Three More Imposters Exposed
Part 4 of 5

Brayden chose sweet tea from the drive-through and felt he’d made a very healthy choice. When he looked at his mom for approval, she smiled wanly, “I’m not sure how it’s sweetened,” she said. “Even if it’s real sugar, it’s probably too much. And what if they’ve added HFCS…. It’s probably a better choice, but I don’t know….Can you drink it unsweetened?”

Brayden felt like throwing his hands up in the air. His mother was a real health nut. He appreciated her concern for his health, but this whole beverage business was beginning to get on his nerves. She’d already swiped soda, fruit punch, and his favorite sports drink off his list of choices. Now she was worried about tea. Was there no safe choice? Was it really necessary to question every beverage—even a simple order of tea?

Unfortunately, in today’s environment, it’s probably a good idea to question everything you put in your body. As we saw in part 3 of this series, you really can’t tell the true value of a beverage from its name alone; you’ve got to investigate a bit. It’s annoying and sometimes a lot of trouble to find out about the ingredients in your foods and beverages. But if you care about your health, you can’t afford to ignore the details.

Let’s look at three more beverages—both their authentic and their deceptive versions. 

Real Tea, A Winning Choice

Whether you choose green, black, white, or oolong, you won’t go wrong when you place your order for a cup of pure tea.

Green tea, in particular, contains a significant amount of disease-fighting components called antioxidants. If you drink it regularly, it can provide many health benefits, including…

  • Protection against heart attack and other cardiovascular diseases.
  • Decreased risk of several cancers.
  • Prevention of bacterial infections.
  • Decreased risk of dental cavities and a general boon to oral health.
  • Weight loss support.
  • Skin protection and maintenance.

Although green tea seems to offer the most benefits, all real tea will boost your health, according to Lester Mitscher and Victoria Toews, authors of The Green Tea Book. White tea, for example, contains an even higher level of antioxidants than green, and black tea shows potential for protecting lungs against the damage created by cigarette smoke.

“It really is a no-lose proposition when you drink tea of any kind!” the authors say. Brewing your favorite bag for just a few minutes releases most of it nutrients right into your cup.

Of course, you need to watch your caffeine intake, but tea contains a lot less caffeine than coffee. One serving, not too late in the day, shouldn’t affect your sleep. If you find that it does, simply switch to decaf.

No Time for Real Tea?

Give me a break, you might be thinking, I don’t have time to brew my own tea!

I get it. You’re busy. You’re at school, work, rehearsals, practices…. You’d gladly choose tea, but most of the time, the only thing available comes in a can or bottle. Are we to consider these products imposters (after all, canned tea does sound a little phony)?

According to research presented at a 2010 meeting of the American Chemical Society, bottled tea contains only a fraction of the antioxidants you get from freshly brewed tea. As a matter of fact, you’d have to drink 20 bottles of some teas in order to get the same amount you’d usually get in one cup!

There’s a bit of good news, though. Just because it’s convenient, doesn’t mean it’s a complete fake.

When you’re out and about, go ahead and choose a bottle or can if you’d like. Check your labels for the essential ingredients—tea, water, natural flavors—and maybe just a little natural sweetener. Need some examples? Honest Tea, Teas’ Tea, and Steaz brands (to name a few) offer varieties that fit the bill. It won’t be freshly brewed and will probably have fewer antioxidants, but if it’s plain tea, you can drink up with confidence. 

Sweet Tea, the Real Villain

Sorry. I love my sweet tea and I’m not giving it up. Is that how you feel? If so, you need to know that when you consume bottles or cans of sweetened tea, you’ll receive almost no health benefits. The sugar load simply outweighs what little nutrition is left.

Let’s look at Nestea Iced Tea with Lemon, for example. A close reading of the label shows that it does contain black tea extract, but you won’t find it until number eight on the list of ingredients. The first two ingredients are, not surprisingly, water and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Pure tea? I think not.

Some companies, like Tazo, sweeten their tea with pure cane sugar or honey—a better choice. But keep in mind, even all-natural varieties can deliver a lot of sugar. One bottle of Tazo Iced Black Tea with Lemon, for example, contains 34 grams (read “The Sweet Life” series if you need a refresher on the dangers of too much sugar.)

The same goes for restaurant tea. You might think you’re making a healthy choice with your drink order, but remember that the word tea on the menu doesn’t always mean pure tea.

Does that mean Brayden’s choice of sweet tea was just as bad as choosing soda or fruit punch? Maybe. Yes, a sweet tea—even at McDonald’s—is made of real tea, but it’s also loaded with sugar. One small iced tea contains 36 grams! Many nutritionists would have told him that the added sugar rendered any benefits of the tea itself null and void.

An occasional sweetened tea from your favorite restaurant will not wreck your health. But if you choose tea often, at least consider ordering it plain and sweetening it yourself.

Better yet, learn to like your tea unsweetened.

Good, Old-fashioned Lemonade

Imagine that you pick up a bottle of lemonade from the quick mart after classes. The label presents the product as traditional, natural lemonade with an “old-fashioned taste.” A well-known beverage company makes it so you believe the claims. When you get home and read the fine print, however, you see that your 20-ounce bottle of so-called natural lemonade contains HFCS, preservatives, food coloring, 67 grams of sugar—and only 3% lemon juice. You’ve definitely picked up an imposter!

Now you’re curious about the powdered lemonade mix in the cabinet. You’ve been mixing up this stuff and drinking it since you were little. When you read the ingredients, you’re not only disappointed at the artificial sweeteners and food colorings, but you’re also shocked to find no mention of the word lemon anywhere in the list. Talk about fake lemonade!

The Problem With Lemonade

The thing about lemonade is that it has to be sweetened with something. Otherwise, you’re just drinking lemon juice in water—an excellent choice, but it isn’t lemonade. Unfortunately, any lemonade you buy will, more than likely, have way too much sweetener in it, even when you’re getting the real thing.

Let’s say you’re eyeing the “made-from-scratch” lemonade on the restaurant menu, for example. (The strawberry lemonade looks especially appealing!) If you decide to give in to your temptation, you won’t be choosing the worst beverage on the menu. More than likely, if restaurant personnel make your lemonade, you’ll drink the real thing. However, you might also exceed your sugar allotment for the entire day, with just one glass. So—just a suggestion—maybe you should forego the free refills.

Simply Lemon

Your best bet for real lemonade without a ridiculous amount of sugar is, of course, to make it yourself. Cut up a lemon, squeeze the juice into a glass, and add your sweetener and some ice. You’re done. Even in a restaurant, you can make your own. Simply order water with lemon and add just a little sugar (or your own pack of other natural sweetener). Simple! 

Seriously, though…will you actually even do this much for a glass of lemonade? If you’re craving lemonade, you’re probably going to buy it.

Fortunately, new healthier options are popping up on the market. Look for True Lemon lemonade drink mix, for example, which boasts 100% natural ingredients. It’s also sweetened with Stevia, so your sugar intake remains minimal. Also, look for a bottle of Lakewood’s organic Pure Fruit Lemonade, with no added sugar or artificial sweeteners.

Just remember that real lemonade needs three main ingredients: water, lemon juice, and a natural sweetener. If you find much more than that, it’s probably an imposter.

Coffee, the Great Energizer

Once a month or so, my 17-year-old indulges in one of his favorite treats—a bottle of Starbucks Frappuccino Coffee Drink. It provides a quick pick-me-up for the second half of a long school day or a tiring work shift.

According to the label, here’s what he’s drinking: coffee, reduced fat milk, sugar (31 grams), maltodextrin, pectin, natural flavor.

What do you think? Legitimate coffee or imposter?

It’s an imposter, of course—which is why my son doesn’t drink it very often…at least not that I know of!

On the upside, you’ll notice that some of the worst additives, such as HFCS or artificial sweeteners, are missing (maltodextrin, also a processed additive, isn’t a particularly good ingredient, but neither is it the worst). Plus, like many sweetened coffee drinks, my son’s favorite is made with real coffee. Just as we saw with bottled tea, though, the added sugar places most of these beverages in the imposter category.

It’s a shame, really, since coffee itself might actually give you a healthy boost.

Coffee Is Good For You?

Coffee in its purest form offers quite a few advantages for the body. According to recent research, coffee consumption might play a role in…

  • Reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.
  • Lowered risk of liver cancer and other liver diseases.
  • Heart protection.
  • Decreased risk of stroke.
  • Eye sight protection.
  • Decreased chance of depression.
  • Mood improvement.
  • Sharpened memory.

To get the most benefit out of your cup of coffee, notes Kris Gunnars of the Authority Nutrition website, make sure you don’t add anything unhealthy to it, including sugar.

So, except for the occasional treat, you should avoid most bottled coffees or special concoctions from Starbucks. If you’re going to drink coffee regularly, drink it black. Or try adding a bit of cinnamon or cocoa for extra flavor, suggests Gunnar.

What’s Age Got to Do With It?

Contrary to a popular myth, coffee will not stunt your growth. However, some experts still advise young people not to drink it regularly.

Too much caffeine, some professionals believe, can decrease your appetite and keep you from getting the nutrients you need for proper growth during your adolescent years. Caffeine might also rob you of important sleep, which is vital for proper brain activity (if you haven’t already, refer to part 2 of this series to learn a little more about caffeine.)

Although the occasional cup of coffee in the morning probably won’t hurt you, many doctors advise you to wait until you’re 18 to begin consuming it regularly. By then, your body will be ready to gain the benefits of a regular, moderate coffee habit.

When you do find yourself desperate for an energy boost, though, you can safely turn to a little coffee. In terms of health and well-being, a cup of joe trumps an energy drink every time!

A Final Word About Imposters

If you’re unsure about a beverage you like, find out what’s really in it. Read labels or check for ingredients online. Ask your restaurant server before ordering from the menu.

Don’t let anyone fool you. Watch out for imposters and replace them with the real things.

Meanwhile, back at the drive-through…

As Brayden and his mom waited, she looked at him with a furrowed brow, still puzzling over his beverage dilemma.  Brayden sighed. “Bottled water?” he asked quietly.

His mom’s face brightened. “Now, Brayden, that’s the best choice you could have made.” Of course, his mom the health nut was right, as usual. But somehow Brayden felt doomed to a life of beverage boredom.

Is water really your best beverage choice? We’ll discuss the answer in part 5. Plus, we’ll take a quick look at ways you can spice it up.

Written by Beth W. Prassel-Sieg


Part 1:
Cross Off the Pop

Part 2:
Eliminate the Worst Offenders

Part 3:
Watch Out For Imposters

Part 5:
I’ll Just Have Water…

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Good habits formed at youth make all of the difference in life. Aristotle