGCG and has been widely studied. Green tea’s antioxidants may interfere with the growth of bladder, breast, lung, stomach, pancreatic, and colorectal cancers; prevent clogging of the arteries, burn fat, counteract oxidative stress on the brain, reduce risk of neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, reduce risk of stroke, and improve cholesterol levels.
• Black tea: Made with fermented tea leaves, black tea has the highest caffeine content and forms the basis for flavored teas like chai, along with some instant teas. Studies have shown that black tea may protect lungs from damage caused by exposure to cigarette smoke. It also may reduce the risk of stroke.
• White tea: Uncured and unfermented. One study showed that white tea has the most potent anticancer properties compared to more processed teas.
• Oolong tea: In an animal study, those given antioxidants from oolong tea were found to have lower bad cholesterol levels. One variety of oolong, Wuyi, is heavily marketed as a weight loss supplement, but science hasn’t backed the claims.
• Pu-erh tea: Made from fermented and aged leaves. Considered a black tea, its leaves are pressed into cakes. One animal study showed that animals given pu-erh had less weight gain and reduced LDL cholesterol.”

The article has little to say about the health benefits of different herbal, rooibos, and chai teas even though so many claim benefits such as weight loss, digestive aid, cold prevention, and stress reduction. Again, the issue is lack of study. (Click here for the whole article.)

What the article does point out is that bottled iced teas are often laced with sugars and/or artificial sweeteners and should therefore be avoided. Edgars includes a quote from Diane L. McKay, PhD, a Tufts University scientist who studies antioxidants as saying, “You want to incorporate healthy beverages in your diet on a more regular basis to benefit from these health-promoting properties. It’s not just about the foods; it’s about what you drink, as well, that can contribute to your health.”

So what? I realize people like soda. I grew up drinking it and I haven’t grown two heads or sprouted wings or anything too bizarre. But when it comes to health and making healthy choices for me and my family, I’m inclined to avoid things that contribute to obesity (goodness gracious, I have enough trouble keeping off the pounds!), tooth decay, and now possibly Alzheimer’s. Yes, soda offers variety and flavor and caffeine and a cool, refreshing pick-me-up or get-me-going boost. But, I have to argue that tea is even better.

As a Compassion Tea drinker, I find plenty of flavor and variety in our offerings, enough to keep my changing palette intrigued and satisfied. And because of the intense and robust flavors, I don’t need to add sweeteners to the teas to improve flavor. If I want sweet, there’s Provence or Bourbon Street Vanilla or Almond Rocker or Jasmine Vanilla Rooibos or our new flavor Caramel Rooibos in the pyramid bags. If I want fruity, well, that selection is endless. From blueberry to mango, we’ve got fruit! For a spicy mood, there’s West Cape Chai, Cochin Masala Chai, or Spicy Rooibos. If I’m looking for something gentle and delicate, there’s Sencha Cherry Rose or Peony White Needle or Silver Needle or even Coconut Oolong or Jade Cloud. And of course, there’s always the oolong, pu’ erh, and black teas, which offer that robust cup, the get-me-up-and-going cup of tea. Tea is varied and as long as we don’t pour in a pint of sugar it is healthier than soda.

Why not make it your beverage of choice!

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  1. To Sugar or Not to Sugar « compassiontea

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