The healthiest way to consume green tea is by drinking a freshly brewed cup of loose leaf green tea. Instant green tea manufacturers may claim to contain more antioxidants than freshly brewed tea, but the reality is that they nearly always contain significantly less antioxidants than the label claims. Another consideration is that unhealthy additives, like sugar and chemicals to enhance flavor and increase shelf life, may be lurking in instant versions of green tea.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) analyzed several commercial products for catechin content, the antioxidants responsible for green tea’s health benefits. They analyzed instant, decaffeinated, flavored, teabag, and loose leaf green teas. Loose leaf and teabag green tea brews had the highest total catechins, at 127 mg. Freshly brewed green tea also contained 77 mg of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), the most powerful of the catechins in green tea. Freshly brewed tea has far more of these flavenoids than any other food or beverage, including vegetables and fruits.
Decaffeinated green tea contained only about 56 mg total catechins and 26 mg EGCG. Flavored tea contained 43 mg catechins and 20 mg EGCG. Instant or ready-to-drink green tea contained only 12 mg catechins and 4 mg EGCG. While these results may seem dismal, instant green tea drinkers are still getting many more flavenoids than they might in other commercial beverage choices like soda.
Frequently, instant green tea labels inflate actual levels of flavenoids in the beverage. A study measured levels of catechins in green tea products that were either instant beverages or tea bags. The researchers compared actual catechin levels to label claims and found that products contained from 9 percent to 48 percent of label claims.
Instant green tea beverage manufacturers sometimes make health claims that may be misleading to consumers. In September 2010, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned two manufacturers about inappropriate label claims regarding antioxidant content and cholesterol-lowering claims. According to the FDA, instant versions of green tea beverages are classified as a snack food and cannot make such nutritional and medical claims.
Labeling aside, consumers can make the best choices about which type of green tea to choose by knowing the facts and weighing the benefits against personal preferences. Part of the appeal of instant beverages is the convenience of having a beverage already prepared. Instant green tea can be a healthier choice than many other beverages. Yet it pales in comparison to freshly brewed tea. However, if someone is unable to tolerate brewed green tea, instant can be a healthy alternative as long as a brand is chosen without sweeteners and chemical additives.