As if we needed one more excuse to cozy up with a mug of matcha. February is Healthy Heart Month, which means boosting our intake of heart-healthy food options is top of mind. Our diet plays a major role in heart health, after all, and this can fall in our favor. With heart disease on the rise and impacting nearly half (48 percent) of all adults and women posing an even greater heart health risk, there’s never been a better time to raise awareness about foods that help fight heart disease.
One of our favorite—and perhaps one of the more surprising—ingredients with countless cardiovascular benefits is tea. According to William W. Li, MD, a renowned doctor and author of Eat To Beat Disease, tea is a strong source of flavonoids that help decrease oxidative stress. It also reduces inflammation and improves the efficiency and function of blood vessels.
These many benefits were just further substantiated by a comprehensive observational study conducted on 101,000 adults in China over the course of nearly 22 years: it found that those who drank more than three cups of tea a week saw a 20 percent lower risk of a cardiovascular incident, had 22 percent reduced risk for cardiovascular death, and an overall 15 percent reduced risk for premature death. “Tea consumption was associated with reduced risks of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality, especially among those consistent habitual tea drinkers,” states the study.
Here are Dr. Li’s top reasons we should be drinking more tea—unsweetened, please!—for cardiovascular and overall health.
Tea is one of the best sources of dietary flavonoids, or natural plant compounds that have long been associated with heart health benefits. Research has shown that flavonoids help quell inflammation, which may reduce plaque buildup inside arteries. Both black and green tea contain flavonoids, but green tea has slightly higher amounts.
According to a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, tea helps slow our body’s decrease in HDL (the “good” cholesterol) that occurs during naturally from aging. Research has also shown that tea can significantly lower our risk of heart disease and stroke by reducing LDL (the “bad” cholesterol) that can build up in arteries.
Whether green or black, drinking tea has been shown by researchers to increase the number of stem cells in bloodstream, which improves your circulation and helps keep your body in good shape as you age, says. Dr. Li.
Drinking tea can help promote gut health, too. Researchers have found the green or black tea flavonoids can increase beneficial bacteria and lower harmful bacteria of the gut microbiome, one of the body’s key health defense systems.
“Despite what you’ve heard about it being a diuretic (it’s true), tea is hydrating,” says Dr. Li. It’s almost entirely water, after all. Hydration is important for your circulation and heart function. Just don’t forget to drink actual water, too.
It may sound slight, but this is actually key. Healthy lifestyle changes are easy to make when they’re enjoyable, inviting, and readily available—and tea is all of the above. “It’s almost too easy to introduce tea to your diet,” says Dr. Li. When you swap tea—loose leaf and Lipton tea bags are equally amazing options—for sugar laden beverages like soda, you’re making a doubly smart decision.