How many calories does a McDonald’s sweet tea have?

Quick Answer

A medium McDonald’s sweet tea contains 180 calories. The sweet tea is available in small, medium, and large sizes. A small sweet tea has 120 calories, a medium has 180 calories, and a large has 250 calories. The sweet tea is unsweetened brewed tea mixed with high fructose corn syrup. The high sugar content contributes to the high calorie count compared to unsweetened tea.

Calorie and Nutrition Information for McDonald’s Sweet Tea

McDonald’s sweet tea is an iconic menu item, known for its very sweet taste. But with all that sugar comes a lot of extra calories. Here is the calorie and nutrition information for the different sizes of McDonald’s sweet tea:

Size Calories Total Fat (g) Sodium (mg) Total Carbs (g) Sugars (g)
Small 120 0 15 30 30
Medium 180 0 25 45 45
Large 250 0 35 60 60

As you can see, the calories increase quite a bit with each larger size. The small McDonald’s sweet tea has 120 calories, while the large has 250 calories.

Where are all these calories coming from? It’s primarily from added sugar. The sweet tea has no fat, very little sodium, and no protein. The calories are almost entirely from carbohydrates – specifically added sugars.

Each size of McDonald’s sweet tea contains 30g of added sugars. That’s 7.5 teaspoons of added sugar in a small sweet tea! The recommended daily limit for added sugars is just 25g or 6 teaspoons for women and 36g or 9 teaspoons for men. So with one small McDonald’s sweet tea, you’re already going over the recommended amount.

Sweet Tea Preparation Process

To understand why McDonald’s sweet tea is so high in calories, it helps to look at how it is made. Here is an overview of the McDonald’s sweet tea preparation process:

Brewing the Tea

McDonald’s starts with an unsweetened tea base. The restaurants brew batches of tea throughout the day using large tea urns. The tea is brewed at double strength by steeping tea bags in hot water for a few minutes. This extra strong tea will be diluted later.

Adding the Sugar

While the tea brews, sugar is added to the tea dispenser. McDonald’s uses liquid high fructose corn syrup to sweeten the tea. The high fructose corn syrup has a very high sugar content – higher than regular sugar.

According to McDonald’s nutrition information, there are 30g of sugar added to each 12oz serving of sweet tea. That’s equivalent to around 3/4 cup of granulated sugar per 12oz serving.

Mixing the Tea and Sugar

Once the double strength tea is ready, it gets mixed with the high fructose corn syrup sugar mixture in the dispenser. This results in a super sweet, fully mixed sweet tea.

Diluting to Regular Strength

The last step is diluting the extra strong sweet tea. As orders are placed, the dispenser dilutes the concentrated sweet tea with more water to bring it to regular strength. Then the sweet tea is dispensed into cups for serving.

Sugar and Calorie Differences by Size

Looking again at the nutrition information, you’ll notice the amount of sugar and calories increases quite a bit from the small to the large size sweet tea:

Size Calories Sugars (g)
Small (12 oz) 120 30
Medium (16 oz) 180 45
Large (21 oz) 250 60

The small sweet tea has 120 calories and 30g total sugars. When you go up to a large size, you’re now getting 250 calories and 60g sugars. So the larger size has over 100 more calories and 30 more grams of sugar!

This makes sense because the larger sizes contain more ounces of beverage – meaning they have more of that concentrated sweet tea added to them. But the drastic increase in calories and added sugars is an important thing to be aware of if you choose to order a larger size.

Comparing McDonald’s Sweet Tea to Other Sweet Teas

McDonald’s isn’t the only restaurant with sweet tea on the menu. How does it compare to sweet teas from other popular chains?

Here is the calorie and sugar content of a medium or regular-sized sweet tea from several different restaurants:

Restaurant Beverage Size Calories Sugars (g)
McDonald’s Medium (16 oz) 180 45
Chick-fil-A Medium (16 oz) 130 33
Wendy’s Medium (30 oz) 160 44
Bojangles’ Regular (20 oz) 210 52
Hardee’s Medium (30 oz) 220 56
Arby’s Regular (32 oz) 270 69

McDonald’s sweet tea is on the lower calorie end compared to other chains for a medium size. Arby’s regular sweet tea has the most calories and added sugars of the group at 270 calories and 69g sugars for a 32oz serving.

The calorie and sugar content can vary quite a bit between restaurants based on factors like:

– Tea brewing methods
– Type of sweetener used
– Sweetener to tea ratio
– Serving sizes

But in general, most pre-sweetened restaurant tea options are high in added sugars and calories. Unsweetened tea is a much lower calorie option, with essentially just 2-3 calories per 8oz serving from the tea leaves themselves and no added sugars.

Health Impact of Drinking Sweet Tea

Drinking beverages like sweet tea on a regular basis can negatively impact your health due to the high sugar and calorie content. Here are some health risks of consuming sugary drinks like McDonald’s sweet tea often:

Weight Gain

The excess calories from sweet tea can easily lead to weight gain over time, especially if consumed regularly. The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugar to no more than 100-150 calories per day from sweetened beverages for most people. Just one 12oz can of soda or sweet tea contains around 130-180 calories from sugar alone, so it’s easy to go over the limit.

Replacing sweetened beverages with water or unsweetened tea is an effective way to cut calories and help manage your weight.

Tooth Decay

The sugar in sweet tea feeds the bacteria in your mouth that cause tooth decay. Sipping sweet drinks continuously bathes your teeth in sugar for extended periods of time. This allows the bacteria to produce acids that break down tooth enamel. Dental cavities and other oral health problems can result.

Diabetes Risk

Frequently consuming sugary beverages has been linked in studies to an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The simple sugars flood your bloodstream quickly and cause repeated blood sugar spikes. Over time this can impair your body’s insulin response and contribute to insulin resistance.

Heart Disease Risk

The sugar spikes from sugary drinks also cause inflammation and oxidative stress, which are linked to heart disease risk. The calories can contribute to obesity, another risk factor. There is also some evidence that elevated triglyceride levels from excess sugar consumption can increase cardiovascular disease risk.

Fatty Liver Disease

Research shows that higher intakes of sugar-sweetened beverages are associated with the development of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. The excess sugar calories contribute to liver fat build up.

Tips for Enjoying McDonald’s Sweet Tea in Moderation

Despite the high calorie and sugar content, sweet tea can still be enjoyed in moderation as an occasional treat. Here are some tips for keeping your sweet tea habit under control:

– Choose the kids size or small sweet tea to cut calories and sugar.
– Ask for half sweet/half unsweetened tea to reduce the sweetness.
– Substitute unsweetened tea some of the time. Get used to less sugar.
– Drink water before and after your sweet tea to help fill up.
– Use a straw to minimize contact with your teeth.
– Don’t “double fist” and drink multiple sweet teas in one sitting.
– Treat yourself to sweet tea only occasionally, not daily.

Making small tweaks can help balance enjoying the flavor of sweet tea while limiting the unhealthy impacts. But in general, unsweetened tea and water are healthier daily beverage choices. Moderation and variety are key when it comes to sweet tea consumption.

Healthier Alternatives to Sweet Tea

For those looking to reduce their sugar and calorie intake from beverages, here are some healthier alternatives to consider instead of sweet tea:

Unsweetened Iced Tea

Opt for unsweetened brewed iced tea, which has around 2-3 calories and 0g sugar per 8oz serving. Add fresh lemon, lime, mint or fruit slices to infuse natural flavor. Slowly reducing the sweetness level of your tea can help your taste buds adapt to less sugar over time.

Flavored Seltzer Water

Try naturally flavored seltzer waters like lemon, lime, berry or cucumber. Seltzer gives you the carbonation you may crave without any calories or sugar. Jazz it up with fresh fruit like strawberries or orange slices.

Sparkling Water

Plain sparkling water supplies bubbly carbonation with no calories or sweeteners. Look for flavored versions with no added sugars. You can also make your own fruited sodas by adding sliced fruit to sparkling water.

Lightly Sweetened Tea

Brew reduced-calorie sweet tea at home using a natural zero-calorie sweetener like stevia or monk fruit. This allows you to control the sweetness level and ingredients.

Coffee or Tea Latte

For a treat, try an iced coffee or tea latte made with unsweetened tea, a splash of milk or your choice of milk substitute, and just 1-2 pumps of calorie-free sweetener like vanilla or caramel. Much lower in sugar than sweet tea but still flavorful.

Fruity Infused Waters

Infuse pitcher or bottled water with sliced citrus fruits, berries, cucumbers, mint, melons or other fruit combinations. Let it infuse overnight in the fridge for refreshingly flavored vitamin water with no calories or added sugars.


A medium McDonald’s sweet tea contains about 180 calories and 45g of added sugar. This high sugar content contributes to the raised calorie count compared to unsweetened tea options. Drinking sweet tea frequently has been linked to potential health risks including diabetes, heart disease, fatty liver disease, and weight gain due to the large amounts of added sugars. While sweet tea can be enjoyed occasionally in moderation, choosing lower calorie beverage alternatives more often is recommended for health. Unsweetened tea, seltzer, sparkling water, lightly sweetened drinks, and infused waters are some healthier options to consider in place of sugary sweet tea.

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