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Does Drinking Hot Tea During Meals Help Fight Obesity?

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Before the arrival of Coca-cola and American fast food chains, obesity was not a widespread problem in Asia. With the way Asians consume tea, one has to wonder whether drinking hot tea during meals help fight obesity.

But does it?

Hot tea with mint leaves and wedge of lemon

Below is an updated version of a post originally published in my other blog back in 2009.

There is a popular belief that a hot drink first thing in the morning warms up the body and conditions it for physical activity. Others say a hot drink prevents the formation of unwanted acids. I don’t know how much of it is superstition and how much is fact. Personally, I drink a cup of coffee almost as soon as I wake up for the caffeine boost.

There are a lot of beliefs about the effects of drinks before, during and after meals. Depending on what drink you take, it can supposedly suppress hunger pangs, aid in the digestion of food or prevent the proper breakdown of food in the stomach.

The pros of drinking hot tea during meals

There are claims that drinking tea during meals aids digestion by relieving stomach gas and flatulence.

There are also claims that the catechins in green tea boost metabolism that leads to weight loss. So does caffeine.

The cons of drinking hot tea during meals

Proponents of drinking tea during meals to help digestion and metabolism do not mention just how much tea during meals will result in maximum health benefits. The amount might be crucial because there are also claims that too much tea during meals can hinder the absorption of iron, a claim that has been partially debunked.

“… the presence of sufficient amounts of iron absorption enhancers (ascorbic acid, meat, fish, poultry, as present in most industrialized countries) overcomes inhibition of iron absorption from even large amounts of tea…”

Tea, diet and obesity

Drinking tea is a Chinese tradition that has spread to many parts of Asia and the world (see How the British addiction to tea shaped Hong Kong). I’ve so often heard it said that it is this practice that has helped prevent obesity in Asia. Well, before Asia embraced the American fast food culture and the habit of drinking cold soda and sugar-laden fruit juices during meals which don’t seem to contain any nutritive value.

The thing about claims that drinking tea regularly fights obesity is that they are often made by interested parties — sellers of tea who stand to benefit if the public swallows the connection between tea and weight loss.

My personal experience is that certain kinds of tea do aid digestion. But that also means that having digested food more efficiently than usual, you start feeling hungry earlier than usual too. And the tendency to eat more, or eat more often, or both, because of tea drinking does not seem to coincide with claims about weight loss.

Chinese mooncakes and tea: a story about the mid-autumn festival

The question, of course, is if claims that drinking tea can fight obesity is corroborated by objective research. So far, there has been nothing conclusive. As to why tea-drinking peoples of Asia have thwarted obesity in the pre-American fast food era may have more to do with what we eat rather than what we drink. It is more probable that overall diet may be the real key.

The Japanese, for instance, may be less prone to obesity because they are largely seafood eaters.

The Koreans observe balance in their food.

The Chinese, on the other hand, have a lot of vegetables in their dishes and tofu often takes the place of expensive meat.

So, tea-drinking may not be related to the obesity issue at all.