Is Sweet Tea Good for You? Debunking Health Myths

Sweet tea, a beloved staple in the South, is often associated with warm, sunny days and gatherings with friends and family. However, many people wonder whether this refreshing drink is actually good for their health. This article aims to provide clarity on the matter, addressing the potential benefits and drawbacks of consuming sweet tea from a health standpoint.

Tea is well known for its numerous health advantages, including anti-inflammatory properties and the ability to support heart health. When it comes to sweet tea, questions arise due to the addition of sugar, which can pose potential risks to one’s well-being.

By examining the nutritional components and potential health implications of sweet tea, readers will be better equipped to make informed choices about their beverage consumption.

Throughout this article, we will explore the specific attributes of sweet tea that may contribute to its health benefits, such as metabolism-boosting properties and infection prevention, as well as potential downsides like added sugars.

By the end, readers will gain a comprehensive understanding of the role sweet tea might play in their overall health and whether it’s a suitable addition to their daily routine.

What Is Sweet Tea?

Is Sweet Tea Good for You

Sweet tea is a popular beverage made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. It originated in the Southern United States and has since become a staple drink, enjoyed by people of all ages. Its popularity can be traced back to the 19th century when it was commonly served at social gatherings and events.

How It Is Made

To make sweet tea, water is first boiled and tea bags or loose tea leaves are then steeped in the hot water. The tea is then sweetened with sugar or other sweeteners while it is still hot, allowing the sugar to dissolve easily. After steeping, the tea is typically cooled and served over ice.

A simple recipe for making sweet tea at home is as follows:

  1. Bring water to a boil in a large saucepan
  2. Add desired tea bags or loose tea leaves
  3. Remove from heat and let steep for 3-5 minutes
  4. Remove tea bags or strain tea leaves out
  5. Stir in sugar or desired sweetener
  6. Let cool and serve over ice

Market Forms

Sweet tea can most commonly be found in the following market forms:

  • Tea bags: Pre-packaged tea bags containing loose tea leaves
  • Instant tea: Powdered tea designed to be dissolved in hot or cold water
  • Bottled sweet tea: Ready-to-drink sweet tea available at grocery stores and convenience stores

Ways of Cooking

Sweet tea is primarily consumed as a cold beverage; however, it can also be served hot, similar to traditional tea. Additionally, sweet tea can be used as an ingredient in various recipes, including desserts or dishes that require a sweet, tea-infused flavor. Some other ways of enjoying sweet tea include:

  • Mixing it with lemonade for a refreshing summer drink
  • Adding fruit or mint for a flavor twist
  • Using it as a base for cocktails or mocktails


Sweet tea is a popular beverage in many regions, particularly in the southern United States. The main ingredients of sweet tea are:

  • Water: Often, filtered or spring water is used to ensure a clean, crisp taste in the final product. The water serves as the base of the beverage and helps to dissolve other ingredients.
  • Tea: Black tea is most commonly used for sweet tea recipes. The type of tea can vary, but typically, family-size black tea bags are preferred. The tea contributes the primary flavor of the drink and contains natural antioxidants called polyphenols which have various health benefits. On the other hand, you can also use green tea as well.
  • Sugar: Granulated sugar is the sweetening agent in sweet tea, and it typically ranges from 1/2 cup to 1 1/2 cups, depending on the desired sweetness level. The sugar balances the bitter flavors from the tea and creates the characteristic sweetness that defines this beverage.

While these three components are the main ingredients in sweet tea, some variations or additions can be made to enhance the taste, such as adding a pinch of baking soda to neutralize any bitterness from the tea. 

Other variations may include incorporating flavored syrups or replacing granulated sugar with honey or other sweeteners. Nonetheless, water, tea, and sugar remain the essential ingredients in crafting a classic sweet tea.

Nutrition Information

Sweet tea is a popular beverage, especially in the southern United States. It is made by adding sugar to black tea. While it does have some nutritional benefits, it is essential to consider the amount of sugar in sweet tea. The nutrition facts of the Sweet Tea per serving size of 8 fluid ounces (240 ml) are as follows:

  • Energy: 91.2 calories
  • Protein: 0 grams
  • Total lipid (fat): 0 grams
  • Carbohydrate: 22 grams
  • Fiber, total dietary: 0.96 grams
  • Sugars: 22 grams

Some of the important nutrients found in tea include:

  • Flavonoids
  • Catechins

Tea is well-known for its health benefits, thanks to the presence of flavonoids and catechins. However, it’s important to note that the nutritional profile of sweet tea differs from unsweetened tea because of the added sugar. 

A 16-ounce glass of homemade sweet tea can contain around 25 grams of sugar which should be considered when evaluating the nutritional benefits of sweet tea.

While the tea itself offers some valuable nutrients, one should be mindful of the sugar content in sweet tea, as it can impact the overall nutritional value of the beverage. It may be a good idea to opt for unsweetened tea or reduce the sugar content in homemade sweet tea for a healthier alternative.

Health Benefits


Tea contains a high level of antioxidants which help reduce free radical damage in the body. These antioxidants, such as polyphenols, have been found to promote overall health and may lower the risk of developing chronic diseases.

Heart Health

Drinking tea has been linked to improved heart health, as its anti-inflammatory properties can relax blood vessels and put less stress on the heart. Catechins found in tea have been proven to reduce inflammation and inhibit plaque formation in vital arteries.


Sweet tea can help strengthen the immune system by reducing the risk of infection. The antioxidants and other compounds found in tea can protect against bacterial and viral infections, supporting overall immunity.

Diabetes Management

Drinking tea regularly can potentially aid in diabetes management by improving insulin sensitivity and protecting against diabetic complications.

Cancer Prevention

Tea contains polyphenols that have been associated with the regulation of cancer cell growth and survival, potentially leading to a lower risk of developing cancer. The antioxidants and other bioactive compounds in tea may help prevent cell damage and inhibit tumor formation.

Chronic Disease Prevention

Drinking tea regularly may contribute to preventing the development of certain chronic diseases. A well-known example is the type of antioxidant found in green tea called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which may help lower the risk of specific cancers.

Various teas also contain antioxidants and other components that can promote better sleep quality, improved mood, and even weight management.

Pros and Cons

Tea has been a popular beverage for millennia, with a multitude of health benefits attributed to its consumption. Sweet tea, on the other hand, is made by adding sugar to the tea, which may have both positive and negative effects on one’s health. In this section, we discuss the pros and cons associated with sweet tea.


Sweet tea primarily uses black tea as its base, which is known for its cancer prevention and heart health benefits. Black tea is a great source of antioxidants that can help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation, promoting overall health.

Additionally, tea contains caffeine which can provide a gentle, energetic boost without the jittery side effects of other caffeinated beverages. The caffeine levels in the tea can also help increase alertness and focus.


While the tea itself offers benefits, the addition of sugar may lead to potential issues. Consuming high levels of sugar is generally associated with weight gain, increased risk of type 2 diabetes, and other health issues. It is important to keep sugar consumption in moderation to avoid these negative effects.

Tea contains caffeine, which may have side effects if consumed in large quantities. Overconsuming caffeine may contribute to feelings of anxiety, stress, and restlessness. Therefore, it is essential to be mindful of how much sweet tea is consumed, especially for individuals sensitive to caffeine.

When considering the caloric content of sweet tea, it is important to note that the added sugar increases the calorie count. While unsweetened tea contains minimal calories, sweet tea’s sugar content might contribute more calories to a person’s daily intake, which could be a concern for those seeking to manage their weight.

Scientific Studies

Sweet tea, mainly derived from black tea, has been the focus of various scientific studies that analyze the potential health benefits associated with its consumption. Rich in polyphenols, black tea boasts antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, making it a popular topic among researchers.

One study analyzed ten studies involving 411 participants and found that consuming black tea significantly reduced LDL cholesterol levels. There was a decrease of 4.64 mg/dL in LDL cholesterol with a higher effect in individuals with a greater risk of cardiovascular problems.

However, black tea did not have a significant impact on total cholesterol or HDL cholesterol levels. In conclusion, black tea consumption can lower LDL cholesterol, especially in those at higher cardiovascular risk.

There is another study that investigated the effectiveness of green tea catechins (GTCs) in preventing prostate cancer in individuals with a high risk. The study involved 60 volunteers with a pre-cancerous condition called HG-PIN. They were randomly assigned to receive either GTCs capsules or a placebo.

After one year, the incidence of prostate cancer was significantly lower in the GTCs-treated group (3%) compared to the placebo group (30%). GTCs also improved urinary symptoms in men with benign prostate hyperplasia. No significant side effects were reported.

In conclusion, GTCs appear to be safe and effective in preventing prostate cancer in high-risk individuals and may alleviate urinary symptoms.

It’s important to note, however, that sweet tea is made by adding sugar to the brewed tea. While the health benefits of black tea are numerous, the addition of sugar may pose risks, particularly for individuals with diabetes or those trying to manage their weight.

What Do Health Experts Say About Sweet Tea?

Sweet tea is known for its refreshing taste, especially during hot summer days. Although it may be a favorite among many, health experts have opinions on the potential effects of sweet tea on our health.

One concern that arises from the consumption of sweet tea is its impact on blood sugar levels. Sweet tea is typically high in sugar content, which can cause spikes in blood sugar levels, particularly for those with diabetes or pre-diabetes. This is a significant concern as fluctuations in blood sugar levels can lead to various health complications in the long run.

Another risk associated with sweet tea consumption is the development of type 2 diabetes. Sugary drinks like sweet tea are one of the biggest contributors to health problems such as obesity and diabetes. High sugar intake can lead to insulin resistance, eventually increasing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

However, it’s essential to note that sweet tea does offer some health benefits. For instance, tea is known to contain polyphenols, specifically catechins and epicatechins, which are linked to better health. These substances are found in higher quantities in green tea, but they are also present in black and red teas, although in lesser amounts, as mentioned by Harvard Health.

Some of the benefits of sweet tea include boosting metabolism, supporting heart health, reducing the risk of infection, and providing essential vitamins and minerals.

Who Should Avoid It

Certain individuals should consider avoiding or limiting their consumption of sweet tea. Here are some cases where it may be necessary:

  • Obesity: Sweet tea contains a significant amount of sugar, with a 16-ounce glass having 25 grams of sugar per serving. Excessive sugar intake can contribute to weight gain and obesity, so individuals struggling with their weight should be cautious with sweet tea.
  • Iron deficiency: Those with iron deficiency or anemia should be cautious when consuming large amounts of green tea, as it could interfere with iron absorption. This is particularly relevant for children, pregnant women, and those with a history of kidney disease.
  • Anxiety: Tea, including sweet tea, contains caffeine, which can exacerbate anxiety in some people. For those who are susceptible to anxiety, it’s essential to monitor their caffeine intake to avoid aggravating their symptoms.

Bear in mind that while these are some considerations, everyone’s needs and experiences may differ. Consulting a healthcare professional can be helpful for personalized recommendations.

Alternatives to Sweet Tea

Sweet tea may not always be the healthiest choice due to its sugar content. Here are a few alternatives that offer a healthier and refreshing experience:

Unsweetened Tea

  • Simply eliminate the sugar or sweeteners while brewing tea
  • The natural flavor of tea can be fully appreciated without the addition of sugar
  • Drinking unsweetened tea helps in reducing calorie and sugar intake

Herbal Teas

  • Made from a variety of plants, fruits, and spices, offering a diverse range of flavors
  • Some herbal teas are caffeine-free, making them a suitable option for those who are sensitive to caffeine
  • Many herbal teas provide health benefits, like mint tea for digestion and chamomile tea for relaxation

Sweetener options 

If the taste of sweet tea is preferred, consider using healthier alternatives to traditional sugar:

  • Honey: A natural sweetener with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties
  • Stevia: A popular sugar substitute derived from the stevia plant, containing zero calories

These alternatives can be used in place of sugar to create a healthier version of sweet tea without compromising taste. Always consume these options in moderation, as excessive intake may impact health negatively.


In summary, sweet tea can offer a variety of health benefits, but these benefits can be outweighed by the potential risks associated with its sugar content. Consuming sweet tea in moderation can provide benefits such as boosting metabolism, supporting heart health, and relieving stress, among others.

However, it is necessary to consider the sugar content, as high sugar intake from sweetened beverages can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. For those who want to enjoy the benefits of tea without the potential risks, unsweetened tea is a good alternative.

When it comes to tea consumption, it is better to choose unsweetened tea due to the concerning amount of added sugar found in sweet tea. Additionally, tea itself can provide some benefits, such as acting as an energy booster due to its caffeine content.

In conclusion, it is crucial for individuals to weigh the pros and cons of sweet tea consumption. Understanding the potential benefits alongside the risks associated with sugar content will help consumers make an informed decision on whether or not to include sweet tea in their diet.


Does sweet tea have any negative effects on health?

While sweet tea has several health benefits, consuming it in large quantities can lead to certain negative effects due to its sugar content. A gallon of homemade sweet tea can have at least 1 cup of sugar, which translates to 25 grams of sugar per 16-ounce glass.

Excessive sugar consumption can increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, weight gain, and other health issues.

Can sweet tea contribute to weight gain?

Yes, sweet tea can contribute to weight gain because it often contains a significant amount of sugar. Drinking sweetened iced tea can easily take you close to or even over the maximum recommended daily sugar intake. For instance, a 23-ounce can of Arizona Peach Tea has 69 grams of sugars and 259 calories.

Is there a healthier alternative to sweet tea?

If you want to enjoy tea without the added sugars, try switching to unsweetened iced tea. Unsweetened iced tea provides the same benefits associated with tea, such as cancer prevention, heart health, and energetic boosts from caffeine, without the added sugar. Drinking tea and coffee without added sugars is better for your overall health.

Can sweetened teas contribute to weight gain?

Yes, sweetened teas can contribute to weight gain due to their added sugars. Consuming excessive amounts of added sugars, including those in sweetened teas, can lead to an increased calorie intake, which may contribute to weight gain over time.

How can I make sweetened teas healthier?

To make sweetened teas healthier, consider using natural sweeteners like honey or stevia instead of refined sugars. Alternatively, you can opt for unsweetened or lightly sweetened teas and add fresh fruits or herbs for flavor. Controlling portion sizes and enjoying sweetened teas in moderation is also key to maintaining a balanced diet.

Can sweetened teas impact dental health?

Yes, sweetened teas can contribute to dental health issues. The sugars in sweetened teas can promote tooth decay and cavities if consumed frequently or not followed by proper oral hygiene practices. It’s important to brush your teeth regularly and consider drinking sweetened teas in moderation to minimize the risk to dental health.

Do sweetened teas provide the same benefits as unsweetened teas?

Sweetened teas generally provide similar hydration benefits as unsweetened teas. However, the added sugars in sweetened teas can outweigh or diminish the potential health benefits of tea, such as its antioxidant properties. Opting for unsweetened or lightly sweetened teas is a better choice to fully enjoy the potential health benefits.

Can sweetened teas be a substitute for water?

Sweetened teas are not a direct substitute for water. While they contribute to fluid intake, their added sugars and potential calorie content make them less ideal for hydrating purposes. Drinking plain water is the best way to stay properly hydrated throughout the day.


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  • Marixie Manarang, MT, undergrad MD

    Marixie Manarang is licensed Medical Laboratory Scientist and an undergraduate of Doctor of Medicine (MD). For one year, she completed her internship training in a government hospital, primarily catering to retired veterans and their dependents. Through her preceptorships in medical school, she gained exposure to patients from various medical departments. Marixie’s passion for writing stems from her excellent medical background, being a mother, and a strong desire to assist the elderly and others in need. Education: Our Lady of Fatima University Doctor of Medicine (MD), Doctor of Medicine (2012-2015), Angeles University Foundation Doctor of Medicine (MD), Doctor of Medicine (2009-2011), Angeles University Foundation Bachelors, Medical Technology (2004-2009)






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