The best and worst add-ins, per dietitian

Earlier this year, an American scientist launched a major transatlantic debate on the subject of tea. In her book Infused: The Chemistry of TeaBryn Mawr College chemistry professor Michelle Francl, PhD, claimed that a pinch of salt is the key to a perfect cup of tea.

Dr. Francl, who invested three years of research and testing for her book, wrote that adding a pinch of salt reduces the bitterness of tea because “the sodium ions in salt block the bitter receptors in our mouth.”

The claim caused so much controversy that eventually the US Embassy in London felt the need to intervene. In a post on social mediaassured “the good people of Great Britain that the unthinkable idea of ​​adding salt to Great Britain’s national drink is not an official policy of the United States,” adding: “Let us unite in our deep solidarity and showing the world that when it comes to tea, we stand as one. The U.S. Embassy will continue to brew tea the right way – by microwaving it.”

While that last statement was a joke, there is one brewing mistake that has potential health consequences: too hot water. Not only does boiling water burn delicate tea leaves, resulting in a bitter taste, but multiple studies have also linked drinking hot tea and esophageal cancer. According to the authors of one such study, people who consumed more than 700 milliliters (or two large cups) of tea per day at temperatures above 140 degrees F had a 90 percent higher risk of developing esophageal cancer than people who drank less tea and at cooler temperatures.

So if you drink a lot of tea or have other risk factors for esophageal cancer, you may want to brew cold or use lower temperature water.

Brewing methods aside, salt is just one of the unconventional things people add to tea, either in hopes of improving the taste or adding health benefits. We asked a few experts to rate some of those choices, and here are the results.

1. Best: Mint

“I just love the uplifting aroma it provides,” says Jackie Newgent, RDN, chef, nutritionist and author of The plant-based diabetes cookbook. Fresh peppermint has been shown to relieve digestive discomfort in people with irritable bowel syndrome.

Other research has shown that the menthol in mint has a calming effect that can help reduce stress.

2. Worst: Salty

While salt can take the edge off in terms of bitterness, Newgent doesn’t recommend even a pinch from a health perspective. “Given that Americans already consume too much sodium – 3,400 milligrams (mg) instead of less than 2,300 mg per day – adding salt to tea is not something I recommend,” she says.

Plus, there are better ways to balance the bitterness. “Anything sweet, including fruit, will do,” she claims.

3. Best: Fruit

The sweetness of fruit is far from its only benefit. Steeping tea with fruit also adds fiber, vitamins and antioxidants. “All fruits add a punch of antioxidants, especially when they are seasonal and at their peak of ripeness, nutritional value and flavor,” says Newgent.

Her top picks are wild blueberries with black tea, peaches with white tea, and mango with green tea.

4. Worst: Sweeteners

Americans overdo it with the sweet stuff as it is, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reporting that adult men consume an average of 19 teaspoons (tsp) of added sugar per day and adult women consume 15 teaspoons. Excessive consumption of sugary drinks has been linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, so it makes sense to limit sugar where possible.

Artificial sweeteners are also controversial, especially when it comes to weight loss.

4. Best: citrus juice or peel

Both orange and lemon peels and their juice not only improve the taste of tea, but also have potential health benefits. “Adding lemon juice to a cup of tea provides vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties,” explains Keri Gans, RDN, a nutrition consultant in New York City and author of The small change diet.

Similarly, citrus peels provide “polyphenols, vitamin C and a pleasant aroma,” Newgent adds. There is even research linking citrus fruit intake to a reduced risk of lung cancer and neurological benefits

thanks to citrus flavonoids.

5. Worst: Essential oils

You may see advice on social media about adding these flavored oils to tea or food. Essential oils are extracted from plants, but not all of them are safe to ingest. You need to be sure that what you use is food grade. Even then, it can be easy to overdo it because essential oils can be very powerful. “While very limited use of essential oils, such as peppermint or lavender, can be enjoyable, I generally advise against their use in hot tea because essential oils are highly concentrated,” says Newgent, and their use in food is not as strictly regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration as other ingredients. Because they are fat-soluble, essential oils are also best mixed with foods or drinks that contain some fat, rather than a water-based drink such as tea.

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