For vegetarians, the choice between green tea and herbal tea is an important one. If you drink tea between meals, the much higher amounts of antioxidants in green tea make it the better option. The reverse is true when you drink green tea at or near meal times -- antioxidants can reduce mineral absorption. Unfortunately, this applies also to the minerals in honey, effectively eliminating some of its nutritional benefits.
Green Tea and Herbal Tea
The tea plant is the source of both black and green teas. Despite the name, herbal tea is not actually made from the tea plant. Instead, this term refers to any non-caffeinated beverage containing plant material and water. Also known as tisanes, popular varieties of herbal tea include rooibos, chamomile and ginseng teas. Aside from their caffeine content and origins, green and herbal teas differ in their nutritional content. Particularly important for vegetarians is the relative concentrations of antioxidants in green and herbal teas, as these compounds can affect your body's use of other nutrients.
According to a study published in "Pharmacognosy Research" in 2011, green tea is much higher in antioxidants than any other type of tea, including herbal teas. Both green and herbal teas contain polyphenols, which are antioxidants that bind with minerals in your body in a process called chelation. This process boosts your absorption of manganese, but decreases your body's ability to use non-heme iron and zinc. These minerals are nutrients of concern for vegetarians and, unfortunately, all plant-based sources of iron are non-heme. Drinking green or herbal tea between meals has little effect on iron and zinc absorption. However, the lower antioxidant content of herbal teas presents less of a risk for vegetarians if you drink tea at or around meal times.
Green tea contains between 2 and 11 percent of your daily vitamin C intake in 1 cup. Herbal teas vary greatly in their vitamin C content, with chamomile containing no vitamin C, and 1 cup of hibiscus providing nearly 50 percent of your daily intake. As vitamin C boosts non-heme iron and zinc absorption, some herbal teas are a better option for vegetarians than green tea. In addition, the caffeine in green tea increases the excretion and decreases the absorption of calcium. As herbal teas contain no caffeine and calcium is a nutrient of concern for vegetarians, this adds to their benefits for vegetarians.
Honey is a much better option than sugar for sweetening your tea. Not only does honey boost the heart-healthy antioxidant properties of tea, but it also helps to control blood sugar levels because of its ideal fructose-to-glucose ratio. Honey also contains two nutrients of concern for vegetarians: iron and zinc. Unfortunately, the polyphenols in green and herbal teas chelate the small amounts of these minerals in honey, eliminating its nutritional boost. As a result, using honey as a sweetener does little to increase your daily intake of iron and zinc regardless of which type of tea you drink.