Tea Vs Soda Pop - Caffeine, Calories, Health, Etc

by cazort

This page aims to answer the question of which of tea or soda is healthier, exploring which contains more caffeine, more calories, and also exploring other impacts on health.

Tea and soda are both widely consumed in the U.S. as well as many other countries. This page explores questions like which of tea and soda is higher in caffeine, which contains more calories, and which has greater positive or negative impacts on health.

For a short answer to these questions, tea is much better for you than soda. Read on to get the details of how and why.

Calories of Tea vs Soda

Tea has almost no calories, whereas soda has a lot!

Unsweetened tea, including both true teas (black, green, oolong, white, etc.) and herbal teas, contains only negligible calories. Although it is not truly calorie-free (due to trace amounts of sugars and proteins), it is effectively calorie free. However, this is only true when you drink it unsweetened and drunk without milk. If you add milk or sugar to your tea, you add whatever calories is in these additives.

Soda has a lot of calories, due to its high sugar content. The amount of sugar in different sodas varies, but it tends to be around 40 grams per 12-ounce cup (a usual small soda can). To visualize this, see how much sugar is in sodas and beverages on SugarStacks.com. This is about 160 calories, which is between 6 and 7 percent of your calories for the day!

Sugar is a major contributing factor to obesity in America, especially childhood obesity, but is also a matter of concern for adults.

But what about diet soda?

Diet soda, like tea, has zero to negligible calories. However, there is evidence that diet soda can still be detrimental to health, possibly due to its artificial sweeteners. It may even contribute to obesity, see Exploring a Surprising Link Between Obesity and Diet Soda. Artificial sweeteners may increase the body's craving for sweets.

Which do you drink more of, soda (soft drinks) or tea?

Health benefits of Tea vs. Soda

Soda has essentially no health benefits. Zero! Zip! Zilch!

One question you might ask to compare tea to soda is: Which one is better for you? We know that soda is bad for you in a number of ways, but does it have any health benefits? The unfortunate answer is no.

There is no evidence that drinking soda provides any benefits to health. Most soda has no food value other than calories, and an overwhelming majority of people who consume soda consume too many calories, not too few. A small number of sodas have certain additives, like Vitamin C, which can be beneficial to health, but these vitamins all occur naturally in other foods, like fruit and vegetables, and are better absorbed by the body when consumed in whole, natural foods.  Soda isn't even good for hydration, because its water content is offset by its huge sugar content, and it can thus be dehydrating.

Tea on the other hand, has some compelling health benefits.  It also is decent for hydrating (if unsweetened and not brewed overly strongly).

How do you feel after drinking soda?

How do you feel after drinking tea?

Hydration: Tea Beats Soft Drinks

Sugar prevents hydration, although seltzer water is better than soda.

Hydration (keeping your body's water stores replenished) is another realm where tea wins out over soda.  Because of their high sugar content, soft drinks are not a good source of hydration.  Unsweetened seltzer water is an exception, and diet drinks (without sugar) are a better choice.

But tea is better than all of these: not only does it have no sugar if unsweetened, it contains a small amount of potassium, an electrolyte that a lot of people don't get enough of.  Although high doses of caffeine can act as a diuretic, the amount of caffeine in tea is small enough that tea hydrates almost as well as water.

The amount of caffeine tea is highly variable; this page gives listings of some teas that tend to be naturally highest in caffeine.
Teas that are naturally low in caffeine, including green tea, black tea, oolong, white tea, and naturally caffeine-free herbal teas.

Health Risks of Soda vs. Tea

The realth risks of soda greatly exceed those of tea.

Too much of anything can be harmful to the body, and neither tea nor soda are exceptions. But soda is much worse for you than tea!

The health risks of tea are mild, and only apply to very heavy tea consumption. Heavy tea consumption may inhibit the body's absorption of iron, particularly when the tea is consumed with a meal, but this effect can be mitigated by eating small quantities of meat and foods that contain Vitamin C, and this effect may be so small as to not even be an issue with anyone. Tea also contains caffeine, and too much caffeine is harmful, but cola and many other soft drinks also contain caffeine.

Sugar-laden soft drinks can contribute to numerous health problems:

Soda or soft drinks, on the other hand, carry much greater health risks. Because soda has so much sugar, it can contribute to weight gain and obesity, and can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. A high sugar intake can also worsen or increase the risk of a variety of other health problems, including heart disease, anxiety and depression, high blood pressure, and liver problems. Perhaps more importantly, soft drinks provide empty calories, meaning that the calories come without other nutritional value. Natural calorie-rich foods like fruit, nuts, or whole grains also contain protein, fiber, and valuable micronutrients like vitamins and minerals. The greater your portion of empty calories, the less you get of vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein, and other beneficial nutrients.

Aside from the higher caloric content in the form of sugars (empty calories), sodas can also harm your health in other ways. Soda can contain the toxic and carcinogenic chemical Benzene, see Benzene in soft drinks. Soft drinks may also contribute to decreased bone density in women. Drinking very large amounts of soda can cause low potassium levels. One of the biggest concerns though with soda drinking is that drinking soda replaces drinking other more nutritive beverages, such as milk or fruit juice, or even tea or herbal teas which contain some phytonutrients.

A comparison of tea and coffee, on the grounds of caffeine content, health effects, cost, acidity, and other benefits. I admit my bias, as I'm a tea lover.

Flavor: Is Sweeter Better? Not Necessarily.

Soda conditions you to prefer sweet tastes; tea conditions you to appreciate more subtle flavors. Which do you want?

The main reason that people prefer soda to tea is the intense sweet flavor that soda has.  Straight tea is not particularly sweet, and can be quite bitter.

Taste, however, is changeable over time. People have a natural, innate preference for sweet flavors over bitter, and for good reason. Many naturally-occurring poisons are bitter, whereas sweetness signals the presence of sugar. In nature, sugar most often occurs in fruit, which is also rich in potassium, Vitamin C, and other valuable micronutrients. The good news though is that people can and do become more accustomed to bitter flavors over time.

Although there is a degree to which tastes are subjective, on a more objective level, people who learn to appreciate more subtly flavored beverages like tea will naturally seek out healthier foods lower in empty calories than people who stick with intensely sweet beverages like soda.

As you train yourself to appreciate tea, you will be helping to retrain your sense of taste and preferences in food and drink so that you naturally enjoy healthier foods.

Some candies can mimic the characteristics of fruit, a natural, nutrient-rich food, but most candy contains only empty calories.  Soda is similar--it activates our taste buds but is in a sense tricking us: it has no nutrients other than straight calories, and most people in modern societies consume too many calories and too few micronutrients.

Soda or Tea: which tastes better to you?

We've talk about the health stuff alread, which do you like better purely by taste?
RateTea is a social and community website where anyone can rate and review teas.
All about tea: types of tea, tea companies and places to buy tea, how to select the best tea, etc.
Updated: 10/22/2014, cazort
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cazort on 10/23/2014

Thank you! And yes...I don't talk about it as much on this page, but coffee is probably still healthier than sodas in a lot of ways, even though it usually does contain a lot more caffeine.

One idea that you might find helpful if you want to scale back the sweetness in sodas is to buy flavored seltzer water, the unsweetened type, just like seltzer water with lime flavoring, or whatever flavor you want. These are available in most supermarkets. If you find them not sweet enough for starters, try blending them with soda. I got into those a while back and now I just like drinking them straight, or mixing them with fruit juice, and I don't really like soda any more.

johnloberiza on 10/23/2014

Very informative article. Actually I'm a coffee drinker. But my problem is I drink a lot of sodas too...I know I have to cut that down. :)

cazort on 10/22/2014

The effect of tea interfering with iron may not be a big deal, like I've read about it but I've read broader studies that find that it doesn't have much of an effect on total nutrition, so I wouldn't worry about it unless you're someone who has a severe problem with iron deficiency, and even then, it's something you can be mindful of by timing your cups of tea or drinking it with the right foods.

Mira on 10/22/2014

I didn't know tea interferes with the absorption of iron. I'll make sure to eat more fruit with vitamin C :) as I'm a big fan of tea :)

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