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. Cindy Venable says:

    Sunny Anderson has the best refrigerator iced tea there is. Cut an orange into 4 sections and squeeze into a 1-gallon pitcher of water (about 2/3 of the way full)then put the oranges in. Cut up 2-4 plums and put into water. Add 5-6 (depending on how strong you like your tea) teabags in and refrigerator for at least 8 hours. Add 2/3 to 1 cup of sugar and squeeze a whole lemon in and serve. Awesome stuff!!!!

  2. reveal says:

    This really is exactly what I was looking for, thanks

  3. Jack says:

    I wonder if you know that squeezing tea bags releases bitter flavor into your tea. I prefer to just hold the bags until they stop dripping. It does make a difference!

  4. Guest says:

    Jack is right…Squeezing the tea bags will alter the flavor of tea (bitter) – unless you like bitter which is ok too.

  5. mom2evander says:

    If you have a super Walmart in your area, they ALSO carry agave nectar, I believe I find it near the honey (which is next to the peanut butter)

  6. Riv says:

    I have also found it at Costco.

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