While folks in the United States are—statistically speaking—more likely to start their day with a cup of coffee (a whopping 62 percent of Americans drink coffee every day), around the world, tea remains the more popular morning beverage. In fact, tea is the most consumed beverage on the planet after water. And not to suggest that coffee is void of nutritional benefits (because it's actually home to a bounty of health-boosting compounds, particularly antioxidants), but depending on the kind of tea you elect, trading your morning joe for a more herbal brew may be better for your health—especially for your gut.
- Niket Sonpal, MD, New York-based internist and gastroenterologist
“Many of us tend to think of coffee as being a hardcore, gonna-go-kick-some-butt beverage, while tea is perceived as what you’ll drink when you’re reading on a rainy day,” says gastroenterologist Niket Sonpal, MD. “But really, your standard black coffee and black tea aren’t actually that different. They’re both essentially water mixed with caffeine and a lot of various anti-inflammatory and antioxidative agents,” he continues.
How tea impacts gut health
That being said, differences do arise when it comes to the caffeine levels in your morning beverage. When folks affirm that some types of teas feel easier on their stomachs than coffee, Dr. Sonpal notes that this is a result of less caffeinated tea varietals, which tend to have less of a jarring impact on your gut.
Of course, caffeinated teas also come with potent (and unique) health benefits. “When you explore green tea or matcha, you’ll be able to tap into health advantages that go beyond coffee,” says Dr. Sonpal. For example, green tea leaves contain the antioxidant L-theanine, which research has suggested may have neuroprotective properties, reducing your risk for dementia, and also helping to improve working memory, attention, and executive function. And while coffee is also high in antioxidants, it does not contain L-theanine.
Watch this video to learn more about the benefits of green tea, matcha, and L-theanine:
Moreover, as Dr. Sonpal notes, ginger tea can have a particularly calming effect on your gut. “Ginger helps to relieve indigestion, so a cup of ginger tea can have a soothing effect on gas, irritable bowel syndrome, and generalized discomfort,” he adds.
If you're ready to try transitioning from coffee to tea but aren't sure where to start, look to options from Firebelly Tea, which offer up a wide range of delicious teas, including a line of digestion-focused brews that are carefully engineered to help you start the day with a calm stomach. A Good Root ($19) for example, is a blend of ginger, turmeric, and galangal that is ideal for your digestion. While ginger helps to calm your gut, turmeric is a natural anti-inflammatory agent, and galangal root contains plenty of antioxidants.
Learn more about how ginger (and ginger tea) benefit your gut according to an RD in this video:
Another major boon to tea? It can be fermented, which comes with its own host of health benefits that are especially good for your gut. “Fermented foods offer prebiotics, probiotics, and healthy organic acids—aka postbiotics—to your microbiome,” explains Daina Trout, the Chief Mission Officer and Co-Founder of Health-Ade. “With that kind of gut support, you’re getting improvements in energy, inflammation, immunity, and mood.” Fermented tea helps to increase butyrate production, which plays a wide range of important roles in your body. “Butyrate helps to increase cell integrity of your gut lining so it can digest better, plus it increases production of the potent antioxidant glutathione, and improves management of blood sugar,” says Trout. And given that butyrate also helps to increase dopamine release, Trout notes that fermented teas can have mood-boosting effects. Just one more reason to jumpstart your day with a bottle of 'booch.
Moral of the story? The next time you put on a pot in the morning, consider putting in some tea leaves or cracking open a jug of kombucha instead. (You can also brew them both and see how your stomach feels following—everyone's gut is unique, after all.)
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