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What’s in This?: Lipton Iced Tea

All 11 ingredients in this sugar water with a tiny bit of tea, explained (yep, even sodium hexametaphosphate)

We’re often told that you should never eat anything (or put anything on your body) if you don’t recognize everything on the ingredients list. But since most of us have no idea what xanthan gum or potassium benzoate are — or more importantly, what they’re doing to our bodies — we’re decoding the ingredients in the many things Americans put in (and on, or near) themselves with the help of an expert.

This edition: Lipton Black Iced Tea with Lemon, which is made from 11 separate ingredients that we’ve broken down in the exact order they appear on Instacart, since the link to the ingredients on Lipton’s own website is currently broken.

The Ingredients

1) Water: This falls from the sky when it rains, and also my eyes when I read this ingredients list.

2) High Fructose Corn Syrup: High fructose corn syrup is corn syrup that’s had some of its glucose converted to fructose enzymatically. It’s a commonly-used sweetener, and has been linked to obesity and diabetes by many, many studies. So, if possible, you want to avoid any foods and drinks containing it.

Speaking of sweeteners, a single 20-ounce bottle of this iced tea contains — holy freaking shit-balls — a whopping 32 grams of sugar, which is equivalent to two whole Twinkies. When you consider that the American Heart Association recommends men consume no more than 36 grams and women consume no more than 25 grams of added sugar a day, one of these bad boys is essentially a day ender.

3) Citric Acid: Citric acid is a sour flavoring agent derived from citrus, and it’s often used to keep products like Lipton Iced Tea fresh while they’re sitting on shelves.

4) Lemon Juice Concentrate: This is exactly what it sounds like — concentrated lemon juice. As we learned in our analysis of the ingredients in orange juice, whether a juice is from concentrate or otherwise has virtually no effect on the nutritional content. Companies simply remove any excess water (which is later added back in) to allow for more efficient packaging and transportation, both of which can be extremely costly when dealing with tons and tons of lemon-flavored iced tea.

5) Sodium Hexametaphosphate: Sodium hexametaphosphate helps prevent changes in both appearance and texture. It’s generally recognized as safe by the FDA, but animal studies have found some shocking side effects of consuming large amounts of this ingredient: Pale and swollen kidneys, increased kidney weight, bone decalcification, muscle fiber size changes, hyperplasia (which may lead to the gross enlargement of an organ) and severe skin irritations. What. The. Hell.

6) Natural Flavor: Natural flavors are quite literally flavors derived from an actual food source — i.e., lemon flavoring taken from a real lemon.

7) Tea: Finally! We found some actual tea hidden beneath all these other ingredients, which is good news, since black tea has some solid health benefits, including antioxidant properties, the potential to boost heart health and possibly even the capacity to reduce blood sugar levels (although, I doubt a little tea can repair the damage done by all that sugar).

8) Phosphoric Acid: Phosphoric acid can be added to drinks to provide a sharper, more tart flavor. It also acts as a preservative to prevent the growth of mold and bacteria. Physician and biochemist Cate Shanahan, author of Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food, previously told us that there’s no real reason to be concerned about the negative effects of phosphoric acid unless you’re prone to heartburn or acid reflux, in which case, the high acidity may induce inflammation.

9) Potassium Sorbate: Potassium sorbate is a widely used preservative. It’s also an ingredient to steer clear of: According to a 2010 study published in Toxicology in Vitro, potassium sorbate damages DNA when exposed to human blood cells; however, long-term studies on the effects of regularly consuming the ingredient are required to provide a definitive answer on the matter.

10) Acesulfame Potassium: Acesulfame potassium is an artificial sweetener, and as we learned in our analysis of the eight ingredients in Diet Coke, artificial sweeteners suck for a few reasons. Not only do they promote weight gain (visit the link above for an in-depth explanation of how that works) — despite being marketed as doing the very opposite — but recent rodent studies also suggest that long-term consumption of acesulfame potassium may cause cognitive damage. That said, as with all rodent studies, further research is required to fully understand the effects this ingredient has on humans. Another question remains, too: Why the hell is there an artificial sweetener in a product that already contains 32 freaking grams of sugar?!

11) Calcium Disodium EDTA: Another preservative, calcium disodium EDTA “binds to metals like iron, which slows the rate of oxidation, and thus, the development of rancid aromas,” Gavin Lavi Sacks, associate professor and academic director of Cornell University’s Food Science & Technology at Geneva Program, told us during our exploration of the many, many, many ingredients in McDonald’s Big Mac. Because it binds to metals, studies performed on animals have shown that sustained consumption of calcium disodium EDTA can cause essential mineral depletion. As for what it does to people, human studies are still required to come to a real conclusion on whether or not we should be worried about this ingredient.

The Takeaway

Bruh… this is some bullshit. Considering how easy it is to make iced tea — pour hot water over some tea bags, then let the concoction cool down in the fridge — there’s simply no reason to drink this hyper-preserved sugar water, period.