Can Iced Tea Replace Water for the Body?

Iced tea is a refreshing thirst quencher in summer for many people. And it has some health benefits. But whether or not it can replace water depends on several factors.

Iced tea is healthy, without added sugars, sodium and artificial flavors. (Image: VadimZakirov/iStock/GettyImages)

Tip

Iced tea is healthy, without added sugars, sodium and artificial flavors. Brewed iced tea has a lot of health benefits that make it a good substitute for water for some of your hydration needs. But don't overdo it. Watch out for the caffeine and the oxalic acid.

Iced Tea and Hydration

Iced tea can be a refreshing way to rehydrate on a hot summer day, if you go for some brewed iced tea, without any added sugar or other high-calorie additives. Tea by itself has virtually no calories, according to the USDA Branded Food Products Database. Having a glass of iced tea with a sprig of mint and a spritz of lemon can be an enticing alternative to water.

"In the U.S., tea drinkers have the highest flavonoid intake," Jeffrey Blumberg, Ph.D., professor of nutrition at Tufts University, told Consumer Reports in April 2018. It has other benefits. It can help protect against heart disease, according to an April 2018 report in Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy.

Black tea, green tea and white tea are also a good sources of flavonoids. According to Harvard Health Publishing, "Tea is a good source of compounds known as catechins and epicatechins, which are thought to be responsible for tea's beneficial health effects," said Dr. Howard Sesso, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and associate epidemiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

Is Tea's Caffeine a Problem?

Drinking a glass of fresh-brewed iced tea, without sugar, can replace some of the water in your diet without robbing you of liquid. You are getting some caffeine, however. Black and green tea contain about 20 to 45 milligrams of caffeine per 8-ounce cup, according to Harvard Health Publishing. That's about half of what you'd get in an 8-ounce cup of coffee.

There's not enough caffeine in one 8-ounce glass of iced tea to harm most people, according to the Mayo Clinic. Healthy, non-pregnant adults should not drink over 400 milligrams of caffeine a day. And while caffeinated drinks can act as a mild diuretic, they don't appear to increase the risk of dehydration, so the fluids in caffeinated drinks provide a little hydration.

Additives to Tea

Buying bottled or canned iced tea may not have the same benefits as the iced tea you brew from tea bags. Consumer Reports says that if you want to get the antioxidants contained in tea, tea bags steeped in hot water for five minutes gives you more than 600 milligrams of polyphenols, a kind of antioxidant in black tea.

Bottled teas contain much less, writes Consumer Reports. Bottled teas do have a lot of water, however, so you are getting some water when you drink bottled tea. The problem with bottled teas, Consumer Reports adds, is the added sugars, sweeteners, artificial flavorings and sodium.

According to Harvard Health Publishing, bottled teas can contain up to 9 teaspoons of sugar each, almost as much as sugar-sweetened sodas. Many bottled teas also contain artificial flavors and colors. Instead, according to Harvard Health, you should look for unsweetened bottled teas if you can't get freshly brewed tea.

Too Much Tea

In 2014, a man went to a health care center with weakness, fatigue and body aches. Turns out, he was drinking 16 8-ounce glasses of iced tea a day, or about 1 gallon, according to University of Utah Health. This caused his kidneys to fail.

Black tea has lots of oxalic acid, which occurs naturally in many foods. Too much oxalic acid can be deposited in your kidneys and prevent them from removing waste from your blood. So don't overdo it on the iced tea. According to Harvard Health Publishing, drink unsweetened tea, freshly brewed if possible, in moderation. That way, when you're substituting it for water, you can get the hydration of water and the health benefits of tea.

According to the Mayo Clinic, sensible daily water requirements suggest that you drink fluid when you feel thirsty. Water, milk, herbal teas (which typically don't contain caffeine) and iced tea can contribute to your daily fluid intake.

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