You’ve no doubt noticed that the tea aisle has gone green. What used to be a packet of green tea here and there is now shelves filled with green teas of all types, with flavors from refreshing to grassy to smoky. Now, whole cafes have opened up devoted to the stuff, Instagram is peppered with fancy-looking green tea concoctions, and most restaurants and even coffee shops carry a variety of green tea or two.
Fueling many first-timers’ foray into the world of green tea is word from some scientists, wellness, and weight loss experts that it can even help you lose weight.
So if you take your green tea as tea, and not in, say, green tea ice cream or a green tea Kit Kat bar, can this plant-based beverage help you drop pounds? Research in humans and animals points to a resounding “sort of.”
But before we look into what that means, take a look at what green tea actually is. It’s made from the same plant species as black tea, it’s just processed differently. Trendy matcha is even a little different from that. With most teas, you brew them and then discard the leaves. Matcha is a powder made from the leaves. So when you’re drinking a beverage made from matcha, you’re drinking the finely-ground leaves themselves. (Not weird. Think about it: When you eat salad or even parsley, you’re eating leaves, so why not drink them?)
And as you’ve likely already noticed, there are many variations in green tea flavors. So if you’ve tried it once and didn’t love it, a different brand may give you a completely different flavor experience.
And while there are no guarantees it can drop pounds (of course, it can help you achieve a healthy weight if you’re drinking it in place of sugary sodas or sugared-up coffee drinks), here’s why it just might help a bit:
There’s evidence that green tea can help you lose weight
A number of small but respectable clinical trials have found that overweight people who had green tea—either in drinkable form or in extract form—lost more weight than people who didn’t have any. Science being science, there are also a few studies that showed no benefit from green tea drinks or supplements. Overall, “I would say it may assist modestly,” says Kristin Kirkpatrick, R.D.N., consultant for Integrative and Lifestyle Medicine for the Cleveland Clinic.
In studies that found a weight-loss benefit in green tea, there was a “trend toward weight loss” or tea drinkers lost “significantly” more. But it’s not usually a total transformation. One small study conducted at Oklahoma State University, for instance, found that people who drank green tea—and not even that much of it; only 4 cups a day—or took green tea extract lost about 1.3 pounds more over 8 weeks than people who drank water. Some studies suggest even decaf green tea may have a benefit.
Green tea may even help you lose belly fat
An older study found that among people who ate regularly and exercised 180 minutes a week, those who drank a beverage containing catechins, the most biologically active compounds in green tea, had a greater percentage change in abdominal fat (belly fat) than did people who got a drink with no catechins.
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Why it might work
There are a number of theories on why green tea—especially the main catechin called epigallocatechin gallate—might help you out a bit if you’re looking to lose weight.
“It’s possible that catechins in green tea may actually inhibit carbohydrate digestion and absorption,” Kirkpatrick says, citing a report in the journal Scientific Reports that showed lower carb absorption after people downed a green tea extract.
“I think some of the most promising ones are looking at green tea’s effects on the microbiome,” she says. Research is increasingly finding that green tea alters the gut’s microbiome, and those changes could be what makes it helpful for dropping pounds.
There may even be some evidence that black tea can contribute to weight loss as well.
Matcha may help weight and belly fat, too
Kirkpatrick gets a lot of questions from her clients on whether matcha—remember that’s the leaves ground up into powder form—is as helpful as the green tea leaves that come in teabags or as loose tea. “There haven’t been a ton of studies on matcha alone,” she says. But adds that it’s reasonable to think it’s just as useful, as green tea is made of the leaves of the plant, and matcha is made of the ground-up plants.
While numerous studies have looked at green tea extracts taken as supplements, Kirkpatrick urges people to get their green tea from the actual tea itself; “in the most whole form possible.”
Beyond the weight loss benefits of green tea
There are more reasons than weight to drink green tea. Kirkpatrick points out the “impressive benefits being found regarding green tea and the prevention of cancer.” And then there are benefits in possibly preventing heart disease, potential memory benefits and other health boosters in the green stuff.
“Weight loss is so multifaceted; green tea is not going to guarantee weight loss,” Kirkpatrick says. But go ahead and drink up as long as you’re not sipping on a sugared-up version of the stuff, if green tea doesn’t interfere with any medications you’re taking, and as long as you’re not looking for it to be a weight-loss panacea.
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