If you’re into healthful eating and foods that pack a powerful health boost then you’ve surely heard of matcha.
Matcha is being touted as a trend in beneficial superfoods because it contains small amounts of various vitamins and minerals. However, it is most prized for being rich in polyphenol compounds called catechins, a type of antioxidant. Because matcha is made from ground up whole green tea leaves it is a more potent source of catechins than standard green tea, which is normally consumed as an infusion and the leaves discarded.
A study also found that Matcha contains three times more of the catechin called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCg) – an antioxidant linked to fighting cancer, viruses and heart disease – than other kinds of standard green tea.
For the health-conscious foodies and chefs among us, matcha is commercially available in a finely ground powder derived from green tea leaves that have been processed in unique ways, explains Antonia De Luca, owner and founder of Leafy Greens Café in the west of Johannesburg.
“We grow the plants in the shade for the three weeks leading up to harvest, and once picked the stems and veins are removed before the leaves are ground using specialised granite stone grinders,” she elaborates.
Due to this processing, the powder provides a concentrated form of the beneficial compounds that have made matcha so popular, says Antonia. “By adding this finely ground powder to a variety of recipes you’re getting the same benefits offered from steeping the leaves, but at an enormously magnified scale. In fact, scientists have estimated that you would have to drink at least ten cups of green tea to get the same benefit from just one cup of matcha.”
Fights free radicals
And these benefits are manifold thanks to matcha’s powerful antioxidant content, which research has shown can slow down the ageing process and fight chronic diseases like cancer that are caused by rampant free-radical production. “Antioxidants help to scavenge free-radicals which, if left unchecked, insert themselves into cellular processes causing damage and breakdown,” explains Antonia.
Antioxidant potency is measured using a scale known as ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity). “Where goji berries score a meagre 253 units per gram, which is already high in comparison to other foods, matcha scores a whopping 1573 units per gram,” she continues. “That’s more than six times the antioxidant score of goji berries, and it also boasts a score that is seven times that of raw cacao.”
Aids weight loss
Green tea has also long been lauded for its incredible weight-loss benefits due to its caffeine content, and since matcha is nothing more than high-potency green tea, it also provides these same benefits.
“The way that it does this is by increasing the body’s rate of thermogenesis – the rate at which the body burns calories,” says Antonia. She cites a study featured in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition which found that consuming matcha increased thermogenesis from the standard 8-10% of daily energy expenditure to 35%-43%. “That’s more than four times the calories burned, and the best part is that matcha achieves this without any of the harmful side-effects that many pharmaceutical weight-loss products can cause – It doesn’t increase your heart rate or blood pressure, and won’t cause agitation, irritability or anxiousness, making it a far preferable natural alternative.”
Boost concentration, lower anxiety
And that’s not all because matcha also helps to boost concentration and can calm body and mind.
“These properties are what have made this a favourite drink of Buddhist monks for centuries, who drank it to remain calm and alert during long periods of meditation,” elaborates Antonia.
She explains that scientists have since linked this effect to the high quantities of the amino acid L-theanine that matcha contains. “L-theanine induces alpha wave activity in the brain – the same brain activity that is induced by meditation – which helps to boost concentration, and aid memory and learning. This also helps to counteract the stimulatory side effects of caffeine, a natural component of green tea.”
A bowl or cup of matcha can, therefore, aid clarity of mind and wakefulness without the jittery effects of coffee. However, Antonia recommends that you avoid matcha, as with other sources of caffeine, in the six or so hours before to bed.
Detoxing power of green
“I and many other nutrition experts always recommend a good daily dose of greens to promote and aid the detoxification of the body,” adds Antonia. “The reason for this is the chlorophyll content of green leaves, which helps to eliminate both chemicals and heavy metals from the body. This is the molecule that gives plants their green colour and because matcha is grown exclusively in the shade, it contains significantly higher quantities of chlorophyll than regular green tea. This occurs because the plant has to produce higher quantities of chlorophyll to compensate for the lower levels of light, which makes in an ideal part of your daily detox regimen.”
So, if you feel like your body could use some help with its natural detoxification, or you need a boost in concentration, weight loss, or some disease-fighting goodness, Antonia suggests trying a bowl of matcha, drinking it in the traditional manner, or trying any one of the many delicious recipes that now include a healthy dose of matcha powder.
Benefits of matcha powder
- Packed with antioxidants including the powerful EGCg that aids in the prevention of disease and counteracts the effects of ageing;
- Rich in fibre and chlorophyll;
- Contains beneficial vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, selenium, chromium, zinc and magnesium;
- Acts as a natural detoxifier;
- Boosts metabolism to burn more calories, even at rest;
- Calms the mind and relaxes the body;
- Enhances mood and aids in concentration;
- Lowers cholesterol and blood sugar.