Monday, February 3, 2014

The Truth About Restaurant Unsweetened Iced-Tea: I was Duped!

Just so you know, I am not one of those "clean eaters" that never puts a morsel of processed foods in my mouth. Been there, done that...and it is not fun. These days I do the best I can with what I have. I make a pretty decent effort to eat whole, unprocessed foods most of the time. I leave plenty of room in my diet for the fun stuff that I really enjoy (hello, tempura sushi!) and really try not to deprive myself of anything: not sugar, not bread, not flour, and certainly not entire food groups or macro-nutrients. I've played that game and I think I came out the other side a little smarter. For me, restricting my food choices down the bare minimum was more unhealthy than just eating the french fry now and again.

The thing that bothers me is when I think I'm making a good choice and it turns out not to be a good one at all. I'm sure it happens to people all the time. They read the package marketing and not the label or ingredients and consume things that they think are healthy, but in reality are pretty bad for them. There are tons of processed foods that are labeled with marketing claims like "Whole Grains" "Low Fat" "Sugar-Free" or "Gluten-Free" among many other misleading claims, that trick well-meaning people into eating less than healthy foods. But not me. I'm pretty knowledgeable about nutrition. I'm no expert by any means, but I know how to read a label, the ingredients, things to try to avoid...etc. So when I get tricked it kind of ticks me off, because I feel like I am less susceptible to these sort of things than the average person. I should know better.

What am I talking about? Unsweetened iced-tea.

Can you Trust the Unsweet Tea? Ha Ha
It started when I would drink unsweetened iced-tea in restaurants and it would make me nauseous. I couldn't really explain it, and it wouldn't happen every single time, but sometimes I would start to feel sick after a couple of drinks. Then, a couple of times, I actually vomited shortly after having restaurant iced-tea. I was curious what the heck is in iced-tea that could possibly make me nauseous and vomit? I mean unsweetened iced-tea is not bad for you. It is just tea bags and water, right? Well, apparently, I was wrong.

I started doing research (i.e. Google) and found several interesting articles that maybe would explain why something as innocent as unsweetened iced-tea would make me feel sick.

This article from the Food Renegade, Decoding Labels: Restaurant Iced Tea was very eye opening for me. They say in the article that for convenience sake, a lot of restaurants don't brew their own iced-tea from tea bags, but instead make iced-tea from a concentrate mix. No problem, right? Well, the problem lies in the ingredients in the tea mix. The example given in the article was for Lipton 1-2-Tea and these are the ingredients (from the site). Keep in mind we are talking about unsweetened iced tea.

Tea Extract
Brewed tea extract from Lipton tea leaves,
High Fructose Corn Syrup and Corn Syrup (as stabilizers),
Caramel color,
Green tea,
Phosphoric acid,
Potassium sorbate and Sodium benzoate (to protect quality),
Red 40.
Liquid Aroma
Tea aroma captured from Lipton tea leaves,
Phosphoric acid,
Ascorbic acid,
Potassium sorbate (to protect quality),

I'm sure I eat or drink things with less than perfect ingredients all the time. The point is that I want to know what I am eating or drinking. If I eat a processed food because it is delicious and I want it, then that is one thing. But iced-tea is that not much of a treat for me. Knowing what I know now, I'd rather just drink water while dining out. But if for some reason I was really craving an iced-tea, I'd still probably drink it, at least now I know what I getting myself into. If I am making a bad choice, I want to at least know it. 

As a side note, of course, I don't get sick every time time I consume high fructose corn syrup or processed foods, so these articles don't really explain why I might be getting sick, but they certainly were eye opening in regards to drinking unsweetened iced-tea while dining out. Something that I thought was a perfectly healthy choice, much better than soda, in some cases may not be at all. That is also not to say that this applies to iced-tea at every restaurant and the question could be easily answered when dining out by simply asking, "Do you fresh brew your iced-tea in-house from tea bags?"

What do you think? Have you ever gotten sick or nauseous from drinking unsweetened iced-tea? Did you know about tea mix used at some restaurants? Have you ever been tricked by marketing labels or made assumptions of healthy like I did?


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Keep Running,

Lea

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photo credit: snowpea&bokchoi via photopin cc

25 comments :

  1. I guess because I'm from the South, I've always been a tea snob. I can tell the difference easily and won't drink tea that's not fresh brewed. I was only being such a brat because of the taste, now I have a healthy reason for avoiding that nasty stuff!

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  2. Ok...officially grossed out. I'll be going back to my "can I get a hot tea with a cup of ice." Yikes.

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    1. If I was your sever I would hate you. I'd still give you great service, but secretly I'd die a little inside.

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  3. Blech. This makes me very glad I am not a tea drinker other than the hot kind I brew at home.

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  4. I only drink water, but you are so right that we don't really know what we are eating/drinking. And having a 3 year old... it can be quite scary what I am putting into his body and not even knowing it.

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  5. Great post. It makes me mad how so many companies and restaurants keep things secretive! Knowledge is power.

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  6. ugh, so GROSS!! water for me from now on (or beer or wine) ;)

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  7. Dangit!!! I love unsweetened tea...and always order it. I just assumed it was fresh brewed. I will ask from now on! THANKS!

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  8. I just don't like most tea unless it's homemade - maybe this is why!

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  9. There was a very disgusting local TV news expose on restaurant iced tea while I was living in Austin, TX (so 2001 or earlier). The gist of it was that the equipment used to make and serve the tea is not on the inspection checklist and looks pretty innocent, but is hard to clean and rarely thoroughly cleaned. I don't know if this has changed, but contaminated containers might explain your reaction. Another possibility is that the tea was made from a liquid concentrate (as opposed to a powdered mix), like the tea you see at soda dispensers. If you can't see the kitchen, if could be soda dispenser tea. So sorry to hear you got sick!

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  10. I have to drink my tea fresh..I too am a snob. Mostly Teavana now. I know whats going into it!

    Maryalicia

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  11. There's no way I'd pay a few bucks for unsweetened tea at a restaurant anyway, just save the $ and drink water or be bad and get something else.

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  12. Ok, so I'm thinking that's a timeline between unsweet tea and sweet tea...but you know what's missing from that drink machine? Coco(a)! Get it?? His wife, Coco? Shouldn't she be nuzzled in the middle there?

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    1. FINALLY!!! it is about time that someone made a comment about my hilarious iced-tea picture that I took at a local restaurant. I started to wonder if I was just too old and no one else got the joke. Thank you for getting it...and HA HA you're funny! coco!!! that's hilarious!

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  13. Isn't it infuriating? I'm starting to wonder about the cut up lemons they offer, too...

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  14. eeew...I always think tea tasted awful in restaurants anyways...it's like they never clean the tea crewing containers. Where was that? Love the Ice-T pics!

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    1. I took the pictures of ice tea at Freebirds in Hurst, TX. Hilarious, right?

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  15. Cracker Barrel uses REAL tea. Never heard of restaurants using concentrate.

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  16. Free Birds says they serve freshly brewed iced tea. Does that mean it's safe?

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    1. I'm not sure. I do drink their iced tea sometimes. You can just ask them if they brew their tea fresh FROM tea bags and that should answer your question!

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  17. I appreciate your article. What I'm wondering is why some restaurants choose to do this. It must be to save money and also because they couldn't be bothered with the effort it takes to brew actual real tea. I noticed it just tonight at an Italian restaurant in my town where I was patronizing for the first time. I tried to get out of them if their tea was brewed or out of a machine. The waitress tried to side-step the question by saying, "well, it's not brewed by sitting it out in the sun". Huh? Anyway, I went and had the iced tea and sure enough it tasted mostly like tap water with barely some chemical top cover up that it was tap water. Then, lo and behold, I saw them getting tea from the same machine that they were getting coca cola from. Well, there was my answer. I will actually avoid restaurants that don't serve real brewed tea. How can it be so difficult? Even Togo's brews their tea!

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