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Is Bottled, Flavored Green Tea Bad?

I like a widely available bottled green tea that has citrus flavoring, and several other things, I'm sure. Do the sugars and other additives counterbalance the healthy effects of the green tea? 

Answer (Published 10/14/2008)

You bet they do! I don't know which product you prefer, but I urge you to look at the ingredient list. I checked the label of a mass-market bottled green tea with citrus from a major manufacturer and saw that it contains water, high fructose corn syrup, citric acid, green tea, sodium hexametaphosphate, ascorbic acid (to protect flavor), honey, natural flavors, phosphoric acid, sodium benzoate (preserves freshness), potassium sorbate (to preserve freshness), calcium disodium edta (to protect flavor), caramel color, yellow #5 and blue #1. An eight ounce serving gives you 80 calories, compared to zero calories for green tea you brew yourself.

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Although this product is trading on the well-deserved healthy image that green tea has gotten lately, you can see this brand is full of bad stuff that makes it an unhealthy beverage. I can't imagine that any tea with all these additives would give you the protective antioxidants you would get if you learned to like plain green tea. Note that in addition to all the chemicals and artificial colorings, this and many other bottled green teas with citrus contain high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), the same low-quality sweetener that is used in most soft drinks. I consider HFCS to be to blame, at least in part, for the current obesity epidemic in the United States. On the ingredient list I checked, HFCS was listed second, after water. That means that by weight there is more HFCS than everything but water in this product.

Learning to like green tea on its own can take a little effort. Much of the organic, unsweetened green tea I see in the United States brews up to make a yellow or brown liquid that tastes like hay. Japanese green tea really is green and has a rich, aromatic taste with a slight bitterness. When buying fresh organic green tea leaves, look for color - the leaves should be a dark, rich green. The scent the leaves give off when you hold a small amount in your hand is your best clue to freshness and flavor. Leaves that are not fragrant probably aren't fresh and aren't going to be flavorful when you brew them up.

Not all of the many varieties of organic green tea will be to your taste. I suggest buying only small amounts - or if possible, sampling different types at a tea shop if there's a good one nearby - until you find the ones you prefer. You can also find quality green tea in Japanese grocery stores and on the internet. Check out for some good quality teas.

Be adventurous, experiment and enjoy. You can derive enormous pleasure from a cup of fragrant green tea - as well as the many health benefits it has to offer.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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