Sweet Tea vs. Soda – Caffeine, Sugar, Health

Which is healthier, sweet tea or soda? What are some healthy alternatives?

There is only a marginal difference between the two. As we all know, the biggest problem with these drinks is the enormous amount of sugar.

The average American consumes 3-4 times more sugar than recommended causing inflammation in the body. Once your body is inflamed it is more prone to developing serious diseases.

In today’s post we will determine the sugar content of different drinks, the caloric difference, their caffeine content, and how to make a healthier option.

Sugar content in sodas and sweet tea

First, let me explain that there is a difference between sugar derived naturally from fruits and sugar that has been refined and added.

For example, if you eat an apple it contains fruit sugar, but because it is a whole food it also contains fiber. The fiber helps the sugar break down slower so there is no extreme sugar spike.

Compare this to apple juice and the fiber is completely removed. This means that you are drinking mostly sugar.

Even though the sugar is not added and the sugar in apple juice is considered natural, it still reacts as added sugar because the juice is a refined food. Fiber, minerals, vitamins, and phytochemicals are removed, which makes juices a processed food.

Some juice containers advertise the high vitamin C content but most often this is added and not natural. You would be better off eating a couple of clementines for your vitamin C.

25 grams of ADDED sugar (not counting the sugar in fruits/veggies) is okay to eat on a daily basis according to the WHO.

Now, how about sweet tea and soda?

As you probably know, these two drinks contain added sugar and there is no fiber in the drink. The quick sugar spike in your blood can cause many issues. As this study mentions, the quick sugar spike and fall is a potential risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

Some juices advertise using “natural” sugar. But again, if it is stripped of its fiber (juice) it does not matter that the sugar is “natural.” It reacts the same way.

And if you think about it: Table sugar is somewhat “natural” too, because it is made from a plant (made off the leaves of a sugar cane plant). The processing part is what makes the sugar unhealthy in both sweet tea and sodas.

You can find hidden processed sugars in fruit drinks, smoothies, bread, “healthy” cereal, ketchup, “healthy” yogurt, “healthy” salad dressing, and more. 

Here is the sugar content of the different drinks per 1 cup:

  • Coke: 23 g
  • Sweet tea: 21 g
  • Apple juice: 24-28 g
  • Homemade Lemonade: 26 g

Now, 1 cup is typically only half of the bottle as the small bottles contain about 16 oz of the sugary liquid. Most people drink the whole bottle, exceeding the daily recommended amount of added sugar intake.

Calories in Sweet Tea vs. Soda

For any of the drinks mentioned above you’ll consume about 90-100 calories per cup. As already mentioned, these calories contain lots of sugar.

Sweet tea and soda do not differ much when it comes to sugar and calories. You are basically drinking your calories away without any added benefits like fiber, minerals, or vitamins. But it depends on your situation.

Let’s say you are trying to stay under 2000 calories per day and you already consumed 1800 calories. The 1800 calories consisted of whole plant based foods, lots of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

If you are filled and fueled and did not consume any added sugar yet, the cup of soda is not a deal breaker.

On the other hand, if you are already eating a lot of calories including lots of sugar and you are trying to lose weight, or you are experiencing health issues, it is best to skip sugary drinks altogether!

So when it comes to calories it does not matter if you pick soda or sweet tea. It is more important to look at your overall diet and health goals.

Caffeine in Sodas and Sweet Tea

Below, you can find the caffeine content of different sodas and sweet tea. Keep in mind that these are per cup (8 oz.) not per bottle (16 oz) or can (12 oz).

  • 1 cup Coke: 25 mg
  • 1 cup Mountain Dew: 39 mg
  • 1 cup sweet tea: 34.5 mg
  • 1 cup green tea: 28.4 mg
  • 1 cup Dr. Pepper: 25.4 mg
  • 1 cup coffee made from grounds: 95 mg

Compared to coffee, the sodas and teas contain less than half caffeine. 

Is sweet tea healthier than Sodas?

If you compare the sugar content and calories between sodas and sweet tea they are equally unhealthy. There is only one difference: sweet tea is brewed from black tea leaves. These leaves:

“contain thousands of bioactive constituents such as polyphenols, amino acids, volatile compounds, and alkaloids that exhibit a range of promising pharmacological properties. Due to strong antioxidant property, black tea inhibits the development of various cancers by regulating oxidative damage of biomolecules, endogenous antioxidants, and pathways of mutagen and transcription of antioxidant gene pool.” (source)

However, you still have to watch the sugar content in the sweet tea.

Is homemade sweet tea healthier?

When making your own sweet tea you have better control over the sugar content. Alternatively, you can use other zero calorie sweeteners and the best ones are the sugar alcohol erythritol and the natural sweetener stevia.

Some stevia sweeteners contain fillers so make sure to get the stevia without harmful ingredients.

Unsweetened tea vs diet soda

You can keep your tea unsweetened or use the stevia drops mentioned above to create a zero calorie drink. Diet sodas also contain zero calories. But which ones are healthier?

Most diet sodas contain artificial sweeteners to reduce calories but provide the sweetness. This should solve all your problems, right? No sugar, no calories.

Well, not so fast. The zero calorie artificial sweeteners can, in some cases, cause other health issues like hypertension, DNA damage, cancer, migraines, and more. Sucralose, sugar alcohol, aspartame, and more are proven to cause these side effects. 

So, if your diet soda contains any of these ingredients it is better to stick with unsweetened tea or sweeten it with stevia or erythritol.

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