The Health Benefits of Matcha Powder (And A Few Cautions)
Have you heard of matcha tea?
I won’t be surprised if you have. Matcha has grown in popularity over the last few years in the US mostly due to the expanding knowledge surrounding the health benefits of matcha powder. And while tea drinkers in Japan still mostly consume this wonderful leaf in a more traditional tea, the West has adopted matcha in a different way.
Ever had a latte, smoothie, cookie, or ice cream with green tea in it? Then you’ve probably had matcha.
Regardless of how or if you plan to incorporate matcha into your diet, I’m hoping this post will give you a basic understanding as to why you should (or shouldn’t).
What is Matcha?
About 5 years ago, you were lucky if you could find matcha in the grocery store or at your local coffee or tea shop. Now it looks to be everywhere. But even if you’ve heard of this green powder, you might still not know what it is.
Matcha is green tea that has been ground into a powder. It’s a little more complicated than that but in a nutshell, that’s it. Unlike traditional green tea where you drink the water steeped in the leaves, this drink mixes the green tea with the water and you drink both.
The history of matcha in Japan is said to have started around the 12th century when a Zen monk by the name of Eisai brought back tea seeds on a trip from China. China had been cultivating and consuming powdered tea before Eisai and reached its popularity during the Song Dynasty. During that time in China, Zen Buddhists formed a ritual around the preparation and cultivation of powdered tea by growing it in shade to increase the therapeutic benefits. This is what became known as Matcha.
However, while Matcha was losing popularity in China over the next few decades, it was thriving in Zen monasteries in Japan. And through growers in Japan, they perfected the process of cultivating Matcha into what we know today.
Cultivation of green tea that is to be turned into matcha varies a bit from regular green tea although both are produced from the same plant, Camellia sinensis. About 20-30 days before harvesting time, the plant is covered to prevent direct sunlight.
This process does a few things to the plant. First, the scarcity of sunlight forces the leaves to grow wider but thinner in order to reach the sunlight it needs. Second, research has revealed that through photosynthesis the amino acids like theanine which are responsible for a sweeter flavor turn into antioxidants like catechins which produce a bitter taste. So in shading the plant, photosynthesis is slowed to allow for a sweeter tea.
Which Grade of Matcha Should You Buy?
To answer this question, you need to first decide what you plan to use it for.
Are you planning to brew up a nice cup of hot green tea? Or will you be using it to make another food that tastes like green tea?
Matcha comes in basically three grades: Ceremonial, premium, and culinary grade.
Ceremonial grade matcha is the green tea that is harvested in spring. This harvest is usually hand-picked and only the very top leaves are chosen. That makes this harvest highest in quality with the least bitter flavor. But because of these factors, it is the most labor intensive so it makes this grade the most expensive. This is the grade you drink if you are just brewing up a cup of green tea. Because the flavor is so subtle it doesn’t work well for cooking.
Premium is the in-between grade. It isn’t as sweet as a ceremonial grade but not as bitter as culinary. Not all sellers even offer this grade and some discerning tea drinkers do not even consider this an authentic grade of matcha. So don’t be surprised if you can’t find this one.
Culinary grade is the harvest that comes later in the season. This harvest is completely automated and the least desirable in flavor. But because of the bitterness of this harvest, it makes it perfect for creating a green tea flavor in other foods like smoothies or ice cream. This is also the least costly grade of matcha per gram. (1)
What Are the Health Benefits of Matcha Green Tea?
I’m sure you have heard many times about the health benefits of green tea. Green tea is known to improve mental performance, protect the brain from cognitive degeneration, aid in weight loss, lower your risk for type II diabetes, prevent cardiovascular diseases, boost energy and physical performance, lower your risk for some forms of cancer, prevent illness, improve your mood and ability to relax, and maintain healthy youthful skin (2).
The green tea plant, Camellia sinensis, is packed full of antioxidants. Dietary antioxidants prevent free radicals from forming in your body thus protecting from cell and tissue damage. Catechins are the antioxidant green tea is known for being very high in.
Do you remember that I mentioned this component is responsible for the bitter flavor?
The most powerful catechin in green tea is epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). EGCG has been studied extensively and has been shown as the primary catechin found in green tea at 60% of the total amount. This is the component that lowers your risk for cancer (6) and type II diabetes(5), prevents illness (3), lowering your risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases (4), helps with arthritis (9), aids in weight loss(11), and improves your skin from the effects of age (7).
Matcha takes this to another level. Since you are ingesting the actual leaves of the plant, one cup of matcha is the equivalent of about 10 cups of steeped green tea. Or another way to look at it, matcha has 137 times more antioxidants than a low-grade green tea, and up to 3 times more antioxidants than other high-quality teas (8).
Caffeine and L-theanine
Beyond the protective qualities of catechins, matcha has a whole host of other components that help. Matcha and green tea have been proven to help increase energy, alertness, and mood (10). Caffeine is present in matcha but the amounts are low enough that most can gain the benefits of it without getting the crash or jitters.
But green tea and matcha have a special balance that other caffeinated drinks like coffee lack. L-theanine is an amino acid found in high concentrations in matcha. If you remember, theanine is the component that gives the tea-leaf that sweet flavor.
By combining that with caffeine, it does wonders for your mood and gives you the ability to relax in tandem with increased energy and mental focus. L-theanine increases the production of alpha waves in the brain. These alpha waves are what increase relaxation and induce a state of mental clarity on the same level that can be found in meditation and yoga practice (12). In fact, this quality in matcha is exactly why the samurai warriors would drink tea before a battle or during training exercises. The samurai was instrumental in creating the art of the tea ceremony that we know today.
In 2003, the first human study on the relationship between green tea and cholesterol was performed by Vanderbilt University Medical Center. During the 12-week study, they found the group that ingested 375 mg. capsules of green tea extract showed a reduction in cholesterol by 16 percent (14). That dose is the equivalent of 3.5 cups of matcha or 35 cups of regular tea.
Repairs and Rejuvenates Skin
The catechins in matcha are one of the leading contributors to why green tea can be used topically to keep our skin healthy and youthful as well as protect from UV damage and improve skin elasticity (13) but there is also tannins in green tea that help to shrink pores and reduce oil production associated with acne.
Make homemade face masks? Add a teaspoon of matcha to your recipe!
Rich in Vitamins and Minerals
And let’s not forget that green tea also boasts a nutrient profile that isn’t to be ignored. Matcha and green tea contains vitamin C, B2, folic acid, b-carotene (the precursor of vitamin A), vitamin E, saponins, fluorine, minerals (around 5-7% minerals, mainly potassium, calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium, as well as small quantities of manganese, zinc, and copper), and chlorophyll.
With that kind of nutrition, there is another reason to add matcha to your diet.
What Are the Bad Effects of Matcha Green Tea?
Now here are a few reasons not to drink matcha.
The most obvious one is caffeine. Although green tea has significantly less caffeine than other caffeinated beverages like coffee and energy drinks, it does still contain caffeine. A cup of coffee averages around 200 mg. per 6 oz. and energy drinks are roughly around the same amount per serving. A serving of soda averages around 35 mg. give or take with the highest amount being 69 mg. and the lowest at 23 mg. Green tea is around 25 mg. per serving (8 oz.).
So it isn’t much but it is present. Folks who have a sensitivity to caffeine or do not wish to consume caffeine for other reasons should stay away from green tea.
Another less obvious undesirable side effect comes from the catechins. Ironic isn’t it?
For all the wonderful benefits that catechins provide, this same antioxidant can also do some less than favorable things. Studies have shown that EGCG can actually inhibit the absorption of iron (15). EGCG is known to inhibit an enzyme called myeloperoxidase, which might cause inflammation. But when the tea is consumed along with iron-rich foods, EGCG loses its ability to inhibit the inflammatory action of myeloperoxidase, thereby leading to inflammation (16).
So in other words, do not drink green tea at the same time you eat iron-rich foods or take iron supplements.
Another study on EGCG has shown it can cause liver and kidney damage when taking in high doses (around 700 to 2000 mg per day(16). This is the amount usually found in green tea extract supplements especially those geared for weight loss. Luckily, a teaspoon of matcha contains on average 100 mg of EGCG (amounts vary widely on brands). So drinking a few cups of matcha green tea a day will not hurt you but supplements might.
What Should You Take Away From This?
There are many good reasons to drink matcha. I personally drink matcha regularly and I love the stuff! It gives you a whole host of health benefits and I have seen its cancer-fighting ability firsthand.
About 12 years ago I was diagnosed with one of the two strains of HPV that can cause cervical cancer. And over a year and a half from my original diagnosis, my doctor was getting concerned because it was getting worse instead of better. He told me at one visit that I was in the precancer stage and wanted to see me within 3 months versus the usual 6 months between visits before.
I cannot begin to describe the emotional state I was in at that moment. But what good did come out of that news was my decision to start searching for my own way to fight this. In my research, I came across articles about how green tea was showing great results in killing the HPV virus in studies conducted in Europe. It was that article that made me read more about green tea and find all this wonderful information that I just shared with you.
So I started replacing my cups of coffee throughout the day with cups of green tea. By the end of those three months, the doctor was astonished at the recovery my body was making at fighting off the virus. By the next visit, the virus could not be found in my cells at all. And I haven’t seen any signs of it since. I believe green tea had a part to play in that.
So despite the potential bad effects that can come from drinking any tea brewed from the Camellia sinensis plant, matcha and regular green tea are very good for you. But only in moderation. So its true, you can have too much of a good thing.
I really hope you found this article to be helpful. If you have any questions or information I did not cover about matcha green tea, please leave me a comment below and I will gladly get back to you.
Also, if you are interested in trying matcha for yourself, here are some brands that I have tried and recommend. For a ceremonial grade matcha on Amazon, I really liked Kenko and DoMatcha. For a culinary grade, I find Kenko to do very well.
And speaking of culinary grade matcha, not a big fan of drinking matcha tea straight? I have a Matcha and Pistachio Smoothie recipe that might be what you’re looking for.
Thank you for visiting Late Summer Mama!