Although water is generally considered the best way to satisfy your thirst -- tea, particularly unsweetened green tea -- is also a healthy choice. It’s an excellent source of antioxidant flavonoids, and drinking several cups of green tea a day has been associated with a significantly lower risk of dying from heart disease. While scientists haven’t reached a consensus as to whether or not green tea can enhance your weight loss efforts, drinking green tea in lieu of soda, sports drinks or other high-calorie beverages is undoubtedly a step in the right direction.
Green Tea and Weight Loss
Aside from any potential health benefits, green tea is an ideal beverage when you’re trying to lose weight -- with just 2 calories per cup, plain green tea is virtually calorie-free. Getting few or no calories from your beverages allows you to get your calories from nutrient-dense foods, which can help you sustain the calorie deficit needed to lose weight.
Green tea has also been studied, with mixed results, for its potential impact on weight loss. While a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2005 found that the catechins in green tea may have a significant effect in helping your body burn fat more efficiently, a 2009 study published in International Journal of Obesity found that the catechins in green tea only have a small -- but positive -- effect on weight loss and weight management. Similarly, a meta-analysis of the scientific research on green tea published in the Cochrane Review in 2012 concluded that drinking green tea only leads to small, “statistically non-significant” weight loss in overweight and obese people, and doesn’t help people maintain weight loss.
Just a Spoonful of Sugar?
Because green tea’s weight-loss benefits come mostly from what it doesn’t provide -- calories -- sweetening it with sugar simply turns it into a vehicle for extra calories. Although a single sugar cube has only 9 calories, a packet of sugar has 11 calories and a teaspoon of sugar has 16 calories, those calories can add up fast, especially if you use a fair amount of sugar and drink tea several times a day. If you were to drink three cups of green tea a day -- when each cup is prepared with 2 teaspoons of sugar -- would increase your daily caloric intake by about 100 calories. While that’s still less than the 155 calories you’d get if you drank a single 12-ounce can of regular cola, it’s not insignificant -- particularly when your bigger goal is to cut calories and lose weight.
Your Daily Sugar Intake
The standard American diet isn’t short on added sugars -- the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans estimates that added sugars account for 16 percent of total calories in the average diet, and that grain-based desserts are the leading source of calories for adults. Sugary beverages are another leading source of calories – and the top source of added sugars -- in the United States.
Consuming too much added sugar has been linked to several serious health problems, including weight gain, obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and gout. The American Heart Association advises women to consume no more than 100 calories, or 6 teaspoons, of added sugars a day, and men to limit their intake to no more than 150 calories, or about 9 teaspoons. Even if your diet contains no other added sugars, drinking several cups of sweetened green tea a day could easily put you at or over the suggested limit. And if your diet already contains plenty of added sugars, sweetening your tea pushes your intake higher.
Long-Term Healthy Habits
Even if your diet is healthy, well-balanced and otherwise low in added sugars, sweetening your green tea could negatively affect your weight loss efforts in other ways. According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, drinking sugary beverages has been shown to increase the number of calories a person consumes later in the day, possibly because sweetened drinks may prompt cravings for sweet, carbohydrate-rich foods, for example. Drinking sugary beverages also amplifies the risk of weight gain in people who have a genetic predisposition to obesity
To protect your health and stick to your weight loss plan, drink plain green tea. If you find it too bitter, try steeping it for a shorter amount of time -- green tea becomes bitter when it’s over-steeped. If you’re looking for more flavor, try adding a bit of fresh lemon juice. Give your taste buds time to adjust -- after a few weeks of drinking plain green tea, you might find it hard to believe that you used to like sugar in your tea at all.
- Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University: Tea
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Green Tea
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: Healthy Drinks
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: Sugary Drinks
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: Sugary Drinks and Obesity Fact Sheet
- American Heart Association: Added Sugars
- USDA Food and Nutrition Service: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010, Chapter 2 -- Balancing Calories to Manage Weight
- USDA Food and Nutrition Service: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010, Chapter 3 -- Foods and Food Components to Reduce
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Ingestion of a Tea Rich in Catechins Leads to a Reduction in Body Fat and Malondialdehyde-Modified LDL in Men
- International Journal of Obesity: The Effects of Green Tea on Weight Loss and Weight Maintenance -- A Meta-Analysis