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Is adding milk to tea not good for health?

milk in tea
milk to tea splash

As the world gets more connected and scientific findings more frequently quoted in mass media, those in cultures where tea has often been consumed with milk are aspiring to drinking straight, hoping to benefit more from the wonder leaf's health potency. However, is adding milk to tea really hampering tea's health benefits, or is it just myth? Is it true that green tea a lot more potent for health?

Let's forget about what is said in New York Times or London Tribune. Let's get our information first hand from scientific reports, as we always do here at the Tea Guardian.

Here's how they defend their teabags at PG Tips and Lipton

In 1998 a few scientists in the Netherlands gathered 12 individuals as test subjects to test their catechins level in the blood after drinking tea with and without milk and concluded that the amount of catechins in the blood is the same whether the tea was consumed with milk or not(1).

Catechins in tea are often studied as a bench mark for tea's health potential, since they are a most potent group of phytochemicals in tea(2).

So you think that answered your question, but there is more detail to it. This research was conducted at a Unilever facility. Unilever, which hold many brands of various consumer goods, is the world largest tea packer and merchant for mass market tea and tea products. Lipton's and PG Tips are some of their tea brands. The scientists in the above mentioned test have used only black tea products from their own brands. Very shady, isn't it? What is more interesting: black tea has a lot less catechins than any other tea categories, and tea bags are the worst (3).

Bioavailability, imitated

Let's look at the excerpt of another report. This time, the scientists tried to imitate the biochemistry that happens through our digestive duct to see the amount of catechins that would still be available for absorption at 3 different stages of the digestive process, when the tea is consumed with or without milk. They concluded that it is roughly the same. This study was done in 2011. When it's more update, it should be more reliable, one should think.

However, I have a habit of reading original study reports rather than relying on excerpts. Truth often lies in the details afterall.

So I went through the usual materials and methods, results and discussion etc. The scientists used much of the paper discussing full cream milk and skim milk and how sucrose may be stabilizing the availability of catechins etc but only very sparingly on the change of the catechins themselves, nor the quality of the tea(4). Naturally, such a report comes from nowhere else but the research headquarters of Unilevers in the Netherlands. Again, only black tea teabags of their own brand.

Can we get something without corporate influences

I am not skeptical of reports commissioned by large corporations simply because of my rebellious sentiments, but rather because of the biased view points that they have consistently showed before. Furthermore, working on the basis of originally poor availability of catechins in their products and having to measure off from the effects of such basis simply is not persuasive. More independent studies of this topic, rare as they are, have shown other results. (continues on next page)


1 KH van het Hof et al, Bioavailability of catechins from tea: the effect of milk, European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, May 1998, 52-5, 356-359

2 However, please be always aware of the fact that tehre are a lot of other substances in tea that the scientific community have not had enough studies of, and yet many have found to be of salutary nature, such as theanine, GABA and the synergic effects with caffeine.

3 I have detailed this idea many times in various articles in this site, citing the datas contained in various reports, one of which is the USDA Database on the Flavanoid Content of Selected Food. One of the easiest reading article: Health Benefits of Tea

4 MCD van der Burg-Koorevaar et al, Effect of Milk and Brewing Method on Black Tea Catechin Bioaccessibility, Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2011, 59, 7752-7758

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