When Tea Isn't Healthy
With all the bad publicity, taxes, and bans levied on sugary beverages, maybe you’ve taken your soda intake down a notch. Meanwhile, tea is gaining steam as a healthy exchange to enjoy a little flavor in place of water and save calories. The problem is some drinks touted as tea put sugary beverages to shame in the fat, calorie, and sugar department. Others are marketed as better options on the drink menu, when in fact they’re just another cup of mostly sugar water.
No Go Boba
Bubble Tea also known as Boba, or pearl tea is a drink that’s anything but healthy. It does have many variations, including fruit-flavored or milk teas with its base ingredients as black tea, condensed milk, honey or sugar, and tapioca balls. A standard 12 oz. serving is about 500 calories. If you’re wondering where all the calories come from, the tapioca pearls alone are around 100 calories an ounce, and depending on the size of the cup, 2 to 3 ounces of tapioca pearls may be added. The added milk is usually whole milk and when you add to that the fruit flavoring, which is usually syrup, you’ve got the perfect storm to bust your calorie count wide open for the day.
Better: Go for the basic milk tea that’s iced, as opposed to the blended fruit flavored options. Ask if low or skim milk is available and ask for a limited amount of tapioca pearls to save calories.
Best: You can forgo all added sweeteners by blending ice, tea and milk with chunks of fresh fruit.
Bu-bye Traditional Thai and Chai
Do you believe a savory curry Thai dish deserves the company of Thai Tea? Before you go there, remember that calorie-wise it’s like adding a hamburger to your meal. The drink is made by adding condensed milk, sugar, and orange blossoms to black or red leaf Thai tea. If you get a 12 or 16 oz. serving, which most restaurants serve when you dine in, that drink could add over 300 calories. I won’t even mention that some restaurants use half-and-half to top off the drink and make it creamier, adding more fat and caloric-insult to diet injury. Maybe you’re thinking a similar black tea, Chai is the way to go. But, if you ask that your Tall Starbucks Chai Tea Latte be made with nonfat milk, you’re still staring at 160 calories. Don’t say a word, and it’ll be made with 2% milk, adding 30 more calories.
Better: Get your Chai Tea fix at home and save 120 calories with this recipe from Whole Food Market. Taste Nirvana offers a ready-to-drink Thai Tea Latte in a 9.5 oz. bottle that will help you keep your portion size under control and is just 130 calories.
Best: Opt for a Spiced Chai tea bag. It'll give you the taste you crave, without artificial sweeteners or added sugar, and absolutely no calories (or add a splash of low-fat milk for a few calories).
Too Sweet Tea
McDonald’s Sweet Tea is water, sugar, orange pekoe, and pekoe-cut black tea which even in a small 16 oz. cup, serves up 36 grams of sugar and 150 calories. Wendy’s Wild Berry Tea cuts the calories a little with their 12 oz. small clocking in at 70 calories, but you should know the drink is not a traditional fruit-infused tea, but rather unsweetened tea with “wild berry puree” added which just happens to include sugar, corn syrup, grape juice concentrate, and a preservative in addition to the real fruit. Jack in the Box has no shame in its flavored iced teas which are made by adding "pumps" of a fruit-flavored syrup that includes sugar and artificial coloring with a few artificial sweeteners in Acesulfame K and Sucralose. Those help make their 24 oz. serving size stick at 83 calories. If you’re above the drive-thru, even Jamba Juice is in the sweet tea market with their Tea Infusion drinks. In addition to fruit juice, which is listed first in the ingredient list, there’s also lemonade added to your organic green tea.
Better: Ask for the smallest size made with half cold water. You’ll still get what you want, with half the calories.
Best: Ask for unsweetened tea which is up for the taking at each of these restaurants. If you must, add lemon and a pack or two of sugar on your own. This will add between 20 to 40 calories.
If you want to have a flavor-added tea, you can get black or green tea with real fruit infusions in tea bags or loose leaf varieties to brew at home. It's the best way to enjoy the taste and health benefits of tea.
How do you enjoy flavored teas without the added calories and sugar?