Sweet tea is a popular beverage, especially in the southern United States. Chick-fil-A is a fast food restaurant chain known for its chicken sandwiches and signature sweet tea. But is Chick-fil-A’s sweet tea a healthy option? In this 5000 word article, we will examine the ingredients, nutrition facts, and health effects of Chick-fil-A’s sweet tea to determine if it can be part of a balanced diet or is better to avoid.
What is Sweet Tea?
Sweet tea is a flavored iced tea where sugar, simple syrup, or other sweeteners are added while the tea is still hot or warm to dissolve the sweetener. It is served chilled over ice. Sweet tea originated in the southern United States and is especially popular in the South as a refreshing summertime beverage.
Traditional sweet tea starts with basic brewed black tea. The tea leaves are steeped in hot water for a period of time, usually 5-15 minutes depending on preferred strength. The hot tea is then sweetened with cane sugar or simple syrup while still hot so the sugar fully dissolves. It is chilled, served over ice, and often garnished with a lemon wedge.
Sweet tea can also be made using herbal tea, green tea, or oolong tea as the base instead of traditional black tea. Additional flavorings like peach, raspberry, or mint may be added. The sweetener can also be switched out from plain sugar to honey, agave, or other natural sweeteners, though plain granulated white sugar is most common.
How Does Chick-fil-A Make Their Famous Sweet Tea?
Chick-fil-A’s signature sweet tea uses traditional black tea and plain white sugar as the base. However, they have perfected their own special recipe over the years.
According to Chick-fil-A, they brew an unusually strong triple batch of tea using tea bags. Most restaurants brew tea at a ratio of 1 bag per 8 fluid ounces. For their sweet tea, Chick-fil-A uses 1 tea bag per 2 fluid ounces of water.
The strong concentrated tea is then sweetened with a simple syrup while hot. Chick-fil-A’s sweet tea syrup is made from pure cane sugar and water. The exact ratio of sugar to water is proprietary information, but it’s likely a 1:1 simple syrup meaning equal parts sugar and water boiled together until the sugar fully dissolves.
The concentrated hot tea is mixed with the simple syrup while warm before being poured over ice and served. This allows the syrup to fully incorporate into the tea for consistent sweetness in every sip. The recipe is notably sweeter than most other restaurant sweet teas.
Nutrition Facts for Chick-fil-A Sweet Tea
Chick-fil-A sweet tea has the following nutrition facts per 16 fluid ounce serving (medium cup):
|Total Fat||0 g|
|Total Carbs||45 g|
The two main things that stand out are the very high sugar content and the total calorie count. There are 44 grams of sugar in one 16 ounce serving. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 25 grams of added sugar per day for women and 36 grams for men. Just one cup of Chick-fil-A sweet tea exceeds these daily limits.
At 184 calories per serving, the beverage is quite high in calories for a drink. For comparison, the same size serving of Coca-Cola has 182 calories and 39g of sugar. The classic Chick-fil-A lemonade has fewer calories at 140 per serving. Even chocolate milk comes in at 183 calories for 16 fluid ounces. So the sweet tea is one of the highest calorie menu beverages.
Is Chick-fil-A Sweet Tea Healthy?
Based on the nutrition information, Chick-fil-A sweet tea is very high in sugar and relatively high in calories compared to other drinks. But does that mean it’s unhealthy overall? Let’s take a closer look.
Despite the high amount of added sugar, the tea part of sweet tea does come with some potential health benefits:
- Contains antioxidants from black tea including polyphenols and flavonoids
- Black tea is linked to improved cardiovascular health when consumed regularly
- May help reduce risk of developing kidney stones
- Tea polyphenols may help protect cells from DNA damage
- Linked to anti-cancer effects, improved oral health, and healthier gut bacteria
The antioxidants and plant compounds in tea can be beneficial when consumed as part of a healthy diet. The phytonutrients may help reduce inflammation, improve dental health, and reduce cell oxidation.
However, many of these benefits are more significant when tea is consumed unsweetened. The high amount of added sugar counteracts some of the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant potential of the black tea used in sweet tea.
Here are some of the potential downsides of regularly drinking sweet tea:
- Very high in added sugars – too much added sugar is linked to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and fatty liver disease
- High calorie count can contribute to weight gain
- Can cause dental cavities and enamel erosion due to acidity and sugar content
- May negate some of the health benefits of tea compounds due to added sugars
- Caffeine content may cause anxiety, sleep issues, or medication interactions in sensitive individuals
- Frequently drinking beverages instead of water can make it harder to stay hydrated
The most significant concern with sweet tea is the very large amount of added sugars in a typical glass, ranging from 38-48 grams. Consuming this much sugar from drinks promotes overconsumption of empty calories, blood sugar spikes and crashes, inflammation, and excess calorie intake which leads to weight gain over time.
For those watching their sugar and calorie intake, a few servings of sweet tea per week can easily push someone over their recommended limits. This is especially concerning for individuals with diabetes or other blood sugar regulation issues who need to monitor sources of refined carbohydrates and sweeteners.
Benefits vs Downsides
In moderation, sweet tea can be incorporated into an otherwise balanced diet for an occasional treat. The antioxidants from tea are an added bonus. But regularly drinking sweet tea multiple times per day to quench thirst instead of water is not recommended due to the high sugar and calorie content.
Unsweet tea is a healthier alternative if you enjoy the flavor of iced tea. It provides the benefits of tea without the downsides of excessive added sugar. Adding a dash of fruit juice or sliced fruit can provide light natural sweetness that doesn’t spike blood sugar as dramatically.
For the average healthy person not monitoring carbohydrate or calorie intake, an occasional sweet tea is perfectly fine. But it should not be considered a healthy, low-calorie beverage choice. Water, unsweetened tea, or milk are better options if choosing a regular beverage to stay hydrated throughout the day.
How to Order Healthier Sweet Tea
If you really love Chick-fil-A sweet tea but want to reduce the sugar and calorie content, here are some tips for ordering a healthier version:
- Choose small or mini sizes. The kid-sized 8oz sweet tea has 103 calories and 21g sugar compared to 184 calories and 44g sugar in the medium.
- Ask for half sweet/unsweet tea. Ordering a half-and-half blend cuts the sugar roughly in half.
- Request light sweetener. You can ask for light or half portion of syrup.
- Add extra ice. This dilutes it slightly to reduce sweetness and stretch the drink.
- Flavor with lemon. The acidity helps balance sweetness. Ask for extra lemon wedges.
You can also supplement sweet tea with sides like fresh fruit, carrot sticks, or a side salad to help provide fiber, nutrients, and protein to help stabilize blood sugar when consuming sugary drinks.
Healthier Alternatives to Sweet Tea
If you’re looking to avoid the high amount of added sugar and calories in sweet tea altogether, here are some suggestions for healthier alternatives:
Unsweetened Iced Tea
– Add fruity flavor like raspberry or peach herbal tea then sweeten lightly with a dash of fruit juice
– Sweeten with a touch of honey, maple syrup, or stevia instead of plain sugar
– Let tea brew a little stronger for more natural flavor then cut with extra ice to dilute
Flavored Sparkling Water
– Try unsweetened flavored seltzer or sparkling water like lemon, lime, berry, etc.
– Look for zero-calorie varieties without artificial sweeteners
– DIY infused fruit-flavored water with sliced citrus, berries, etc.
Unsweetened Herbal Iced Tea
– Try hibiscus, peppermint, chamomile, rooibos, or fruit blend herbals iced
– Sweeten lightly with honey or fruit juice if desired
– Cucumber, mint, lime, lemon, watermelon, strawberry
– Let fruit slices or herbs steep in water for light flavor
Homemade Fruit Smoothies
– Blend yogurt, milk, or protein powder with fresh or frozen fruit
– Avoid added sugars; fruit provides natural sweetness
Diluted Fruit Juice
– Pour just a splash of 100% fruit juice then add seltzer or water
– Try juices like apple, orange, grapefruit, pomegranate, etc.
– Low-fat or skim milk provides protein, calcium, vitamins
– Very small amounts of natural milk sugar only
– Can be flavored with a dash of cocoa powder or vanilla
Chick-fil-A’s signature sweet tea is delicious but extremely high in added sugar and relatively high in calories compared to other beverage options. While tea can provide antioxidants as part of a healthy diet, the excess added sugar in sweet tea makes it more of a treat than a daily beverage if consumed regularly.
Occasional sweet tea in moderation is fine for most healthy people. But limiting portion sizes, diluting with extra ice, requesting light sweetener, and pairing with healthy foods helps reduce the impact of the sugars. For a refreshing lower-calorie drink, unsweetened or lightly sweetened iced tea, herbal tea, infused water, seltzer, or diluted fruit juice are healthier options to stay hydrated.