By William I. Lengeman III

There’s plenty of compelling evidence these days to support the notion that drinking tea can confer health benefits upon the consumer. But what about iced and bottled teas and tea-based beverages? How do they stack up in terms of health benefits against a plain old cup of hot tea?

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A study by researchers at the Los Angeles-based David Geffen School of Medicine compared the antioxidant content of fruit juices, red wine, and several iced tea beverages, including those made with black, green and white tea. Pomegranate juice and red wine ranked highest. All of the other fruit juices, except apple, ranked higher than the iced tea.

In another study, the results of which were published in 2000, researchers in The Netherlands discovered that infusions of black tea contained high levels of catechins, but “low to negligible amounts were found in white wine, commercially available fruit juices, iced tea, and chocolate milk.”

In 2005, researchers at the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University noted that some bottled teas have considerably lower levels of polyphenols and antioxidants than freshly brewed tea. One researcher compared some bottled teas on the market to “diluted sugar water.” However, it’s important to note that in recent years some vendors have begun rolling out bottled tea products that are lightly sweetened or unsweetened.

In 2002, a Prevention magazine study arrived at similar conclusions. But researchers noted that antioxidant levels in bottled tea can vary between batches and discovered that “some convenience iced teas still retained spectacular antioxidant levels.” Also worth mentioning, even some low scoring teas ranked favourably against such foods as strawberries and spinach.

Researchers have also found that the high concentrations of oxalate found in iced tea may contribute to the formation of kidney stones, though apparently only in people who are prone to this disorder.

By some accounts as much as 80 per cent of the tea consumed in the United States – or nearly two billion gallons annually – is iced. While it appears that the maximum health benefits come from freshly brewed hot tea there doesn’t seem to be any reason not to reach for a glass of the cold stuff now and then.