Tea is trendy right now. You can buy it practically everywhere, either loose leaf or in bags. In fact, after water, tea is the world’s most popular beverage.1 Many people/companies claim that tea can help with all sorts of health issues, including digestion. Tea can be beneficial, but it will not cure diseases or spark a massive weight loss. What many people don’t realize, is that not all teas are low FODMAP and appropriate for the elimination phase of the diet. I’m writing this post to clear up the confusion around the FODMAP content of tea.
Health Benefits of Teas
Before I start talking about FODMAPs, I wanted to clear up some myths about tea. There are many people selling “detox teas” or “teatoxes” right now and claim that their product can help you lose large amounts of weight. Almost all these teas contain laxatives and/or diuretics, and I do NOT recommend drinking them. Laxative ingredients include senna leaves/pods, cassia chamaecristia pods, and rhubarb.2 Diuretic ingredients include nettle leaves and dandelion leaves2. Laxatives may cause short-term weight loss purely from losing water weight by dehydrating you and causing loose/watery stools2, which isn’t fun for anyone. They will not “burn fat”2. All of those “detox” teas are just good marketing schemes.
I have also seen teas that claim to promote digestion or “cure” your tummy troubles. Unfortunately, we do not have a tea that will cure IBS, IBD or any other digestive disorder.1 On the other hand, some people may find certain teas to be soothing when they are experiencing digestive symptoms. There are a few ingredients that have been shown in research to help with symptoms. For example, ginger may help manage nausea.3 Another factor is that simply the act of drinking tea is relaxing for many people1, and we know that anxiety and stress are related to digestive symptoms.4
I plan on writing a full post about the health benefits of teas and debunking myths soon. For now, this post focuses on FODMAPs in teas.
FODMAP Content of Tea
I was surprised when I first found out that some teas contain FODMAPs, considering most teas are practically calorie-free. FODMAPs are water soluble and can leach from the tea leaves into the water.
There are an incredibly large number of teas available around the world. Even within one type of tea (e.g., black tea) there are many different types and lots of variability due to varying growing conditions and processing1. Due to this high variability, it is also difficult to properly test the FODMAP content of teas. Two labs have tested the FODMAP content of teas: Monash University5 and FODMAP Friendly.6
Monash University classifies foods as low, medium or high FODMAP at certain serving sizes. Some teas at 250 mL (1 cup) are only classified as low when weakly infused (tea bag immersed in water for a short time i.e., less than 1 minute) and are only high when strongly infused (tea bag immersed in water for time recommended on package (i.e., approx. 3-5 minutes).5
The teas that are found to be low are weak black, weak chai, weak dandelion, rooibos/tea, green, peppermint, white, buchu, and honeybush.5 The teas that were found to be high in FODMAPs (fructans) are strong chai, strong dandelion, fennel, herbal containing chicory root, and oolong.5 Many other teas have not yet been tested.
There is some confusion around black tea, because strong black tea was found to be moderate in fructans, but strong black tea with added milk is low.5 Why is this? The researchers measured 250 mL (1 cup) of each tea mixture. Therefore, the tea with added milk contained less than 250 mL of tea, because the milk replaced some of the tea.7 This lower serving size lowered the fructan content.7 We can learn from this example how important serving size is for FODMAP content.
FODMAP Friendly is the other app I trust for FODMAP content of foods. They list foods as “pass” or “fail”. They have tested 5 types of tea and tea flavours: black, chamomile, chamomile/honey/vanilla, chamomile/peppermint, and green.6 Every tea was concluded to be low in FODMAPs.6 However, the chamomile flavoured with honey and vanilla had a higher content of fructose (but not enough to classify it as high in fructose).6 This indicates that natural flavours can contain FODMAPs.
Right about now, I bet you are feeling pretty confused. One lab found chamomile to be high, but another found it to be low?! That’s right! Remember at the top of this section when I said that tea varies around the world? I believe this is a big part of why the labs had different results, and one of the biggest challenge for those testing the foods and beverages.
So, What Teas are Safe to Drink?
My general recommendation for those who are just starting the first phase (i.e., elimination) of the low FODMAP diet, is to stick to the teas found to be low FODMAP by Monash (weak black, weak chai, weak dandelion, rooibos/tea, green, peppermint, white, buchu, and honeybush). Choose ones that do not contain added flavours made from high FODMAP foods (such as honey). It is better to be safe than sorry. FODMAP Friendly also sells some teas they have tested and have certified to be low FODMAP.
Once your symptoms are well controlled, you can talk to your dietitian about testing some of the high FODMAP teas. Or, you could wait until after reintroduction, when you know your tolerance to each of the FODMAPs. For example, if you find during reintroduction that you are okay with some fructans, you may be fine with the high fructan teas. The below picture is an example of a tea that would not be safe for elimination.
What about other untested teas, such as other herbal teas and Pu-erh? Treat untested foods/beverages as high FODMAP. Read the ingredients lists of herbal teas carefully. If they contain high FODMAP ingredients, such as dried apple, pear, etc. it is best to wait until reintroduction to test these teas.
When completing reintroduction, it is essential to only test one FODMAP at a time in order to properly identify your tolerance level. Be careful not to drink any high FODMAP teas when testing a FODMAP. For example, if one day you are testing lactose using milk, you would want to ensure you did not also consume any high FODMAP foods or beverages, such as oolong or fennel tea.
Of course, these are general recommendations. Always discuss your diet with your dietitian, who can provide you with individualized recommendations.
Other Considerations for Digestive Symptoms
FODMAP content is not the only thing we should consider. We need to be aware of what we put in our tea. Sweeteners such as honey and agave are high in fructose, but maple syrup and white sugar are low.5 A tablespoon of milk is low in lactose, but larger servings will be high.5 I personally like lots of milk in black tea, so I use my lactose-free milk. Soy milk is only low FODMAP when it is made with soy protein, not soybeans.5
Caffeine is another important factor to consider. Some individuals with IBS are sensitive to caffeine and may experience worse symptoms after consuming caffeine.8 Teas that are caffeine-free include rooibos/red, herbal, peppermint, chamomile and decaffeinated black/green teas.1 White and green tea have low amounts of caffeine, and black has moderate amounts (but still less than the average cup of coffee).1 Low caffeine and low FODMAP teas include rooibos/red, white, green and peppermint.1,5
Some types of teas have natural laxative properties. Weak dandelion tea is low FODMAP, but dandelion leaves are known to have a laxative effect², which is particularly not good for those who already struggle with loose bowel movements.
The process of brewing and sipping tea may be soothing and stress relieving. When someone has an upset tummy, they could try drinking a low FODMAP tea as one method of symptom management
My Personal Favourite Place to Buy Tea
As mentioned earlier, there are many places to purchase teas. Consider purchasing your tea from companies who do not make unsubstantiated drastic health claims about their teas, or promote “detox” teas which contain laxatives or diuretics. I personally do not like to support those companies with my money.
Lots of cities now have small teashops that sell loose leaf teas. My personal favourite in London, Ontario is Wisdom Tea Shop. They have a wonderful selection of many different types and flavours of loose-leaf teas, and are very knowledgeable. Plus, their prices are lower than the big companies such as David’s Tea and Teavana. They also sell yummy foods including Japanese crepes, and they recently added a gluten-free crepe to their menu (made with sweet white rice flour). If you aren’t in London, ON, you can research what local tea shops are nearby (or ship to your location). Note: this post is not sponsored and/or affiliated with Wisdom Tea Shop. I just simply enjoy their tea and personally recommend it to all my friends.
Ginger & Maple Tea Recipe
Your reward for reading this super long post is this easy tea recipe!
- Stick to only the teas found to be low FODMAP by Monash during elimination (weak black, weak chai, weak dandelion, rooibos/tea, green, peppermint, white, buchu, and honeybush).
- Read tea ingredients lists carefully for added high FODMAP ingredients (including natural flavours of high FODMAP ingredients such as honey flavour) and avoid those teas during elimination.
- You can test any high FODMAP teas (or untested teas) you miss during reintroduction.
- If caffeine is a symptom trigger, choose teas that have no or little caffeine (e.g., rooibos/red, white, green and peppermint).
- Add only low FODMAP sweeteners and milks to your tea.
Are you looking for support with managing digestive symptoms and/or the low FODMAP diet? My nutrition counselling and coaching services are available across Canada (via video messaging or phone). I am a registered dietitian with a Master’s of Public Health in Nutrition who specializes in digestion and practical healthy eating tips. Learn more about my services by clicking here.
Looking for other low FODMAP beverages? Click here for four yummy low FODMAP hot chocolate recipes.
- Eat Right Ontario, 2016. https://www.eatrightontario.ca/en/Articles/Caffeine/Tea-Time.aspx
- Nicole Osinga RD & Colleen Farrell, 2016. https://nicoleosinga.com/2016/09/21/the-truth-about-detox-teas/
- Marx, W. A., Kiss, N. B., & Isenring, L. A. (2015). Is ginger beneficial for nausea and vomiting? An update of the literature. Current Opinion in Supportive & Palliative Care, 9(2),189-195. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25872115
- Eat Right Ontario, 2016. https://www.eatrightontario.ca/en/Articles/Digestion-Digestive-health/Irritable-Bowel-Syndrome.aspx
- The Monash University Low FODMAP Diet App. http://www.med.monash.edu.au/cecs/gastro/fodmap/iphone-app.html
- Fodmap Friendly App. http://fodmapfriendly.com/app/
- Monash University, 2015. http://fodmapmonash.blogspot.ca/2015/08/faq-strong-tea.html
- Eat Right Ontario, 2016. https://www.eatrightontario.ca/en/Articles/Caffeine/Facts-on-Caffeine.aspx