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One Major Side Effect of Drinking Sweet Tea, Says Dietitian

This refreshing beverage may not be so "sweet" after all...
FACT CHECKED BY Kiersten Hickman

Though there are many different types of tea—black, green, white, oolong, herbal tea, and so forth—to people who grew up or are living in the southern United States, there's one kind that has a special place in their hearts: sweet tea.

Sweet tea refers to iced tea made with sugar—and plenty of it! The history of sweet tea shows that it became a popular summertime with the invention of refrigeration in the warmer climate of the south. However, people now consume sweet iced tea throughout the year. Even though drinking sweet tea is a long-standing southern tradition, it's certainly not limited to the south—whether the tea is store-bought or homemade, people across the country are indulging… and it may be hurting their health.

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How so? The one major side effect of drinking sweet tea is how it can increase the risk for type 2 diabetes.

"Sugary drinks, like sweet tea, are one of the biggest contributors to health problems such as obesity, diabetes, and more," says Beth Chiodo, MS, RD, LDN, CHWC, founder of Nutritional Living. "Upping your intake of sugary drinks by just one a day can increase your risk for diabetes by 16%."

According to research, reducing the consumption of sweet beverages is associated with a decreased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Because tea and coffee both have health benefits, your best bet is to continue to drink them without added sugars. If you can't cope with that, at least substitute added sugar for a sweetener with some redeeming qualities—like stevia.

"A typical pint of sweet tea can contain 16 or more teaspoons of sugar," says Chiodo. "As an alternative, try drinking unsweetened iced tea with some lemon or try using stevia, which is a sugar-free alternative."

Stevia and monk fruit are natural, no-calorie sweeteners that are derived from plants. Because they don't raise your blood sugar levels, they won't put you at the same risk for type 2 diabetes.

Even if you are aware that the intake of sweet beverages is associated with an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, giving up sweet tea can be difficult if you drink it regularly. Chiodo recognizes this and offers solutions.

"Small changes can really add up," says Chiodo. "Try adding half unsweetened tea to your regular sweet tea and slowly increase the ratio of the unsweetened tea. You won't notice the change as much but over time, but you will really reduce the amount of sugar you are consuming and along with it, your risk for developing Type 2 diabetes."

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Asaph Kuria
Drawing on his degrees in nutrition and food safety (B.S, M.S.), Asaph Kuria specializes in writing health and wellness content that explores and explains the connection between food and health. Read more