By Anya Todd, MS, RD, Guest Nutrition Expert
June is National Iced Tea Month, and I will be the first to say that I enjoy a tall glass of iced tea on a hot summer’s day. Through the years, I have learned to enjoy unsweetened tea—which I know to those Southern friends of mine—the idea of not consuming anything other than “sweet tea” is sacrilegious. Tea has many potential health benefits, but when you pour in the sugar you might as well be sucking down a soda.
As a dietitian, I work with a variety of clients, many of whom are seeking weight loss. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard people say they “gave up soda and now drink iced tea.” Initially, this sounds like a wonderful thing. When I ask if they are brewing it themselves and monitoring the sugar content, I am often met with, “Oh, no. I just drink that (insert famous brands here) stuff in the can or bottle. It doesn’t have all the sugar like soda does.” Sorry, not true.
Sugary beverages of any sort are no better than one another, especially when it comes to matters of weight loss. A 20-ounce bottle of nearly any major brand of sweetened iced tea will run you about 240 calories and close to 60 grams of sugar, which is on par with a similar serving size of soda and the equivalent of 15 sugar cubes. Yikes! Soda obviously has zero redeeming qualities when it comes to nutritional benefits.
Tea, on the other hand, has been shown to have potential benefits to multiple systems of the body, including cardiovascular and brain health, which is likely due to the antioxidant content. But, when it is watered down and doused with sugar, most people would be better off eating antioxidants in the form of fruits and vegetables than drinking bottled sweetened tea.
The marketing gurus behind sugary beverages are great at their jobs, and they’re able to spin the PR in such a way that people are convinced the iced tea out of the soda machine is better than the soda itself. Don’t fall for it.
I am by no means an expert in the world of tea. There are many varieties, including green, white, and herbal, along with various ways to prepare them, like paired with fruit-infusions or wine. Despite my ignorance on the subject, I do have a teapot collection that is to die for.
Most days my tea consumption consists of a mint and ginger combination to ease my aging digestion tract or some iced chai tea if I am feeling fancy. I’m looking forward to expanding my tea-tasting horizons. It’s a fun way to experiment with what seems to be an endless array of types and flavors while enjoying some nutritional benefits as well.
One tip to remember: Try to drink tea outside of mealtime, as it and coffee both have compounds which can inhibit certain nutrient absorption.
Do you drink tea? Let’s talk about it in the comments.