FOOD

Is Matcha Really Worth The Hype?

Here's the real deal on this popular green tea powder.

19/07/2016 12:09 PM AEST | Updated July 19, 2016 16:20
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How matcha do you like it?

In case you haven't noticed the pretty green lattes, cakes, milkshakes, ice creams and bubble tea, matcha is a pretty big deal at the moment.

The vibrant emerald powder is finely ground green tea leaves and has been used in Japan and China for thousands of years as part of traditional tea ceremonies. While its sister green tea is steeped in water, when drinking or eating matcha you are actually consuming the whole powdered leaves.

Now widely available as a superfood (with a superfood price tag), matcha is used in everything from smoothies and raw desserts to stir fry and soups. But is matcha worth the hype?

"That's where the debate is," Duane Mellor -- accredited practising dietitian, Dietitians Association of Australia spokesperson and Associate Professor of Nutrition and Dietetics at University of Canberra -- told The Huffington Post Australia.

"There are more compounds in matcha which are known to be very powerful antioxidants when tested in a test tube -- however, whether they have that effect in the human body is questionable."

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Like any food, matcha tea isn't a quick health fix.

The powerful antioxidant in question is epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), a polyphenol tied to protection against heart disease and some cancers, which is said to be 137 times greater in concentration in matcha than other green tea. However, matcha's antioxidant properties may not be as effective because some are not well absorbed by the body.

"There are studies looking at cells in test tubes and that it can reduce cancer cell development and boost metabolism in mice, but not in humans," Duane said.

Looking at matcha or green tea is like comparing spinach or kale. Green tea is a good low calorie drink and if you're happy with that, there's no need to search for matcha.

The other reported health benefits of matcha are its calming and metabolism boosting effect.

"The other thing that is becoming of interest is the non-protein amino acid called L-theanine, which is not used to make protein but is found in tea leaves," Mellor told HuffPost Australia.

"L-theanine is linked to relaxation but again, it's very early stages so it's hard to say its true effect. It seems to have some interesting, positive effects in animals and test tubes. There's not enough research to be sure."

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Green tea powder products are often matcha too high in added sugar.

Given the uncertainty surrounding matcha's health benefits, it's not the best idea to rely on matcha alone to help boost your metabolism and health or to lose weight.

"You hear a lot about EGCG improving metabolism when looked at animals. If you look at human studies, however, they're not very good," Mellor said.

This isn't to say matcha is unhealthy -- it's just not as 'super' as made out to be.

"It may have more health properties in it, but whether it works or not in the body, we're yet unsure," Mellor told HuffPost Australia.

"If you look at the Japanese who are known for longevity and where a lot of the green tea and matcha is consumed, it's probably part of a lifestyle -- it's a small part in a big jigsaw."

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Whether you're enjoying matcha because of the taste or potential health benefits, Mellor said it's important to consider how the matcha is made.

"You might see it being sold in smoothies, milkshakes or other sweetened drinks, as well as desserts like ice cream, so they can contain a lot of sugar," he said.

"You may think 'oh, it's a nice, green coloured drink' but you have to remember you're still eating the ice cream or a very sugary milkshake, which is not necessarily great.

"Another thing to remember is not to have it too hot. Hot drinks are known to potentially damage our gullet, as well."

For people who are watching their weight, Mellor cautions to be somewhat wary of matcha lattes.

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Pretty matcha latte art.

"If you're having it in the form of a latte, you've got to be a bit careful as they contain a lot of milk and possibly sugar, so it could be quite a high energy drink," Mellor said.

"If you're having that frequently with an extra snack, that can quite easily increase your energy intake which might not be necessarily what you're trying to achieve."

If you're a happy green tea drinker, Mellor said it's not necessary -- but entirely optional -- to upgrade to matcha.

"Looking at matcha or green tea is like comparing spinach or kale," he said. "Green tea is a good low calorie drink and if you're happy with that, there's no need to search for matcha.

"But if you do fancy something a bit different, and if you're having matcha that's not got added sugar or calories, it can be a far better choice than your sugary soft drinks. You'll have a low energy drink that's got more flavour than water."



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