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In a constant battle to keep our daily calorie count down, it is important to track everything we put in our bodies. Things we eat or drink on a daily basis (like tea) are easy to ignore, but the calories can add up quickly.
Brewed tea by itself, regardless of whether it’s black, green, white, or oolong tea, has only 2.5 calories per 8 ounce cup. However, when sweeteners or milk are added they can add a significant number of calories.
How Many Calories When Adding Sweeteners to Tea?
One of the most common additions to tea, especially black tea, is sugar. When over-extracted, many teas can become quite bitter, and an obvious solution is adding a sweetener. White sugar and sugar cubes are often used to sweeten tea, but the added empty calories from these might not be the best idea when drinking multiple cups a day.
For sugar, there are 16 calories added to tea per teaspoon. White sugar is made up of empty calories. It has no nutritional value; no proteins, no vitamins, and no minerals. Sugar harms the metabolism, affects hormones, and has been linked to obesity.
Honey adds 22 calories to tea per teaspoon. Honey gathered from beehives has small amounts of nutrients in addition to the sweetening of the fructose contained in it. It can increase antioxidant levels in the blood and does not have as negative an effect on blood sugar levels and metabolism as sugar does.
Nectar derived from the agave plant has a similar taste to honey. It adds 21 calories to tea per teaspoon. It is often marketed as a healthier alternative to sugar, but the process of deriving nectar from agave sap destroys all the positive nutrients. It also has a higher level of fructose than sugar; for normal adults this can be a drawback, but for diabetics this can be a positive.
How Many Calories When Adding Cream to Tea?
Different teas have a certain astringency that can be a little off-putting for some people. Cream, milk, almond milk, or soy milk can be a nice addition to help to cut that astringency. These options do add calories, but nutrients as well.
Light cream tastes excellent in tea, there is no question. However, it can also be a large addition of calories and fat. 29 calories are added to tea per tablespoon with light cream.
Half and Half
Half and half is 21 calories added to tea per tablespoon. Half and Half is a combination of milk and cream, and as such is a lower calorie and lower fat alternative to full cream. The calorie count is still fairly high, so it is recommended to consider other options.
Whole milk has 9 calories added to tea per tablespoon. It is high in natural proteins, fat, and calcium. Vitamins A and D are also added when milk is manufactured in the US.
With most of the fat removed, 1% low-fat milk lowers the calorie count a few notches to 6 calories added to tea per tablespoon. When counting each and every calorie this can matter, but for the most part, it may be better to stick with whole milk for the higher level of nutrients and lower amount of sugar it contains.
Almond milk has 4 calories added to tea per tablespoon. Made from ground almonds and water, unsweetened almond milk is another low-calorie alternative. It is low in fat content and none of that is saturated fat. Look out for flavored or sweetened almond milk, the added sweetener will up the total number of calories in your tea.
How Many Calories in Iced Tea?
Ready-to-drink teas like sweet iced teas are often loaded with added sugar. The most popular brands can include as much sugar, if not more, than the average soda. This sugar often comes in the form of high-fructose corn syrup, one of the least healthy sweeteners.
Common calorie counts for sweetened iced tea float around 200 calories per 16 ounce bottle while soda is around 150 calories per 12 ounce can.
While ready-made iced teas are available without added sugar, it is important to check the nutritional label or ingredients. Titles on the bottle or can may leave the word “sweetened” out and there are no regulations that force manufacturers to add it.
The best way to enjoy iced tea without fear of added or unknown calories is to brew it yourself at home. Most tea distributors will give directions to brew iced teas out of their leaves. This brew may be stronger to account for the later addition of ice.
Ways to Avoid Adding Calories to Tea
With the total calories in a simple cup of tea at almost zero, adding sweeteners and fat can up that number a considerable amount. To avoid added calories, the best strategy is not to add any. But what are other ways to have an enhanced-tasting cup of tea?
Change Tea Leaves
One of the ways around this is to start off with higher quality tea. Low-quality tea bags are easily over-extracted and are more likely to create a bitter brew. In western cultures where a touch of milk and sugar are considered the norm, these teas are meant to taste this way.
Start by considering the taste that you are trying to cover up. If it is bitterness, try a lighter tea such as white tea. They have a much milder flavor and aroma than black or strong oolong teas. If it is astringency that is bothersome, try a few herbal teas, but avoid lavender and raspberry blends.
Check Brewing Procedure
It is important to check that the tea brew is not over-extracted. Follow the tea brand’s instructions, especially the temperature of water used to steep the tea in. While it can be easier to pour water directly after it is boiled, many teas (green teas in particular) call for lower temperatures.
Also, be sure to brew with the correct amount of time recommended by the tea brand. Leaving tea in hot water for too long will also over-extract it.
There are not many calories in tea, but when milk and sugar are added the answer changes. Look for lower-calorie options that can be added to tea to improve its flavor, or change your tea to one that tastes better without any additions.
Scott is the founder of TeaMinded. He enjoys tasting and discovering teas from across the globe, with green teas and ceremonial matcha from Japan being among his favorites. He’s grateful to be immersed in the tea community, always learning and sharing along the journey.