If you’re like most Americans, you’re drinking less soda than you used to. Soda sales have declined for 10 straight years as consumers make healthier choices. At the same time, many people have been choosing tea as their healthy drink of choice.
According to the U.S. Tea Association, in 1990, tea was a $2 billion market. By last year, that had more than quadrupled to $10 billion. Tea can be found in over 80 percent of American kitchens, and about half of Americans drink it everyday.
Part of this switch has to do with the increase in iced tea consumption. Iced or chilled tea accounts for more than 85 percent of all U.S. tea consumption, and the market is still going strong. Americans favor ready-to-drink tea bags, and don’t mind spending on higher quality bags.
Tea—A Healthy Alternative to Soda
It’s likely that health benefits have the most to do with tea’s growing popularity. The beverage not only boasts a considerable amount of cancer-fighting antioxidants called polyphenols, but also helps destroy free radicals (which attack our DNA), improves bone strength; lowers the risk of metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease; boosts endurance and mood; is linked to a lowered risk of Parkinson’s disease; and may even act as a kind of sunscreen reinforcement in protecting us from ultraviolet rays.
Soda, by contrast, is considered to be “liquid candy” by the Harvard School of Public Health. The biggest concern is obesity—all that extra sugar, once it hits your liver, is turned into fat, and can lead to fatty liver disease. Studies have also linked the fructose in soda directly to increased amounts of visceral fat or belly fat. Beyond this, soda is a leading cause of diabetes and insulin resistance, has addictive properties due to the release of dopamine in the brain in response to its astronomical sugar content, and contains exactly zero nutrients. It’s almost diametrically opposed to tea on the nutrition scale.
Is That “Sugar” Really Sugar?
Iced tea can certainly contain sugar—often a lot of sugar—but it’s not a crucial building block to the beverage, as it is with soda. Iced tea can be as simple as a couple of tea bags and a slice of lemon in a pitcher of water. There’s also the question of the sugar itself—whereas many iced teas use actual sugar (and the best incorporate evaporated cane juice, one of the least-processed varieties), nearly all soda is now made with a substance called high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). HFCS is a man-made sweetener derived from corn that is associated with even greater health risks than its more natural cousin, sugar—it increases the risk of obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and atherosclerosis, just to name a few, on an unprecedented scale.
The Caffeine Factor
Another attraction to tea is that its caffeine levels compare favorably to those of soda (11mg vs. 8mg, respectively). People who drink soda simply for the caffeine boost can switch to tea with no loss of energy or alertness, and continue to enjoy the many health benefits linked to moderate caffeine consumption.