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Healthy Sweet Tea

June 13, 2011 Written by JP    [Font too small?]

How do you take your tea? I typically drink it straight up – no added lemon, milk or sugar. But, I realize that I’m the exception to the rule. I was reminded of this the other night while driving past an ubiquitous fast food chain that features a product called “sweet tea”. The name pretty much says it all. Add copious amounts of sugar to tea while it’s hot and then allow it to cool. The resulting beverage is no longer bitter, but this transformation comes at a price. The tea itself has been sweetened to such a degree that it is almost certainly devoid of any health benefits. In fact, drinking conventional sweet tea isn’t much different than drinking a can of soda pop.

If you’re a sweet tea lover who happens to be health conscious, don’t despair. I’ve discovered a convenient and delicious replacement for your garden variety sweet tea. The first step to rebuilding the reputation of this popular drink is to swap out black tea and replace it with white tea. The latter compares favorably to both black and green teas in terms of amino acid, antioxidant and fluoride content. Part of the advantage of organic white tea is that it is one of the least contaminated and processed forms of commercially available tea. (1,2,3)

A recent investigation in the Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry also sets white tea apart from other forms of tea in relation to its GABA content. GABA or gamma-Aminobutyric acid is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that calms the central nervous system. In the analysis, carried out at Yunnan Agricultural University, “the GABA content in white tea was found to be significantly higher than that in other types of tea” (black, green and pu-erh teas). This may explain the paradoxical affect that some people report when drinking this brew: energy accompanied by simultaneous relaxation. (4)

My version of sweet tea involves only three ingredients: 1) three bags of organic white tea; 2) a packet of True Lemon Original Lemonade; 3) 16 oz of hot, purified water. If you’re unfamiliar with ingredient number two, allow me to describe it in terms of its composition:

  • True Lemon Original Lemonade: citric acid, organic evaporated cane juice, lemon oil, lemon juice, rebiana (stevia), guar gum, ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) and turmeric (natural color)

This all natural, low-carb product contains less than one gram of sugar per serving and conveniently takes the place of adding lemon juice and conventional sweeteners. I like the taste and it reminds me of homemade lemonade. There’s also a health related justification for adding a bit lemon to your tea as it increases the assimilation of antioxidants that are naturally present, such as epicatechin (EC) and epigallocatechin-gallate (EGCG). (5)

Tea Containing Caffeine (C) & Theanine (T) May Support Healthy Brain Function

Source: J Nutr. 2008 Aug;138(8):1572S-1577S. (link)

One of the few downsides to drinking tea regularly is the impact it can have on the absorption of minerals from dietary sources. Here again, white tea proves superior to both black and green teas. According to animal studies, white tea doesn’t significantly alter the absorption of calcium, magnesium, phosphorous or zinc. However, like other teas, it moderately affects iron absorption by up to 18%. Because of this, my general advice is to enjoy all forms of tea apart from meals and nutritional supplements. There’s no sense taking a risk based on incomplete data. (6,7,8)

A final tip: After you brew your new and improved tea, use the spent tea bags as a skin toner. The topical application of green and white tea is showing great promise in the field of holistic dermatology. Recent experiments indicate that tea extracts are capable of offsetting some of the damaging effects caused by excess sun exposure, and may even promote DNA repair which might otherwise contribute to non-melanoma skin cancer. If that’s not reason enough to squeeze a little more out of your tea bags, take note that tea has been shown to reduce oily skin and acne breakouts. In order to derive all of these benefits and more, all you have to do is ditch the sugar and make a few healthier substitutions. (9,10,11)

Note: I wasn’t compensated in any way for mentioning the True Lemon product in today’s column. I bought it with my own money at a local supermarket. There may be similar products available that are even healthier, more economical and to your liking. Please experiment on your own and let me know what you find by leaving a comment in the section below. Many thanks!

Be well!


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4 Comments & Updates to “Healthy Sweet Tea”

  1. Steve Says:

    I love sweet tea as much as the next guy, but there is so much sugar in it, I feel terrible drinking it. Thanks for the better option.

  2. JP Says:

    I hope you enjoy, Steve!

    Be well!


  3. Liverock Says:

    Started drinking white tea a couple of months ago. Its certainly an acquired taste but I’m getting used to it. Had to do something about the gallons of black tea I consume, all that fluoride!

  4. JP Says:

    Good for you, Liverock!

    It’s my preferred form of (actual) tea. 🙂

    Be well!


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