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Your 'healthy' tea may be loaded with toxins

Justina Huddleston is an editor and the head writer for TDmonthly Magazine. She has been a freelance writer for several years, though her real passion is cooking. You can see the recipes she creates on her vegan food blog, A Life of Litt...

How to buy and drink tea so you can tipple safely

I always thought tea was a super-healthy beverage, but as with seemingly all virtuous foods, it turns out tea might be trying to kill us all too.

In the past couple of years, a number of studies on tea have found some shocking information on what our tea bags really contain. (And just when I was starting to cut back on my coffee consumption too!)

  • A study in the Journal of Toxicology in 2013 found that 73 to 83 percent of the teas they tested contained potentially unsafe levels of lead, while 20 percent had unsafe levels of aluminum.
  • A 2015 study found that teas with citric acid, especially lemon teas, had levels of aluminum, cadmium and lead 10 to 70 times higher than is safe.
  • Another 2013 study found that inexpensive brands of tea also had fluoride levels three times higher than that of more expensive brands, which can be damaging to teeth, bones and joints.
  • In a 2015 Food Chemistry study, 86 percent of herbal teas were also found to contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids — plant-based toxins that can damage the liver.

More: Foodborne illness: Everything you need to know about the most common types

Scarily, there has been at least one incidence of someone contracting hepatitis from drinking green tea. A woman drank three cups a day for about three months to assist her weight loss. Doctors say the pesticides on the tea leaves (which she had purchased from China via Internet) were damaging her liver, bringing on developing hepatitis.

So what's a tea lover to do? These are some of the ways you can enjoy the health benefits of drinking tea while minimizing the health risks.

1. Reduce your intake

The evidence certainly suggests that drinking too much tea can be dangerous. If there are any heavy metals, toxins or pesticides in your tea, the more you drink, the more they will build up in your system. Stick to one to two cups a day, and the rest of the time, make sure you're drinking lots of water.

2. Switch brands

Different brands of tea are sourced from a variety of areas and contain different levels of heavy metals, toxins and pesticides. If you love green tea, having a couple of brands on hand and switching between them can help ensure that you're not consuming too much of any one compound.

3. Switch varieties

It's also a good idea to switch up the types of tea you drink. Try alternating black, white, green, herbal and fruit teas so you don't consume too much of any one element.

More: The pros and cons to drinking raw milk

4. Know where it grows

Purchasing tea from other countries over the Internet can be risky, as food safety regulations elsewhere may not be airtight just yet. China, India and Sri Lanka produce tea that can have higher levels of heavy metals due to contaminated soil, so avoiding tea from those areas can be beneficial. (There are some exceptions, of course.)

5. Go organic

If you drink several cups of tea a day, switching to organic can be beneficial. You'll reduce your exposure to pesticides, which can help minimize any potential liver damage.

6. Get loose

Loose leaf tea is a safer bet than bagged tea, which is often powdered or uses lesser-quality tea leaves. When you add hot water to crushed tea leaves, more heavy metals or other undesirable compounds are released into your cup than with whole leaves.

7. Lemon later

The problem with lemon and teas with added citric acid is that they leach more heavy metals out of the tea leaves. If you like your tea to have a citrusy boost, skip the lemon-flavored tea, and instead add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice after you've brewed your cuppa and removed the tea leaves or tea bag from your cup.

8. Think before you drink

If you have any health conditions, especially those related to the liver, be careful about what kinds of and how much tea you drink. Pregnant or nursing women should also be wary, as babies' bodies are smaller, so any ingested heavy metals or toxins can have a stronger effect on them. If you're worried, stick to pure fruit teas. Almost none tested positive for plant-based toxins, one of the riskiest compounds to babies.

More: Caramel apples may carry deadly health risk, but there’s a way to stay safe

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