Iced Tea, Lightened Up

by in Meal Makeovers, June 3, 2009

raspberry iced tea
A tall glass of iced tea is perfect for chilling — and rehydrating — in the summer heat. You can make a large batch in no time (please, none of that powdered stuff!), but knowing what to put in it is the important part. Here are some tips and recipes you might to try.

The Tea
Cold tea is one of the simplest, tastiest summer drinks out there — and my all-time fave. It’s just so easy: brew up some tea, add a few sweeteners and pour over ice. There are many tea varieties you can choose, from a sweeter fruit flavor to a more bitter green tea. All make for a great iced tea, given the right ingredients. (Look for directions on the amount of bags and brewing times to use on your tea containers — they all vary.)

Now just because love it, doesn’t mean you should go overboard. Many people overdose on tea during the summertime. Yes, tea by itself is no calories — but it contains a compound called oxalates, which prevents your body from absorbing calcium. So stick with 1 to 2 cups per day.

The Sweeteners
Here’s where problems start — many folks like their iced tea sweet. Now a little granulated or brown sugar is fine, but once you start dumping cups of sugar, you’re putting yourself on sugar overload long before dessert hits the table. One tablespoon of sugar has 45 calories (there are 3 teaspoons in a tablespoon). As a rule of thumb, stick to a maximum of 1.5 tablespoons of sugar per person.

You can sweeten your iced tea without sugar, too. Juice like apple, grapefruit or mango are good choices, but with around 60 calories for 1/3 cup, you still should portion it out to about 1/4 cup of juice per serving. I like to add a splash of lemonade to my black iced tea — but only a splash! Lychee juice, agave nectar and grenadine are other sweeteners you might try. As I always say, think outside the (sugar) box. (Check out this post we did on popular, natural sweeteners.)

Other Added Flavors
Mint is a classic addition to tea. When I visit Israel every year, the iced tea automatically comes flavored with fresh mint (or nana in Hebrew). I like to also add little spiciness with ginger root or drop in fresh fruit like star fruit, strawberries or apple slices — the fruit also adds its own natural sweetness, meaning you can cut back on other sweeteners.

Alcohol like rum is another typical iced-tea add-in, but keep in mind that 1.5 ounces (about as much as in a shot glass) contains 100 calories and has no nutritional value. One or two glasses on a weekend are fine, but guzzling down pitchers of spiked iced tea isn’t going to do your waistline any favors (think, beer belly — or iced tea belly in this case).

The Cubes
Here is a genius idea: infuse flavor via your ice cubes. Add lemon juice and honey to water before freezing it into cubes, or freeze a half-and-half mixture of water and juice like orange or pomegranate. Ellie Krieger makes an amazing Lemon-Ginger Iced Tea with Berry Cubes — a perfect treat to impress guests with.

Say “No!” to Instant Mixes
An iced tea purists would faint if you tried to serve her a tea made from one of those powdered mixes. Many of my clients confess to relying on these. Don’t! All you’re doing is dumping tons of sugar (not to mention chemicals and preservatives) into water. Sure, the mixes are super easy to make, but it’s better to take those extra steps to brew your own.

[Photo: Mizz Nezz / Recipezaar]

TELL US: What’s your favorite way to serve up iced tea?

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Comments (26)

  1. Fran says:

    Just plain old good southern tea
    water in a pot about 4 cups bring to boil turn the power off under the pot (gas or electic)
    drop 3 family size (I use Lipton, mostly) into the pot of water and cover w/lid
    let stand to brew about 20 mins
    When the 20 mins are up
    place ice cubes in 1/2 gallon pitcher
    you can use sugar if you want BUT for us that can not have sugar
    I use 5 packets of Truvia into the 1/2 gal pitcher (my husband likes 1 packet more per glass)
    pour the brewed tea over the ice and be sure to squeeze the tea bags to get all the flavor into pitcher
    fill your glasses and have some fun today!

  2. Julie says:

    I make sun tea as soon as the outside temps break the 80 degrees range. I've found that most prebagged tea brands work. Some don't taste as well as others. I typically use green tea and add nine bags to cold tap water in a sun tea jar w/lid. I like the four hour time block of 10:00 am to 2:00 pm to brew it on a sunny day. (You can overbrew, so watch the color and adjust later batches as needed). I then bring it in, remove the bags, and add everything from fresh lemon to raw sugar to agave nectar to honey for sweetness.

  3. Calandria says:

    Just a note about sweeteners: "pink" and "blue" packets turn into aldehydes (like in formaldehyde) when they get hot. Also, studies done on yellow packets of "splenda" have shown that this stuff can kill ants… something I do not recommend in our food. Stevia comes in liquid and packets and is a sweetener that even those who cannot do sugars can try. Yes, it can be hard for taste buds to switch from sugar to other sweetners, but try to use something that will be tasty and not hurt you in the process

  4. mary says:

    what is agave nectar and where can i find it?

  5. danawhite says:

    Hi Mary –
    Check out our post on Alternatives to Sugar – we talk about Agave nectar. Look for it at your local health food store – I've even seen it at my local grocery store.

  6. danawhite says:

    Hi Mary- Check out our post on
    alternatives to sugar.
    Look for agave nectar at your local health food store, I’ve even seen it at some large grocery stores.

  7. danawhite says:

    Hi Mary- Check out our post on alternatives to sugar. Look for agave nectar at your local health food store, I’ve even seen it at some large grocery stores.

  8. mom2evander says:

    btw agave comes from a cactus and is lower glycemic than many other sweeteners

  9. denise says:

    sun tea is no longer considered safe because of the risk of food poisoning according to the FDA

  10. rosina27 says:

    agave nectar is alot bettter for you then those artificial sweetners. it derives from a plant, a type of cactus which are mostly in Mexcio. It is all natural, low on the glycemic index which makes it great for diabetics. it does not spike blood sugar levels. Agave nectar does not crystallize like honey does. Its great for tea and coffee

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