This time of year often means refreshing iced tea to cool your child’s thirst as she plays hard in the summer heat. But not all iced tea brands are equal! While common sense dictates that brewed tea, sugar and water should be all you need in a glass, many brands do much more than just add a little natural preservative to make the shelf. And far too many brands have a high sugar content that will speed up your child. Let’s take a look at some of these additives and what brands to avoid – as well as suggestions on good and better iced tea choices for your family.
Table of Contents
What’s in that Bottle of Iced Tea?
I was shocked at some of the ingredients I found in a bottle of iced tea. Here are some of the ingredients you may not want your child drinking this summer:
High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
This sweetener, which is derived from GMO corn, possibly poses risks, according to Dr. Mark Hyman, even in small amounts because fructose gets into the blood stream more rapidly, potentially causing damage. Huffington Post reported on a more recent study may show that corn syrup is toxic for women. The study found it “to be more toxic to female mice than table sugar, shortening their lives and cutting their rate of reproduction.” The corn was more toxic to all mice, but more deadly for the females. Another good reason to avoid HFCS for my girls!
As mentioned, much of the sugar content in these teas is high – and unless the sugar is organic or cane sugar, it most likely has been derived from genetically modified (GMO) sugar beets since nearly 95% of this US crop is grown from GMO seeds. The primary herbicide used on GMO crops is glyphosate, which has been labeled as “probably carcinogenic” by the World Health Organization. Glyphosate is also a hormone disruptor and is linked to obesity, birth defects, cellular DNA damage. It also has a possible link to autism. Read in depth about the dangers of glyphosate.
One particular form of this additive, known as 4-Mel, is potentially carcinogenic and frequently used in sodas. Since there’s no way to tell which form of caramel color was used, we avoid caramel color in our home.
- Phosphoric Acid
A diet high in phosphate is associated with a higher risk of osteoporosis and a greater break down of bones, researcher Katherine Tucker, PhD found. For those getting more phosphorus than calcium, this could lead to bone loss. (Pepsi funded other studies that found the opposite – and soda is where you’ll find high levels of this additive!) While soft drinks carry low amounts, it’s critical to keep your calcium levels up if you consume a lot of iced tea.
- Sodium Polyphosphate
This chemical is banned in the European Union. It has been found to aggravate food intolerances so for those of you raising children with allergies and food sensitivities.
- Sodium Hexametaphosphate
This chemical has shown in lab studies to impact kidneys and other organs of rats in lab studies, and skin irritation in rabbits. BeFoodSmart.com reports that it is safe unless it’s eaten without a balance of other minerals. Then it can affect the kidneys, heart and bones.
In fact, because they are so widely used, phosphorus additives like the first two can be harmful to those with chronic kidney disease, who need to keep those levels in check with their medications. Environmental Working Group (EWG) also reports on several studies that link phosphates to heart disease. Another study also linked these additives with high rates of mortality for people with chronic renal failure. Steer your family clear of added phosphates.
Another widely used additive and preservative, two studies have found that potassium sorbate damaged the DNA of human cells but more studies are needed. The risk is low I don’t want to take that risk with my children!
This additive, on its own, has not been show to be harmful. However, certain chemical reactions can convert it to benzene, which has been labeled a carcinogen by the American Cancer Society. In my research, I found discussion that linked this additive to allergic reactions and problems for those with asthma, so I’d avoid this additive especially if your children have these conditions.
More commonly known as Splenda, research from a December 2013 study shows that this additive, which was thought to be undigested by the human body, actually does metabolize, which can cause problems – and low, FDA approved levels can do harm. It can greatly reduce good gut bacteria, decrease the effectiveness of medication, and may negatively impact insulin responses, blood sugar levels and possibly alter genes. It’s also been associated with inflammatory bowel disease.
This additive, known as Calcium Disodium EDTA, is used to prevent spoiling. The problem is that this synthesized chemical acts as a chelator for heavy metal or mercury poisoning. That means it unbinds the mercury from the body’s cells setting it free. For people who are chelating, it should a carefully monitored process. It is in low levels in foods, but it does build up over time so I would be careful to monitor this chemical for your children.
Also know as Acesulfame-K, this chemical is much sweeter than sugar and is often used in diet products and as an artificial sweetener. Because some studies seemed to link it to cancer, the Center for Science in the Public Interest urged the FDA to perform further testing, but so far none has been done. I say it’s not worth the risk for my family!
The problem with natural flavors is that you have no idea what they are made of. All “natural” means is that the flavor is not man-made, that is an artificial flavor. Natural flavors initially are found in nature, but then are processed. According to an article in Marketplace, “Lisa Lefferts with the Center for Science in the Public Interest says there are a lot of mysteries, and calls the flavor industry a ‘big black box.’ Lefferts says a flavor ingredient can be some combination of about 2,300 possible substances.” Not only that, but natural flavors can mean MSG, a neurotoxin and allergen for some. Unfortunately, a lot of iced teas contain natural flavors. Hopefully the cleaner teas are using flavor ingredients!
For families raising kids with multiple sensitivities or health issues, these chemicals provide an unwanted and avoidable risk. We can do better for our children!
ICED TEA BRANDS: TOXIC, SAFE AND SAFEST
Now that we’ve listed the culprits, let’s see which iced tea brands you should avoid, which are safer and which get our top picks.
AVOID THESE BRANDS
Each of these contains high sugar and/or unsafe ingredients.
- Nestea Iced Tea with Lemon
HFCS, Phosphoric Acid, Sodium Polyphosphate, Caramel Color, Natural Flavors, Potassium Sorbate, Potassium Benzoate, Sucralose, Calcium EDTA, Acesulfame Potassium.
- Lipton Iced Tea Lemon
HFCS, Sodium Hexametaphosphate, Natural Flavor, Phosphoric Acid, Potassium Sorbate, Acesulfame Potassium, Calcium Disodium EDTA
- Gold Peak Tea Lemon
Sugar (45g per 18.5 oz.), Natural Flavors, Caramel Color
- Arizona Zero Calorie Iced Tea
Natural Flavors, Ascorbic Acid, Malic Acid, Sucralose, Acesulfame Potassium
- Snapple All Natural Lemon Tea
Sugar (36g per 12oz), Natural Flavors
- Tradewinds Slow Brewed Iced Tea
Sugar (19g per 8oz), Natural Flavors, Caramel Color
BETTER ICED TEA BRANDS
These are not bad, but are either not organic, or contain natural flavors or a high sugar content.
- Pure Leaf Unsweetened Real Brewed Tea
Believe it or not, this is a Lipton Tea Brand, owned by PepsiCo. 0g of sugar.
- Tejava Unsweetened Iced Tea
Pure black tea, no sugar or additives
- Steaz Iced Green Tea
Organic certified by QAI. 0g of sugar in unsweetened version. Some Fair Trade ingredients. Contains Inulin, Natural Flavors
- Sweet Leaf Green Tea
All USDA organic ingredients, except for Ascorbic Acid. 15g of sugar per 8oz.
- The Republic of Tea Mango Ceylon Black Iced Tea
Contains citric acid and natural flavors.
- Rooibee Red Tea, Unsweetened
All USDA organic ingredients, except for natural flavors and gallic acid equivalent. 0g of sugar.
BEST ICED TEA BRANDS
All of these are organic and have reasonable levels or sugar or no sugar. I added Honest and Inko’s here, in spite of the natural flavors, because they are USDA Organic with zero grams of sugar.
- Ginger Oasis Herbal Tea and Cinnamon Sunrise Herbal Tea
All USDA Organic ingredients. Fair Trade. Natural flavors. 0g of sugar.
- Teas’ Tea Organic Unsweetened Iced Tea
USDA Organic ingredients, ascorbic acid. No sugar.
- Inko’s Organic White Tea Unsweetened-Hint O’Mint
All USDA organic ingredients, except for Natural flavors. 0g of sugar.
- Little Me Tea (for Kids)
USDA Organic, Non-GMO Project Verified, no caffeine, no synthetic ascorbic acid. 6g of sugar per 6.75 oz. juice box. Mixed with fruit and vegetable juices and purees.
- Harney & Sons Organic Plain Black Iced Tea
Sweetened with cane sugar and honey. Uncertain of sugar levels.
- Bhakti Chai Unsweetened
Organic Fair Trade Tea with Organic Ginger Juice and spices. Project Non-GMO verified. Sugar Free.
Thankfully, there are plenty of bottled choices to choose from – and most of the organic ones come in a glass bottle rather than toxic plastic bottles or BPA-lined cans. Of course, you can always brew your own organic tea, but an iced bottle of tea saves you from working over a hot oven!
What iced tea brands do you prefer to give your family?