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Summertime Thirst Quenchers: More Than You Bargained For (Part 2)

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Last week we looked at iced coffee drinks. I have to admit that, since I’m not much of an iced coffee drinker, I was a little surprised at how the calories and carbohydrate can add up — especially with the frozen cappuccino versions. This week, I thought I’d take a look at iced tea, another popular summertime drink (and one that I happen to prefer!).

First, a little bit of iced tea trivia:

  • Tea was served cold in the U.S. probably as far back as the 1800’s — but iced tea back then, known as “punch,” was actually made with green tea, not black tea.
  • At the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, a concession stand sold more than $2,000 in iced tea and lemonade.
  • The 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis served to commercialize iced tea. The story goes that it was so hot that people opted for cold tea to cool down.
  • Black tea increased in popularity over green tea during World War II because the main sources of green tea were cut off during this time.
  • The southern states are more likely to drink sweet tea (tea sweetened with sugar syrup) and drink it year-round, whereas most other parts of the country regard iced tea, usually unsweetened, as a summertime beverage.

It’s also worthwhile to summarize the health benefits of tea. Tea is rich in antioxidants, which are thought to protect the body’s cells against all kinds of harm. Drinking tea may do the following:

  • Protect against ovarian cancer
  • Lower death rates from heart disease
  • Help burn fat by increasing fat metabolism
  • Lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol
  • Strengthen bones
  • Improve oral health by killing bacteria that cause cavities and bad breath

(Coffee, too, has some redeeming health qualities, such as reducing the risk of Parkinson disease, diabetes, cirrhosis [a disease of the liver], and gallstones).

A new study just published in the Journal of Food Science indicates that black tea contains a substance that works just like the diabetes medicines acarbose (brand name Precose) and miglitol (Glyset), which slow down the breakdown of starch into glucose in the digestive tract.

Iced tea is thought to have the same health benefits as drinking hot tea. But, of course, drinking iced tea laden with sugar isn’t all that nutritious. Take, for example, Snapple Lemon Tea: 8 ounces contain 80 calories and 21 grams of carbohydrate (all of it coming from sugar). This doesn’t seem too bad, until you remember the cardinal rule of label reading: Always check the serving size. A bottle of Snapple is 16 ounces, and since most people would drink the entire bottle, you’d end up with 160 calories and 42 grams of carbohydrate. On the other hand, Snapple Diet Lemon Tea contains just 10 calories and 0 grams of carbohydrate in 8 ounces, so 16 ounces would contain 20 calories. (This beverage is sweetened with aspartame.)

Snapple also offers an English Breakfast Black Tea that’s “lightly sweetened” — it contains just 40 calories and 10 grams of carbohydrate for 8 ounces. But the catch is that the entire bottle is 17.5 ounces; drinking that would give you almost 90 calories and roughly 22 grams of carbohydrate.

Finally, let’s look at iced tea from Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks, and McDonald’s:

Dunkin’ Donuts
Small (16-ounce) Freshly Brewed Sweetened Iced Tea: 80 calories, 20 grams of carbohydrate
Small (16-ounce) Freshly Brewed Unsweetened Iced Tea: 5 calories, 1 gram of carbohydrate

Grande (16-ounce) Tazo Black Shaken Iced Tea: 80 calories, 21 grams of carbohydrate

Small (16-ounce) Sweet Tea: 120 calories, 30 grams of carbohydrate

And if you’re a frappucino-lover, the Tazo Green Tea Frappucino Blended Crème from Starbucks contains 490 calories and 82 grams of carbohydrate in a Grande (16-ounce) size! Gulp that down!

The good news is that Dunkin’ Donuts offers an unsweetened iced tea. If you choose this, you can then decide to add the sweetener of your choice or to drink it straight. Another option is to brew your own tea at home. This not only allows you to control the level of sweetness, it’s a lot easier on your wallet, too.

One final note: If you drink a lot of tea or coffee (hot or cold), keep an eye on the caffeine. Too much caffeine can make you jittery and nervous, may speed up your heart rate, and can keep you awake at night, so switching to a decaffeinated variety might be a good idea.

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