Is Tea Healthier than Soda According to Science?

August 5, 2022

My niece, who’s watching her weight, once asked me ‘is tea healthier than soda?’ Unsweetened tea contains no sugar so it’s definitely the healthier option. Sugar content in homebrewed tea can vary, but is almost never as high as in soda, so it’s also a significantly healthy option in comparison.

I recommend tea to many of my weight loss clients seeking recommendations for alternatives to soda. While generally tea is good for your health, do mind sweet or iced versions of tea. Some sweet teas can contain as much sugar as soda.

Read along to find out:

  • Why tea is a great alternative to soda
  • Understand the sugar content in tea vs. soda
  • Know the health benefits of tea and health risks of soda
  • Learn why sweet tea is not the same as home-brewed tea

Is Tea a Good Alternative to Soda?

Tea is an excellent alternative to soda as long as you are adding your own sugar. What makes sodas so bad is their added sugar or sweetener content. Plus, some sodas have food additives or dyes that are not necessarily good for your health. Tea naturally does not contain sugar or additives.

Tea can be great for you only if you control how much sugar you add to it. I recommend my clients to drink tea unsweetened to get the maximum health benefits. You can add sugar to counter the bitter taste as long as you ensure that your total daily sugar consumption under 6 teaspoons (or 24 grams) as recommended by the CDC.

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soda cans

What has More Sugar Tea or Soda?

The sugar content in soda is high in general. In tea, it can vary depending on how the tea is prepared.

A typical 12-ounce can of soda can contain as much as 40 grams of sugar. That’s about 10 teaspoons. Because sodas are so high in sugar, health authorities classify these beverages as “sugary drinks.” In addition to cane sugar, brands sometimes sweeten sugary drinks with high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, dextrose, and similar substances that contribute to your body’s overall sugar intake.

Unsweetened tea has no added sugar. If you brew tea at home, you probably won’tadd more than one or two teaspoons of sugar. So homemade or unsweetened tea will contain less sugar than soda typically. However, watch out for the “sweet teas.”

The teas you buy at cafes or in cans at supermarkets can have as much sugar as soda. For example, a chai latte at Starbucks contains whopping 42 grams of sugar, which is almost as bad as drinking a Pepsi.

In fact, the CDC categorizes sweet tea as a “sugar-sweetened beverage.” On average, the sugar content in sweet teas is only marginally lower than the typical soda. That is to say, it’s not better for your health at all.

Some traditional teas too can be just as bad for you as soda. For example, Southern style sweet tea, German East Frisian tea, Indian chai, or Iraqi chai can contain astonishing amounts of sugar. The Moroccan or West Saharan mint tea, for example, is sweetened with sugar cubes the “size of golf balls.”

Health Benefits of Tea vs. Soda

Lack of sugar content is not the only thing that makes unsweetened tea super healthy. Here are some of the evidence-based health benefits of tea:

  • Tea, especially black and green tea, contains antioxidants known as polyphenols that may improve your health. Polyphenols can clear free radicals that damage the cells in your body. These antioxidants therefore can reduce your risk for getting chronic diseases.
  • Tea contains compounds called flavonoids, which studies have shown can protect your body against heart disease. Flavonoids can reduce cholesterol, triglycerides and improve blood pressure, thus protecting your heart.
  • A study conducted over 10 years found that people who consumed black tea regularly had a reduced risk of stroke. So drinking tea might protect you against a stroke as well.
  • Green tea has low levels of caffeine and a beneficial chemical called L-theanine. In combination, these two compounds may improve your brain function.
  • Studies have shown green tea might reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, particularly cancers in the breast, prostate, or the colon area.
  • Some studies have suggested that catechins in tea can protect neurons in the brain, thus reducing your risk for neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

Soda, on the other hand, does not have comparable health benefits. Sodas are highly processed, and therefore do not contain naturally forming compounds like antioxidants that may benefit your overall health.

healthy cup of tea

Health Risks of Soda

Doctors and scientists have vigorously documented the health risks of drinking sugary sodas. Namely, sugary sodas are very likely to increase your risk for Type II diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. Scientists have identified sodas as a major contributor to the obesity epidemic in the U.S., particularly because of “super size” versions of soda.

Even so-called diet versions of soda can pose health risks. One study found that people who drank diet sodas daily were at 48% increased risk for a stroke or a heart attack. The sugar in diet sodas are replaced by artificial sweeteners that offer no known benefits for your heath.

What is Better to Drink than Soda?

If you are on the lookout for a non-sugary alternative to soda or sweet tea, here are several healthy suggestions:

  • Water—If you are thirsty, just drink water as humans have done for millennia. Water is the best source to quench your thirst, nothing else. Water is also sugar and calorie free.
  • Unsweetened tea—A cup of tea without sugar can give you energy without the health risks of soda. As mentioned above, it can be beneficial in so many other ways too.
  • Natural fruit juice—Any natural fruit juice without sugar or other additives can be an excellent alternative to soda. Fruits contain many vitamins and minerals that your body can definitely do with.


Tea is considerably healthier than soda as long as you drink it without sugar or with only very low amounts of sugar. Sodas contain extremely unhealthy amounts of sugar that contribute to a number of chronic diseases such as obesity and heart disease. Do be aware that sweet teas can contain as much sugar as sodas, and therefore should be avoided.

About the Author
Dr. Dheena Sadik
Dr. Dheena Sadik is a consultant Nutritionist and Dietician. She has over a decade of experience in the health and fitness industry.
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