I recently read an article about the declining sales of soda and the beverages that are taking their place. Bottled water sales have increased as people try to shy away from sugar-sweetened beverages, which is great news! Another beverage that is quickly taking the place of soda is tea. Although tea can be a healthier alternative, sweetened tea can be just as harmful as soda. Two cups of sugar (or more!) is commonly added to 1 gallon of iced tea! Hot teas and mixed tea drinks can be a source of added sugar as well. Two types of tea that have become popular are matcha and chai, but do these always have the health benefits we think?
A tea that has been “trending” is matcha, which is a type of green tea. It is stone-ground into powder from leaves and can be added to drinks or solid food. Many places have started adding it to drinks but it is also added to soups and even brownies! It is rich in antioxidants called polyphenols, which are linked to a variety of health benefits including anti-aging, reduction in the growth of cancer cells and improved blood pressure. Matcha combined with fruit and cow’s milk or plant-based milk is becoming a popular alternative to many sugar-loaded drinks that provide little nutritional value.
Another popular tea is masala chai, also referred to as chai tea. It is commonly brewed with black tea, although it can be made from green tea as well. It is rich in antioxidants and certain ingredients are thought to help digestion and reduce inflammation. Common ingredients and flavorings include: cardamom, chili, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg. Some or all of these are combined with cow’s milk or plant-based milk. This can be a healthier alternative to sugar-sweetened beverages, however, this type of tea drink can have excessive sugar added as many are made with a premixed solution that has sugar. Unsweetened and lightly sweetened versions are generally available and provide about 1/3 the amount of caffeine of coffee.
Tea can be a healthier alternative used for much-needed caffeine in place of a fancy coffee drink or soda, but it can still be a concentrated source of added sugar. Key words to look for that generally mean very little to no sugar added: “unsweetened”, “fresh-brewed/steeped”, or “lightly sweetened.” When in doubt, ask when ordering!