Is Thai iced tea healthy?

Thai iced tea, also known as Thai tea, is a popular drink originating from Thailand. It’s made by brewing strong black tea with various spices like star anise, crushed tamarind, and orange blossom flowers. This spiced tea is then mixed with sweetened condensed milk and served chilled over ice. The result is a sweet, creamy iced tea with exotic flavors not typically found in traditional iced teas.

Thai iced tea is loved for its unique flavor profile. But is it actually a healthy beverage choice? Here is a detailed look at the nutritional value and health effects of Thai iced tea’s main ingredients.

Black Tea Benefits

The base of Thai iced tea is black tea. Black tea is made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant and goes through more oxidation during processing compared to other true teas like green tea or white tea. This oxidation results in stronger flavor and higher caffeine content compared to other less oxidized teas.

Several studies have linked regular black tea consumption to various health benefits:

Antioxidants – Black tea contains polyphenol antioxidants like theaflavins, thearubigins, and catechins. These compounds can help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the body.

Heart health – The antioxidants and other bioactive compounds in black tea may improve several heart disease risk factors like blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood vessel function.

Cancer prevention – The antioxidants in black tea have been shown to reduce DNA damage and inhibit the growth of cancer cells in lab studies. However, more research is needed to confirm cancer preventive effects in humans.

Diabetes management – Some research indicates black tea may help regulate blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity and secretion. This can aid diabetes management.

Gut health – Black tea contains polyphenols that may act as prebiotics, nourishing beneficial gut bacteria. More research is underway on black tea’s effects on gut microbiota.

So the black tea used in Thai iced tea provides some useful antioxidants and phytochemicals. But keep in mind that these benefits are most significant when consuming 3-5 cups of black tea per day. The amount of black tea in a single serving of Thai iced tea is much less than that.

Sweetened Condensed Milk Effects

The rich taste of Thai iced tea comes not only from spices, but also sweetened condensed milk. Condensed milk is cow’s milk that has been heated to remove about 60% of the water content. It is then sweetened with sugar before canning.

Adding sweetened condensed milk adds these nutritional drawbacks:

High in calories and sugar – Just 1/4 cup of sweetened condensed milk contains 130 calories and 16g of sugar. This accounts for the majority of calories and sugar in Thai iced tea.

High glycemic index – The high proportion of added sugar means sweetened condensed milk has a glycemic index of 61, which can spike blood sugar and insulin levels.

Low in nutrients – While cow’s milk provides protein, vitamins and minerals, sweetened condensed milk is mostly empty calories and sugar with vitamins and minerals removed during processing.

Here is the nutrition information for 1/4 cup of sweetened condensed milk, the typical amount added to a Thai iced tea:

Nutrition Facts Amount
Calories 130
Fat 4.5g
Saturated Fat 2.5g
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 15mg
Sodium 55mg
Carbohydrates 16g
Sugar 16g
Protein 3g

So while the antioxidants in black tea can provide some benefits, the added sweetened condensed milk adds a lot of low-quality calories, sugar, and carbs that counteract those benefits.

Effects of Spices

Beyond the black tea and sweetened condensed milk, Thai iced tea gets its signature flavor from spices like:

– Star anise
– Crushed tamarind
– Orange blossom flowers
– Other aromatic spices like cinnamon, cardamom, dried ginger, and fennel may also be added.

Many of these Thai iced tea spices contain beneficial plant compounds. For example:

Star anise – Contains antioxidants like linalool, vitamin C, and anethole, which has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties.

Tamarind – Rich in polyphenols that act as antioxidants and may help lower cholesterol.

Cinnamon – Has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial effects. May improve blood sugar control.

Cardamom – Provides antioxidants that may help lower blood pressure.

Ginger – Contains anti-inflammatory compounds like gingerol. May aid nausea, sore throats, and digestive issues.

Fennel – Acts as an antioxidant and antimicrobial agent. May aid digestion.

The amounts of these spices in Thai tea are quite small though. So while they add protective plant compounds, you would need to consume more significant amounts for major health benefits.

Milk Alternatives

To lighten up Thai iced tea, the sweetened condensed milk can be replaced with lower calorie alternatives:

Evaporated milk – Still provides creaminess but is lower in fat, sugar, and calories than sweetened condensed milk. 1/4 cup contains 60 calories, 2.5g fat, 7g carbs, and 3g sugar.

Coconut milk – Has a creamy texture with only 45 calories, 4.5g fat (3.5g saturated), and no sugar per quarter cup. Offers MCTs.

Nut milk – Milk made from nuts like almonds, cashews, or coconuts has about 25-35 calories per quarter cup. Provides unsaturated fats and vitamins like vitamin E. Low carb and sugar-free.

Yogurt – Using a yogurt like Greek yogurt provides protein with about 50 calories, 0g sugar, and 3g carbs per quarter cup serving. Also offers probiotics.

Low-fat milk – Still provides calcium but with half the calories and fat compared to whole milk. Contains 50 calories, 1g fat, and 3g sugar per quarter cup.

Using one of these lower calorie dairy or dairy-free alternatives allows you to still enjoy the distinctive flavors of Thai iced tea while cutting back on the high amounts of sugar and saturated fat found in sweetened condensed milk. Just be sure to adjust any added sugar to account for less inherent sweetness.

How to Make Healthier Thai Iced Tea

Here are some tips to create a healthier, lower calorie Thai iced tea at home while keeping the delicious traditional flavors:

Brew a strong black tea – This provides the antioxidant benefits of black tea. Allow to cool.

Use reduced-sugar spices – The spices still pack lots of flavor with less sugar. Try pre-made spice blends with no added sugar.

Replace sweetened condensed milk – Substitute with evaporated milk, coconut milk, almond milk or Greek yogurt.

Sweeten carefully – Add sugar, honey, or monk fruit sparingly. Excess added sugars counteract benefits.

Ice it – Pour tea mixture over ice. The chilling helps blend the flavors.

Garnish – Top with fresh mint leaves, lime wedges, or a sprinkle of cinnamon.

Following this healthier recipe allows you to enjoy this tea beverage for its comfort and nostalgia, while avoiding excess calories, carbs, sugar, and unhealthy fats.

Is Thai Iced Tea Healthy: The Verdict

Thai iced tea has some nutritional advantages and disadvantages:

Potential Benefits

– Antioxidants from black tea
– Some phytochemicals from spices

Potential Downsides

– High in added sugar if using sweetened condensed milk
– High in calories, carbs, saturated fat, and sodium from sweetened condensed milk
– Minimal nutrients since vitamins and minerals are processed out of condensed milk

Overall, traditional Thai iced tea made with sweetened condensed milk is quite high in sugar, calories, and unhealthy fats. This outweighs any potential benefits from the tea and spices.

However, Thai iced tea can be made healthier by:

– Choosing reduced sugar spices
– Steeping antioxidant-rich black tea
– Replacing sweetened condensed milk with a low calorie, low sugar milk alternative
– Carefully sweetening with monk fruit or small amounts of sugar/honey

This allows you to still enjoy the sweet, creamy, exotic flavors of Thai iced tea in a more nutritious and balanced beverage. So a modified, lighter version of this drink can fit into an overall healthy diet. Just avoid overdoing the added sugars. Moderation and balance is key with indulgent drinks like Thai iced tea.


Traditional Thai iced tea is certainly high in calories, sugar, and unhealthy fats from the sweetened condensed milk. But the black tea still provides some useful plant compounds. And the signature spices contain beneficial antioxidants and phytochemicals. So while regular versions of this drink should be an occasional treat, you can modify Thai iced tea to be a healthier, more well-balanced beverage. By using reduced-sugar spices, antioxidant-rich tea, and lower calorie milk substitutions, you can still enjoy these comforting, exotic flavors while avoiding nutritional excess. So a lighter homemade version of Thai iced tea can be part of an overall nutritious diet when consumed in moderation. Just be mindful of your added sugars whenever enjoying this sweet specialty drink.

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