Matcha - more than a superfood
Hmm a frothy, delicious matcha latte
You've probably heard of matcha, the superfood green powder which has increased in popularity in the West due to its many health benefits. Starbucks can make you a matcha latte, you can find it at most health food stores, and you may have seen people put it in everything from smoothies to baked goods (matcha muffins anyone?). If you've ever wanted to know a bit more about matcha (pretty interesting I must say!), then read on. In this blog I'll talk about:
- The background history of matcha (pretty fascinating! For me at least, I nerd out on history sometimes).
- Five health benefits of this drink.
While reading about matcha I was left in awe of it's complex history, and realized this is much more than a superfood (not a huge fan of that term anyways hehe). In Japanese, “cha” means tea, and “ma” means powder, so matcha literally means powdered tea (The History of Matcha Tea). matcha was originally brought to Japan by the Buddhist monk Eisai; he took tea seeds back from China and began the practice of grinding green tea leaves into powdered form, creating the matcha drink we have become familiar with (The Origin of Matcha).
This tea was first consumed by Buddhist monks; later on Japanese royalty and samurais would drink it as a status symbol. As time progressed, matcha tea became central to the Japanese tea ceremony, an intricate ceremony which encourages participants to be present, appreciating their surroundings, company, and the tea itself (The History of Matcha Tea). So...I admit that was a very succinct summary, but it's just to give you a brief idea of the historical and cultural significance matcha has had, and continues to have in Japan. As it's popularity grows in the West, it's seen as more of a “superfood” but it's really so much more! It's also a way to become mindful and be in the present moment, all the while getting some awesome health benefits.
Most of us are aware that drinking green tea can be beneficial for our health, but drinking matcha is even better. Why? It all begins with how matcha is cultivated. In Japan, the tea leaves used for matcha are shaded for three weeks prior to harvesting. This allows the leaves to turn a deep green, rich in nutrients like chlorophyll and l-theanine (Alban, Deane). After being cultivated, the leaves are dried and then ground up to become a fine green powder known as matcha. Thanks to the grounding up of the leaves, we consume all of the nutrients of the tea leaves as opposed to just steeping the leaves and getting partial benefits.
Which brings us to the second part of this blog: the health benefits of matcha!
Matcha tea can help us to:
- Be alert and relaxed at the same time
Matcha was a drink of choice for Buddhist monks and samurais, and there's good a reason behind it. L-theanine is an amino acid found mainly in tea which promotes relaxation, but it doesn't sedate us. It's a good choice for those of us (me included) who are sensitive to caffeine and jittery or anxious when consuming coffee. While I love the smell and taste, drinking coffee is never worth it for me; however, a cup of matcha provides me with l-theanine, which keeps me alert and calm. L-theanine also increases brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) such as serotonin, dopamine, and GABA. These guys are responsible for making us feel emotions of well-being, relaxation, and a sense of accomplishment (Alban, Deane).
- Keeps our cells healthy due to high antioxidant content
Free radicals are atoms that have lost an electron and thus look around in the body for an electron they can take from another atom (they like to hang in pairs, not singles). The act of them stealing other electrons causes damage to cells. While it's true that we all make free radicals and it's a normal process, too many of them is no bueno since they cause damage to cells. Enter antioxidants! These guys neutralize free radicals, therefore preventing damage to the cells. Green tea is a powerhouse of antioxidants, even beating wild blueberries and goji berries, other delicious and antioxidant rich foods. Dr. Mariza Snyder, author of “The Matcha Miracle”, says in her book that one cup of matcha is the equivalent to 10 cups of green tea! So you're getting a lot of antioxidants and nutrients in one little cup! (This tea has 10 times more antioxidants than green tea.)
- May help reduce risk of cardiovascular disease
Matcha also contains polyphenols, a class of chemicals found in plants (LD, Megan Ware RDN). One of these polyphenols is called EGCG or epigallocatechin gallate, which has strong anti-inflammatory properties, and studies suggest it is effective in reducing our risk of cardiovascular disease (Wolfram, S.). It's pretty amazing that drinking matcha/ green tea can help maintain our hearts and cardiovascular system nice and healthy!
- Helps with cognition and memory
Like I mentioned, l-theanine is an amino acid which is great for being relaxed yet still alert. This amino acid works synergistically with the caffeine in matcha to helps us get in a more focused state. The combination of the two seems to improve cognitive function (so perfect for studying for exams or getting a project in on time!) (Owen, G N, et al).
- Can help get us in a creative mindful state
Our brains produce different brain waves due to electrical activity which is taking place. Some of these waves are known as Gamma, Beta, and Alpha. One brain wave in particular, Alpha, is associated with creativity, and has been shown to decrease depression symptoms. This is the brainwave which becomes more prominent while we are meditating or daydreaming. Matcha will actually cause an increase in alpha brain waves thanks to that nifty little amino acid I mentioned earlier, l-theanine. So while drinking this delicious powdered green tea, we can get a little more creative and even get into a more optimistic, less negative mode of thinking! (Bergland, Christopher).
So, I don't know about you, but I'm in total awe of matcha. It has such a rich history and is deeply rooted in cultural traditions. It has amazing health benefits, from protecting our cells, to improving cognition, and helping us be relaxed yet still alert, matcha is a beverage that I have lots of respect for (and I'm so happy to know more about it!).
I hope you feel the same way, and next time you drink a cup of matcha, take a minute to think about the history, how it can help us be relaxed and present, and enjoy your cup, hopefully mindfully 😉
- “The History of Matcha Tea.” Zen Matcha, www.zenmatchatea.com/the-history-of-matcha-tea/.
- “The Origin of Matcha.” World of Tea, 6 Aug. 2017, www.worldoftea.org/matcha-introduction.
- Alban, Deane. “Powerful Brain and Health Benefits of Matcha Green Tea.” Be Brain Fit, 6 Feb. 2018, bebrainfit.com/matcha-green-tea-benefits/.
- “This tea has 10 times more antioxidants than green tea.” Fox News, FOX News Network, www.foxnews.com/health/2015/09/09/this-tea-has-10-times-more-antioxidants-than- green-tea.html.
- Wolfram, S. “Effects of green tea and EGCG on cardiovascular and metabolic health.” Journal of the American College of Nutrition., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Aug. 2007, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17906191.
- LD, Megan Ware RDN. “Polyphenols: Health benefits and polyphenol-Rich foods.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319728.php.
- Owen, G N, et al. “The combined effects of L-Theanine and caffeine on cognitive performance and mood.” Nutritional neuroscience., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Aug. 2008, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18681988.
- Bergland, Christopher. “Alpha Brain Waves Boost Creativity and Reduce Depression.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 17 Apr. 2015, www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201504/alpha-brain-waves-boost-creativity-and-reduce-depression.
Vitamin D (The Sunshine Vitamin) and Why you Need it.
Vitamin D was something I only somewhat recently started supplementing with, like in the past six months or so. I was familiar with the general benefits of this nutrient, but in the past week I decided to hit the books (and yes, the almighty Google too), and learn as much as I could about Vitamin D. And low and behold, I was pretty amazed, enthralled, and in awe at all this powerful nutrient does to keep us nice and healthy. In this blog post I'll give a bit of background info about vitamin D, 5 amazing benefits it has for our bodies, and why we should be taking it. Enjoy!
An intro into vitamin D
Despite being called a vitamin, this nutrient is more like a hormone and can be synthesized in the body through skin exposure to the sun (hence sunshine vitamin). Vitamins cannot be synthesized or made by the body, whereas vitamin D can. Our bodies are really good at making it too; in fact, if you stand outside in the summer (without sunscreen or clothes...if you roll like that) for 20 minutes, you would get about 20,000 units of Vitamin D, which is 100 times more than the RDA (recommended daily allowance)!! (Carr 170).
It is estimated that over one billion people worldwide are vitamin D deficient, which is a lot of peeps! (Greenblatt). People living north of the equator are more susceptible to deficiency, since, you know, winter and all. But other factors can also impact how much vitamin D your body can make, such as skin pigmentation, body fat percentage, health conditions, and age. Unfortunately, as we became more cautionary with the sun and started to avoid it and lather our skin with sunscreen, we also began to become deficient in vitamin D. Although I absolutely agree we should be preventing our chances of skin cancer, we can also learn to get a little sun to help our bodies naturally make vitamin D. Exposing our skin to the sun in the spring, summer, and fall, for about 20 minutes should be enough to help us make sufficient vitamin D; we can expose our arms, legs, or face and neck, whichever you choose!
Ok, now that we're more familiar with vitamin D, let's talk about 5 benefits!
Strong bones and teeth!
So, most of us are pretty familiar with vitamin D being an important factor for strong bones and teeth, hence why foods like orange juice or milk are fortified with it (although there's better sources! I'll tell ya in a bit 😉 ). What this vitamin does is help us absorb calcium through our intestines and thus helps us build strong bones, teeth, and muscle. So if we are looking to avoid osteopenia (bones that are thinner than normal), or osteoporosis, vitamin D is a go to.
Regulates our immune system
It turns out every tissue in our bodies including our immune system, brain, and muscles, has vitamin D receptors, meaning our entire body needs this nutrient in order to function properly. Vitamin D will turn on genes that regulate the immune system, helping us get sick less often (hello flu/cold free winter!) (Greenblatt). Ahh the possibilities, less tissues, runny noses, and sore throats? Yes please!
During the winter we are prone to feeling a little more gloomy as opposed to the summer, when sunshine, warmer weather, and lots of outdoor activities keep us happy and active. Many people will begin to feel depressed in the winter, and this is known as SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). Since during the winter time we are exposed to far less sunshine than the rest of the year, our levels can drop substantially, leading to symptoms such as depression. Like I mentioned before, the brain has vitamin D receptors which release neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. These neurotransmitter are chemical messengers which allow neurons in our brain to communicate, and are essential for mood and brain health. Serotonin is known as the happy hormone, and dopamine is the pleasure and reward hormone; it also helps us focus and pay attention (Hyman, 102). So if we are feeling the winter blues, vitamin D is definitely one of the best supplements to take! You're brain will thank you 🙂
Reduces inflammation in the body
Since vitamin D has receptors in all body tissues, researchers have found that it activates genes which will eventually reduce proteins which are known to cause inflammation. Less inflammation in the body means less disease, particularly chronic illness. In fact, researchers say supplementing with vitamin D may be beneficial to patients suffering from chronic inflammatory diseases such as asthma, arthritis, and prostate cancer (Zhang et al.).
Helps regulate blood sugar levels
Vitamin D seems to help our pancreas create insulin, which then makes it easier for the cells in our bodies to take up glucose, meaning it is beneficial for controlling blood sugar levels (WebMD). Vitamin D is also great for those who already have type 2 diabetes and want to better manage their condition, plus research has shown supplementing with this vitamin can lower chances of developing type 1 diabetes (Medical News Today).
So, this vitamin (well, hormone), is amazing and my current obsession. Every time I take it I am amazed that the 3 drops I take could be helping my body out in so many ways. If your looking for dietary sources of vitamin D, salmon, sardines, and eggs are great sources, however, they will not supply you with very high amounts, so I would recommend supplementing, particularly in the winter. It's been shown that a vitamin D deficiency can lead to diabetes, hypertension, depression, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, osteoporosis, and even Alzheimer's disease! (NCBI). And that is more than enough reason for me to supplement, plus, I really do feel like it gives my mood a little boost 🙂
Hope this is helpful, interesting information!
Much love! Laura
Carr, Kris. Crazy Sexy Diet. Skirt!, 2011.
Greenblatt, James M. “Psychological Consequences of Vitamin D Deficiency.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 14 Nov. 2011, www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-breakthrough-depression-solution/201111/psychological-consequences-vitamin-d-deficiency.
Hyman, Mark. The Ultramind Solution. Scribner, 2009.
Naeem, Zahid. “Vitamin D Deficiency- An Ignored Epidemic.” International Journal of Health Sciences, Qassim University, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Jan. 2010, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3068797/.
Let's Talk Self Care, Baby
What does taking care of yourself mean to you? Is it going to soul cycle and taking a spin class? Making some green juice or a delicious smoothie? Opting for the salad as the side to your burger instead of the fries? Being a holistic nutritionist is of course very much centered around food, but the word holistic in this title makes it key. I have been focusing so much on food and supplements for the past few years, that I sometimes lose sight of things which are also extremely important, such as what we are feeding our mind, bodies, souls, and hearts.
Of course healthy nutritious food is essential for our health and well being, but, at least for me, I can eat all the kale salad and wild Alaskan salmon, but in the end, if I don't feel loved, cared for, if I don't do things I enjoy, if I don't spend time with people I love and service others, if I neglect to listen to my body, and if I don't follow my life calling, then I feel stumped, and my growth is cut off. I feel almost suffocated, like I am in a very small stuffy room and can't find the door out.
I've been doing mindfulness meditation (almost!) every day now, and I feel much more in tune with what is going on with my body. I am able to listen more now, catch emotions as they develop. And so I began to become more aware of how much I have been neglecting taking care of my heart and soul. I take care of my body well, I eat healthy, take my supplements, exercise; and my mind is also well cared for; I love to read and learn, as I develop my business I am constantly challenging my mind, and as I develop protocols and plan workshops, well, it's all a workout for the mind. But, my heart and soul have been very much neglected.
My heart – what does it need? What does it pine for? What is it asking for?
My soul – what is it saying? What makes it feel fulfilled? What calms and soothes her?
These are questions I won't answer here, but they are good to delve into. I feel there are two main reasons I fail to do more soul searching. These are:
I am afraid of what I will find
I feel I have no time // don't feel like it
In the end, the best advice I can give myself and you if you relate to the above reasons, is there is always enough time, we just have to spend less time doing things which are unfulfilling – social media is the biggest one for me. As for being afraid of what I find, I think even though it is uncomfortable at first, the more you do it, the more you gain insight into who you are, the more you appreciate yourself, and the more you learn how to care for yourself.
Ask yourself these questions more often. Sit quietly in meditation and ask your heart, spirit, and mind what they want. Just for 5 minutes, and see what happens. I will also be doing the same.