Green tea—and all tea, really—is packed with antioxidants that offer a wealth of benefits, from heart health, bone health and reduced cancer risk to lower blood pressure and blood sugar, and improved mood.
There’s also evidence that compounds in green tea, as well as oolong and white tea, can aid weight loss, says Neva Cochran, a Dallas-based registered dietitian nutritionist.
But, she says, “Tea is not a magic bullet for weight loss or any other disease or condition.” Drinking green tea as part of a balanced diet could offer a small amount of weight loss and help with weight management.
What exactly is green tea?
Green tea is made from un-oxidized leaves of the Camellia sinensis bush and originated in China and India. Being un-oxidized means it is less processed and contains more antioxidants than other kinds of tea.
When brewed and unsweetened, green tea contains zero calories. It does contain caffeine, but has lower levels than black tea or coffee.
Green tea also contains polyphenols, chemicals found naturally in plants that are anti-inflammatory and may reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease and obesity.
Matcha is a popular type of green tea made from ground tea leaves. Unlike green tea prepared with a tea bag that’s removed after brewing, when you drink matcha, you actually consume the leaves, which provides an antioxidant boost.
How can green tea aid weight loss?
The caffeine and catechins, a type of antioxidant, found in green tea can stimulate processes in the body that help you lose weight, Cochran says. These include thermogenesis, the body’s heat production which uses calories, and fat oxidation, or fat burning.
Green, white and oolong tea were shown to increase energy expenditure by 4% to 5%, fat oxidation by 10% to 16% and counter the drop in metabolic rate that may occur during weight loss, according to a study published in the International Journal of Obesity.
An analysis of several studies on green tea catechins revealed weight loss and weight management benefits, Cochran says.
Even though research shows green tea has fat-burning and metabolism-boosting properties, the resulting weight loss is often minimal. A study published in the journal Clinical Nutrition in 2016 found that overweight women who took a green tea extract supplement, the equivalent of about 15 cups of green tea, for 12 weeks lost 2.4 pounds on average, compared to those who took a placebo and lost 4.4 pounds.
Most research on green tea weight loss have focused on tea extracts, not brewed tea, Cochran notes.
“These extracts are used in much larger amounts in the studies than someone would consume drinking tea in typical amounts of two to three cups a day,” she says. “So, it’s difficult to apply the weight loss results to just drinking tea.”
Green tea doesn’t counteract a bad diet
Sipping on green tea while eating a poor diet will do little to aid weight loss, Cochran says.
“A poor diet with tea is still a poor diet,” she says. “(Green tea) can be an adjunct to a healthy, balanced eating plan to possibly increase weight loss by a small amount.”
How much green tea you should consume to see any weight loss benefits is unclear. That’s because studies have shown different results based on subjects’ level of obesity, diet, physical activity, genetics, body composition and other factors.
Focusing on a balanced, mostly plant-based diet, and eating mindfully may offer the best results for weight loss or weight management. Green tea can be a healthy addition, especially when you need a small caffeine fix.
Or, if you regularly drink soda or other sugary beverages, switching to green tea could reduce your sugar and calorie intake, helping you lose weight.
Don’t sweeten your tea
Since green tea is naturally calorie-free, drinking brewed tea unsweetened offers the best potential for weight loss. Stirring in milk, honey or sugar adds calories and could also offset the fat and calorie burning properties of green tea, Cochran says.
Also, studies show when milk is added to tea, it may decrease the antioxidants by about 25%.
“Honey can actually increase the antioxidant potential of tea, according to one study, but it adds calories so the net effect may be negligible,” she says.