Matcha: Health Benefits, Nutritional Information
Matcha is a form of powdered green tea. Matcha literally means “powdered tea.”
In traditional green tea, the tea leaves are steeped in hot water before being discarded. With matcha, the tea is ground into powder and mixed with hot water. As a result, the leaves are consumed. Traditionally, a teaspoon of matcha powder is mixed with one third of a cup hot water (heated to less than a boil).
Matcha may have even more health benefits than other antioxidant-rich teas, because, unlike traditional tea, the leaves are physically consumed instead of just steeped.
Nutritional breakdown of matcha
Matcha is a rich source of antioxidants and polyphenols. It is high in vitamin C, fiber and chlorophyll.
One cup of matcha tea has the antioxidant power equivalent to 10 cups of brewed green tea. Matcha has approximately 15 times the amount of antioxidants of pomegranates or blueberries.
Possible benefits of consuming matcha
Matcha tea may reduce the risk of certain cancers and heart disease.
There have not been many direct studies on matcha. Some of the studies below refer to characteristics specific to matcha. Other studies refer to research on green tea. Because matcha is a concentrated form of green tea, it can be assumed that the benefits of green tea would be obtained from matcha as well.
Concentration and cognition
L-Theanine is an amino acid found in matcha that promotes a state of relaxation and well-being. Stress can induce beta waves in the brain.
Beta waves create an excited, more agitated brain state. L-Theanine creates alpha waves, which counteract beta waves. Alpha waves lead to a state of relaxed alertness.
L-Theanine is common in all tea, but matcha contains five times the amount of L-Theanine that is found in black and green teas. L-Theanine may help memory and learning ability, due to its ability to reduce distracting information, improving performance on cognitive tasks.
Matcha contains a unique class of antioxidant known as catechins, particularly the catechin EGCg (epigallocatechin gallate). EGCg provides potent cancer-fighting properties, including protecting cells from DNA damage and inhibiting tumor cell proliferation.
The strong antioxidant activity of tea polyphenols has also been attributed to cancer prevention, although the exact mechanism is not known.
Chlorophyll has antioxidant properties as well. A recent study showed that higher chlorophyll consumption correlated with lower rates of aflatoxin-associated liver cancer.
Chlorophyll is the element that gives green tea its color. Leaves grown in the shade have been shown to contain more chlorophyll. Because matcha is carefully grown in the shade, it is substantially richer in chlorophyll than other green teas.
According to the National Cancer Institute, the polyphenols in tea have been shown to decrease tumor growth in laboratory studies. In countries where green tea consumption is high, cancer rates tend to be lower, although it is impossible to know whether this is because of green tea consumption or other lifestyle factors.
Type 2 diabetes
Studies concerning the relationship between green tea and diabetes have been inconsistent. Some have shown a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes for green tea drinkers than for those who consumed no tea, while other studies have found no association between tea consumption and diabetes at all.
A 2006 study published in JAMA concluded that green tea consumption is associated with reduced mortality due to all causes, including cardiovascular disease. The study followed over 40,000 Japanese participants between the ages of 40 and 79 for 11 years, starting in 1994.
The participants who drank at least 5 cups of green tea per day had a significantly lower risk of dying (especially from cardiovascular disease) than those who drank less than one cup of tea per day.
Another study found that consuming 10 cups of green tea per day can lower total cholesterol, however, consuming 4 cups or less had no effect on cholesterol levels.
Although this has not been specifically studied with matcha, because matcha is essentially very potent green tea, it could be expected that this effect occurs with the consumption of matcha in much lower quantities.
How to incorporate more matcha into your diet
There are many ways to incorporate matcha into your diet; iced tea is just one option.
A teaspoon of matcha powder is mixed with one third of a cup of hot water to form a liquid. This can be consumed as a hot tea or poured over ice. Sometimes this is mixed with foamed milk to make a matcha latte.
- Drink matcha instead of coffee or as a quick pick-me-up
- Add matcha powder to smoothies
- Mix matcha powder into oatmeal
- Make homemade granola bars using matcha
- Add matcha to simple salad dressings, using part oil, part vinegar, a little sweetener and the matcha powder.
Or, try these healthy and delicious recipes developed by registered dietitians:
Matcha can be purchased at health food stores, specialty tea stores and online. Be sure the only ingredient is matcha powder; many packages or premixes will have added sugar, artificial sweeteners or other unnecessary ingredients.
Matcha is becoming more common and can sometimes be found as a specialty drink in cafés and coffee shops. It is also common for a high amount of sugar to be added to matcha served at a café. Ask if sugar is added and order unsweetened or lightly sweetened if possible.
Potential health risks of consuming matcha
It is the total diet or overall eating pattern that is most important in disease prevention and achieving good health. It is better to eat a diet with variety than to concentrate on individual foods as the key to good health.
Matcha has not been studied extensively. The health claims are new research and more research is need to solidify these claims. As with any newer food, there could be risks that have not yet been reported.