Unless you’ve taken a break from the Internet for the last year, you’re probably familiar with matcha. The bright green tea has taken Instagram by storm. The trend started in the form of lattes—but people aren’t just sipping the stuff anymore. They’re adding matcha to their smoothies and desserts, too.
Matcha is a type of green tea, and the benefits of traditional green tea are already well-documented on their own. So it follows that matcha’s health halo spans from weight loss to cancer prevention. That sounds great, but is it legit?
First, a little background on what matcha actually is. Matcha comes from the same plant that all green, black, and oolong teas come from—Camellia sinensis. But it’s a little different from the basic brew you know and love to sip.
“When you order traditional green tea, you’re steeping the tea leaves in hot water until the leaves are totally infused and then you discard them,” explains Cynthia Sass, M.P.H., R.D., an NYC-based sports nutritionist. “With matcha, you’re drinking the actual leaves, which have been finely powdered and made into a solution, traditionally by mixing about a teaspoon of matcha powder with a third cup of hot water.” Because you’re ingesting the entire leaf of the tea plant, you’ll get a more potent mix of nutrients and antioxidants than with traditionally prepared green tea.
Matcha is rich in antioxidants called polyphenols, says Sass, which have anti-inflammatory effects and may work to protect your body against serious health issues like high blood pressure and heart disease. One powerful polyphenol found in green tea, called EGCG (also known as catechin), has been associated with boosting your metabolism to slow or halt the growth of cancer cells. According to a study published in the Journal of Chromatography, matcha contains up to 137 times the amount of ECCG found in traditional Chinese green tea.
Another perk: Matcha can help boost your energy, making it a great alternative to your daily cup of joe. While it doesn’t contain nearly as much caffeine as coffee does—one 230-ml cup of matcha contains about 70 milligrams (mg) while the same amount of coffee has closer to 170 mg—matcha contains a natural substance called l-theanine, which triggers a sense of alertness, says Sass.
“Compared to the caffeine buzz from coffee, matcha drinkers experience an ‘alert calm,’ that produces feelings of relaxation rather than drowsiness,” she explains.
While matcha doesn’t have to be sweetened, those who are accustomed to using sweeteners and creams with their coffee may choose to add flavouring, says Sass.
That said, other foods containing matcha aren’t inherently healthy options. Matcha chocolate is just chocolate, and matcha cupcakes probably still pack lots of sugary frosting. For this reason, experts agree that matcha tea itself can be a low-calorie alternative to sugary drinks, but they warn against believing claims that matcha will do more for you than offer a slight nutritional boost.
Claims that matcha has the ability to detox your entire body, for example, are not true. “No food can ‘detox’ your body, nor does your body need anything external to serve as a detox,” explains Abbey Sharp, R.D., founder of Abbey’s Kitchen. “Your liver, kidneys, lungs, and skin do this for us every day, all day.”
Additionally, while research suggests that matcha has the potential to boost your metabolism due to its EGCG, that doesn’t really make it a weight-loss solution. The caveat: You’d need to drink a lot of it. “Most studies that show positive associations between matcha and weight loss are actually using a green tea extract in larger doses than what most people consume,” says Elizabeth Shaw, M.S., R.D.N., author and nutrition consultant at Shaw Simple Swaps.
Instead, sustainable weight loss should stem from more significant lifestyle changes, like exercising regularly and eating a whole foods-based diet, she says, which matcha can certainly be a part of. So while its nutritional profile is promising, matcha tea—or any tea, really—isn’t going to transform your health on its own. If you truly want to benefit from it, matcha should serve to supplement a healthy diet full of a variety of nutrient-dense foods.
Want to give it a go yourself? Check out the directions below to find out how to make matcha tea.
HOW TO PREPARE MATCHA TEA
- Boil 4 oz of water. Whisk 2 teaspoons of organic matcha concentrate with 4 teaspoons of room-temperature water until you form a smooth paste.
- Stir in the hot water. Matcha on its own has a grassy sweetness to it.
By Jenn Sinrich