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Green tea: Safe to drink, just don’t eat the leaves, for Pete’s sake!

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Calm down, everybody! I know all about food and product scares. There have been plenty of them before and there will be more in the future. In my previous life as a journalist I frequently wrote about product quality, recalls, etc.

Stories have been surfacing all over the web about green tea containing lead.  I’m here to tell you that there is nothing to worry about unless you actually eat green tea leaves.

Here’s the lowdown:

ConsumerLab.com, an independent site involved in the testing of all sorts of health products, published a report on the levels of antioxidants and other substances in various green tea products. Green tea – the second most popular tea in the U.S. next to black tea – is touted for its antioxidant properties. It contains EGCG (Epigallocatechin gallate, try to pronounce that one), which has been touted in many studies to be therapeutic for a number of diseases and conditions, including chronic fatigue, cancer and even HIV. These are amazing discoveries.

So – EGCG = good. But to separate the hoopla from reality, ConsumerLab.com tested four brands of green teas to determine if they really had as much EGCG as they claimed to – or if they had any at all.

Diet Snapple Green Tea contained almost NO ECGC. So, maybe you should just enjoy it for what it is: a beverage. Also, Ironically, Honest Tea’s Green Tea with Honey claimed to have 190 mg of the antioxidant Catechin. ConsumerLab found the tea to have only about 60% of that. Looks like their tea needs to be a bit more honest.

There are several more findings in the green tea study, which was reported on in the New York Times and has been linked here twice. Here’s what’s got people freaking out: the content of lead in green tea bags from Lipton and Bigelow. They were found to have 1.5 to 2.5 micrograms of lead per serving. Lipton and Bigelow tea leaves are imported from China, which has high levels of pollution and has resulted in this lead issue.

Wait! WAIT! Keep reading!

According to the New York Times, ” the study found that there was no real prospect of a health concern from the lead.” Dr. Tod Cooperman, President of ConsumerLab.com, found that the actual liquid in the green tea contained very little if any traces of lead. More from the NYT:

“The majority of the lead is staying with the leaf,” [Cooperman] said. “If you’re brewing it with a tea bag, the tea bag is very effectively filtering out most of the lead by keeping those tea leaves inside the bag. So it’s fine as long as you’re not eating the leaves.”

So, there you have it. DO NOT EAT TEA LEAVES. If you were planning on sprinkling some on your cereal or stirring them up with your scrambled eggs, step back! But if you’re just going to drink it in a cup, it’s fine.

Bigelow Tea has released a response to the ConsumerLabs Green Tea Report, which basically reiterates everything I’ve said and the New York Times has said. Of Cooperman and the study, Bigelow wrote:  “All he was stating was it is a good idea to not eat the leaf (which none of us usually do) because the leaf can contain traces of lead. The key was the cup of tea is completely safe and clean. The article stated that we had passed their safety standards.”

I am going to take a challenge. Right now I’m battling a horrible cold, so I’ve been drinking a lot of Bigelow Tea because we seriously have a ton of it in our pantry. Today I had not only one but TWO CUPS of Decaffienated Bigelow Tea, which you can see pictured at the top of this post. I even posted it to Instagram. I will continue to drink this tea, and in the event that I am hospitalized or my life ends from lead poisoning, I am giving a login and password to a friend who will pronounce my conditions. I will even get health records printed out and everything, and I will instruct my friend to find and link to the obituary. But I don’t think that’s gonna happen.

There are potentially harmful things all throughout our pantries, under our kitchen sinks, in our garages and all over the communities where we live. The key is how we use those things.

So. As I have said many times before, your green tea is fine. Just don’t eat it. Mkay? Mkay.

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