It's that time of year, folks. Cold and flu season is upon us and the germs are busy making the rounds. While there's no one-step solution for immunity, a balanced diet full of nutrients, such as vitamin C, zinc and fiber is critical for keeping our systems healthy.
But what about medicine ball tea? We asked a registered dietitian for expert insights on the buzzy beverage that's being touted as a sick-day staple.
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What Is Medicine Ball Tea?
Medicine ball tea is the brainchild of a Starbucks customer who asked baristas to combine various ingredients on the menu to create a soothing, immune-supportive beverage.
The drink combines mint green tea and peach tea and is steamed with lemonade, hot water and honey. It gained so much traction that the company officially added it to its menu. Medicine ball tea is now available under the name Honey Citrus Mint Tea at Starbucks locations across the map.
Here's how to make medicine ball tea yourself, plus a dietitian's take on whether the drink is truly as beneficial as it seems.
The Health Benefits of Medicine Ball Tea
Some Starbucks drinks are a dietitian's nightmare (looking at you, venti Peppermint White Hot Chocolate with 630 calories and 92 grams of sugar). But the Honey Citrus Mint Tea does have some redeeming qualities.
Below, Jennifer Agha-Khan, RD, a Los Angeles-based registered dietitian, highlights the health benefits — and drawbacks — of Starbucks' medicine ball tea.
Perhaps the most nutritious thing about medicine ball tea is the simple fact that it's hydrating. Drinking plenty of water when sick is essential to help reduce fevers, keep mucus from getting too thick and replace fluids lost through sweat, vomit or diarrhea.
Tea is just as effective as plain old water when it comes to hydration. Just keep in mind what type of tea you're sipping, Agha-Khan says. "Since black and green teas are caffeinated, it's probably not the best idea to drink multiple cups per day if you're caffeine-sensitive. Similarly, adding lots of cream or sugar [to your tea] multiple times per day is also something to think about when assessing your intake," Agha-Khan adds.
"Overall, having a few cups per day, especially in the cooler months when you may be less inclined to drink cold water, is a good way to hydrate."
Most people should aim to drink 9 to 13 cups of fluid daily. And yes, a cup of lightly sweetened or, even better, unsweetened herbal tea can certainly count towards that goal.
It's Full of Antioxidants
Tea is full of phytonutrients that support our health. "Green tea, in particular, is rich in polyphenols like flavonoids and catechin, antioxidants that fight damaging oxidative stress within the body and therefore [can help] reduce our risk of conditions like cardiovascular disease and diabetes," Agha-Khan says.
The flavonoids in green tea also support detoxification processes in the liver. And the hallmark catechin in green tea, EGCG, has been studied for its potential role in cancer prevention, per the National Cancer Institute.
Note that these benefits aren't exclusive to the medicine ball tea — plain green tea will serve up these health perks just as well.
It May Help Soothe Your Throat
The medicine ball tea recipe calls for honey, which acts as a demulcent, meaning it helps to coat and soothe inflamed or irritated tissues, like your throat during a cold or cough.
"That being said, [honey is] still considered an added sugar and should be accounted for when thinking about your daily consumption," Agha-Khan reminds us. "The American Heart Association advises women cap their [added sugar] intake at 25 grams daily and men cap their intake at 38 grams daily."
For reference, a grande medicine ball tea from Starbucks delivers a high 30 grams of sugar, likely from the combination of honey and steamed lemonade. "This exceeds the recommended amount [of daily added sugar] for women and inches close to [the daily limit] for men," Agha-Khan says.
To lower the added sugar content of this drink, Agha-Khan swaps the steamed lemonade for a squeeze of fresh lemon and uses 1 teaspoon of honey (instead of a tablespoon) in her recipe.
It Serves Up Immune-Supportive Nutrients
You're better off adding plain old lemon juice to your cup instead of sweetened lemonade. "This way you'll still get the antioxidant benefits [from vitamin C] without all the added sugars," Agha-Khan says.
FYI: Vitamin C can't prevent or cure a cold, but it could help reduce some of your symptoms if you're already sick, per the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM). However, these findings apply to vitamin C supplements — which have a lot more C than what you'd get from a squeeze of lemon in your tea. Still, including plenty of vitamin C-rich foods in your overall diet can support your immune health, per the NLM.
How to Make Medicine Ball Tea
Here's what you'll need to make a copycat cup of medicine ball tea at home, according to Agha-Khan.
Things You'll Need
8 ounces water
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon honey
1 green tea bag
1 additional herbal tea bag of choice (such as peach, ginger, spearmint or lemongrass tea)
Small pot or electric kettle for boiling water
Tea infuser if using loose tea leaves
It doesn't take serious kitchen skills to make your own medicine ball tea. Follow Agha-Khan's simple steps to brew up a cozy cup.
- Start by boiling hot water either in a saucepan on the stovetop, in an electric kettle or in the microwave.
- Once boiled, add the hot water to a mug along with the lemon juice and honey. Stir well to mix.
- Add both tea bags to the mug and let them steep for about 5 minutes.
- Stir once more before enjoying.
Don't count on medicine ball tea to cure your cold, but feel free to sip on the soothing beverage if you're in the mood for a cozy, immune-supportive cup.
The hydrating drink serves up key nutrients needed for health, including antioxidants like flavonoids from the tea and vitamin C from the lemon. To make it even more nutritious, drive down the added sugar content by swapping lemonade for fresh lemon juice and minimizing the amount of honey in your mug.
It bears noting that there's nothing extra beneficial about this beverage. That is, any type of tea can deliver antioxidants. The drink's soothing qualities mostly stem from the fact that medicine ball tea is warm and hydrating, which can help soothe a sore throat when you're feeling under the weather.
So brew up a cup if you genuinely enjoy this combo, but know that any unsweetened herbal tea in your cupboard will probably produce the same effect: temporary symptom relief. Unfortunately, neither one will actually cure your cold. If only it were that easy...