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April 5, 2013

Tea grows a reputation for healthfulness

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Sherman's wife, Guinevere Eden, loves to start her day with a soothing cup of tea. For the working mother of two preschoolers, the healthy brew conjures a quiet moment and a sense of well-being while stirring memories of her childhood in England.

"First thing in the morning, it feels so good," said Eden, 45, of Potomac, Md.

Over the course of a day, she said, she drinks five or six cups of tea. "That's actually all I drink. I don't drink coffee."

Tea experts disagree on how much tea to recommend for better health. Some say two eight-ounce cups a day, while others say five or more cups.

Experts said tea's relatively low caffeine levels make it possible to drink large amounts without the jitters, fast heartbeat and stomach upset that the same amount of coffee would probably induce. Black tea, which has more caffeine than green, oolong or white teas, has about half the caffeine of coffee.

Still, experts advise against overdoing it, noting that tea, unlike coffee, contains trace amounts of aluminum. But according to the National Cancer Institute, while aluminum can accumulate in the body and cause neurodegenerative disorders, there's no evidence of aluminum toxicity associated with drinking tea.

Sherman said iced tea should provide the same benefits as hot tea, as long as it starts out as hot and is then cooled, not just brewed in the sun or made from store-bought powdered mixtures.

He said adding milk to tea may not be as beneficial as drinking it straight, since there's some evidence that protein in milk binds to the healthful chemicals in tea and prevents them from being absorbed. Sugar doesn't seem to reduce tea's benefits, he and others said, although it comes with problems of its own, such as empty calories that can lead to weight gain.

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