Speaking of pleasure, what could be more delightful than a cup of tea, coffee or chocolate drink when reading through the dailies or after a stressful meeting? But researchers found that adding sugar to tea or cocoa may reduce its beneficial health effects.
In a new study, researchers at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, Osun State, found that adding sugar to black tea and chocolate drink reduce the body’s access to its beneficial health components (antioxidants). But adding milk leads to its significant enhancement.
Coffee, tea and chocolate are largely consumed on a daily basis throughout the world. Coupled with this wide and long-term consumption, caffeine, the most active component found in these drinks, is also used in medications and other beverages.
For instance, health benefits have been associated with tea and coffee drinking, including a lower risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.
In the study, the researchers found that black tea recorded the highest phenolic content, in-vitro phenolic availability and antioxidant activity.
Addition of sugar to black tea and chocolate drink caused a significant decrease in the in-vitro available phenolics, while the addition of milk leads to a significant enhancement.
The researchers analysed the phenolic content and antioxidant activity of seven brands of health tea, two brands of cocoa drink, one brand each of coffee. They also assessed the effect of the addition of sugar and milk on the availability of phenolics in tea, cocoa and coffee drinks.
The 2017 study in the journal, Nutrition & Food Science, involved Israel Olusegun Otemuyiwa; Mary Funmilayo Williams; and Steve Adeniyi Adewusi.
The study, which justifies the claim that tea could help ameliorate free radical-induced health defects, said the optimum level of milk and sugar to tea, coffee or cocoa need to be determined if the drinks were meant for therapeutic purposes.
Antioxidants are substances that prevent oxidation. Oxidation is a common chemical reaction that leads to the production of harmful free radicals that come in many forms. Some are naturally produced within the body, while others come from diet.
Many health experts believe that a diet high in antioxidants can help protect against the oxidative stress and inflammation caused by free radicals. Excessive free radicals may contribute to ageing and the development of certain diseases, including dementia and diabetes complications.
The vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene and polyphenols found in fruits, tea and coffee are all compounds that act as antioxidants. However, many foods and beverages that provide antioxidants are frequently consumed with dairy, and it is these combinations that may be of concern.
However, the results have been conflicting. While some studies show that milk decreases the antioxidant capacity of tea, other studies show that it has no effect or even a positive effect.
For example, one study assessed three different measures of antioxidant capacity in tea. One test found that adding milk protein to tea reduced its antioxidant capacity by 11 to 27 per cent.
However, another test using a different measure found that milk protein improved antioxidant capacity from six per cent to 75 per cent. Yet, two other studies found that milk had no effect on the antioxidant capacity of tea in human participants.
The results are likely varied due to the type of tea, the type and amount of milk, the way the tea was prepared and the way the antioxidant capacity was measured.
Interestingly, similar results have been found with coffee and chocolate, despite the fact that they don’t contain the same types of antioxidants.
One study found that milk reduced the antioxidant capacity of chocolate by approximately 30 per cent, while another study found that milk negated the antioxidant effects of chocolate altogether.
Similarly, the antioxidant capacity of different types of coffee was shown to decrease with the addition of milk. What’s more, the more milk that was added, the lower the coffee’s antioxidant capacity became.
It is also important to understand that a decrease in the antioxidant capacity of a food does not directly translate to a decrease in its health benefits.
Currently, no studies have directly examined whether consuming dairy with high-antioxidant foods affects the health benefits, such as reducing the risk of dementia or heart disease.
No doubt, different factors may affect the antioxidant capacity — and even the nutrient content — of different foods, but consuming a wide variety of antioxidant-rich foods and drinks will help to maximize the health benefits foods.