Green bagels have finally met their Matcha
We’re approaching St. Patrick’s Day, the day of the year that all of New York’s bagel shops color their dough green to help people start off their mornings in the spirit of the day. People who can eat wheat, that is.
I racked my brain to think of a healthy, green breakfast option for the intestinally-challenged, and those friends of ours who prefer not to kick off their days with 500 calories-worth of pure, refined flour…even if it is dyed in a festive, springy color.
And I decided that this would be the perfect occasion to break out my little canister of Matcha green tea powder.
Matcha is finely-ground green tea that is used in the Japanese tea ceremony, and for culinary uses such as coloring/flavoring a variety of confections and soba noodles. While all tea varieties come from the same plant (green, black, oolong), the way the leaves are processed is what distinguishes them as far as taste and nutrition. Green tea is the least processed type of tea, and therefore it contains the highest levels of an antioxidant phytochemical called EGCG. Most of the research on the health benefits of green tea are from Asia, where consumption reportedly averages around 3 cups per day in many areas; therefore, it’s unlikely that Americans will derive the same type of benefits that these studies show just from having a weekly mug of it at our local Chinese restaurants. But still, a healthy food is a healthy food, and since it’s a calorie-free way to add a nice antioxidant boost (not to mention a natural green tint) to our diets, it’s earned a place in our collective pantries.
I found my green tea powder at a local, Asian-owned health food store. If you can’t find it locally, you can order it online. Don’t be put off by the teensy-ness of the container: a little goes a VERY long way as far as color and flavor, which is good, since I paid $10 for 1 oz. (If used for tea, 1 oz would make 28 eight-ounce mugs; you’d use about 1g of powder per cup of hot water.) Of course, you don’t have to use relatively expensive Matcha powder to get green tea’s benefits; you can always just buy green tea bags and make a nice steaming mug for yourself. Or just order a cup of it from Starbuck’s. If you have a reusable water-bottle that travels with you, try filling it with home-brewed iced green tea once in the morning instead of water, and you can sip up the health benefits as you go about your day. As far as those bottle, sweetened, iced green tea drinks go (e.g., Sobe, Snapple), from what I can tell they don’t contain very much by way of EGCG, so you’re unlikely to derive much benefit from them. After all, the less processed, the better. (Note: green tea does contain caffeine. According to the clever scientists at the Mayo Clinic, it has 30-50 mg per cup of brewed tea, which is about 1/3 to 1/2 the amount in the same amount of regular brewed coffee. So keep that in mind as you plan your green tea strategy so that you’re not awake all night congratulating yourself on the new healthy habit you just picked up .)
The benefits of Green Tea
There are literally thousands of studies on the health benefits of green tea, so I’ll focus on a biggie from the sexiest publication around: the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). The study, published in 2006, followed over 40,000 middle aged and older adults in Japan for years, and concluded that even at one cup per day, people realized some health benefits, but that the more green tea people drank, the greater the health-protective benefits they experienced. Some highlights:
Compared to people who drank 1 cup of green tea per day or less:
- At 5 or more cups per day, there was a 12%(men)-20%(women) lower risk of dying, period.
- At 2-5 cups per day, women had a 32%-39% lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease (the risk was more reduced with each additional cup)
- at 2-5 cups per day, men had a 15%-35% reduced risk of dying from a stroke (the risk was more reduced with each additional cup.)
- At 2-5 cups per day, women had a 21%-42% reduced risk of dying from a stroke (the risk was more reduced with each additional cup)
A review of the scientific literature also shows a possible role in breast cancer prevention and recurrence for women with high levels of consumption (5 or more cups per day), but individual research study results are not consistently statistically significant and should therefore be considered as promising, but not definitive.
There are multiple biochemical mechanisms believed to be behind green tea’s health-promoting effects, ranging from inhibiting the generation of new blood vessels (which tumors need to grow), working at the DNA-level to turn on genes that promote cell-death of cancer cells, inhibiting an enzyme responsible for producing inflammatory proteins in our bodies, and acting as antioxidants which help stave off routine cell damage that results from the normal rough and tumble of living.
I will confess that I originally bought my matcha powder to color a white chocolate ganache that was going in the center of some truffles that we made for the holidays. But surely, healthy matcha powder must be destined for more noble endeavors than to color my truffles or to flavor a bazilion-calorie Starbuck’s Green Tea Frappuccino, musn’t it?
And so, my matcha powder met its destiny in this easy, whole-grain, gluten-free and green breakfast recipe that I invented just for the occassion:
Recipe: St. Patty’s Day Green Tea Porridge
2 1/2 cups lowfat milk or water (or some combo thereof)
1/2 tsp (kosher) salt
1/2 cup Cream of Buckwheat cereal
1 tsp matcha green tea powder
Maple syrup, honey or sugar to taste
Bring milk/water to a boil with the salt. (I use 1 cup 1% milk and 1.5 cups water, but any way you do it is fine. Using milk will sneak some easy calcium into your day.) Add buckwheat cereal and bring mixture to a low boil again, stirring frequently. When cereal starts to thicken but before its totally finished, mix in the green tea powder and mix well enough to break up any powdery green clumps. Finish cooking, sweeten with the sweetener of your choice (I used maple syrup, but honey or a sprinkle of sugar would work fine, too).
Nutrition info per serving: (assumes preparation w/ 1 cup 1% milk and 1.5 cups water; does not include sweetener)
Calories: 185, Carbohydrate: 42g (of which 1g is fiber); Protein: 6g; Fat: 1.5g.
(Note: preparing it with water only makes each serving 140 calories, 36g carbohydrate, 2g protein and 0g fat.)
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