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Can Green Tea Be Used in a Low-Carb Diet?

By Sylvie Tremblay, MSc ; Updated July 18, 2017

Some like it hot, some like it iced, but no matter which you prefer, green tea works well in a low-carb diet. Plain green tea is virtually carb-free -- and it's also free of calories to help with weight loss. However, not everything labeled "green tea" is low-carb. If you're drinking sweetened green tea or specialty green tea drinks, you're likely getting more carbs and calories than you planned on.

Green Tea: Naturally Low in Carbs

If you're following a restrictive low-carb diet -- one that might limit your carb intake to 20 grams of digestible carbs each day -- you have no wiggle room to drink carb-containing beverages. Thankfully, plain green tea has zero calories and zero grams of carbohydrates, so it wont contribute to your daily carb intake.

That carb-free tea can turn discouragingly carb-laden if you start adding sugar or honey, though. Each sugar packet has about 3 grams of carbs, and if you're adding two or three packets to your tea -- or drinking a few cups of green tea throughout the day -- you'll take up most of your daily carb budget from green tea alone. Honey is even higher in carbs, with about 6 grams of carbs per teaspoon.

Benefits of Green Tea on a Low-Carb Diet

On top of being naturally free of carbs, green tea can help you lose weight -- a common goal for people following a low-carb diet. While green tea won't magically make you shed pounds, people who drink green tea tend to lose slightly more weight and fare a bit better at keeping that weight off, according to a study published in the International Journal of Obesity.

Green tea might even affect how your body absorbs starch, which might offer specific benefits if you're going low-carb. One study, published in Scientific Reports in 2015, found that green tea extract both reduced starch digestion and absorption in the study subjects -- essentially making it so some of the carbs in a carb-heavy meal didn't "count." How well this works in practice for people eating low-carb is still not known, though, and it's not clear if just drinking green tea offers the same level of benefits.

Beware of Packaged Green Tea Products

Not everything labeled "green tea" fits into a low-carb diet. Many packaged green tea beverages have added sweeteners used to counteract the tea's natural bitterness. One commercially available honey and ginseng green tea beverage has 19 grams of carbs per cup -- and a bottle may contain several servings.

Those green tea lattes come with a generous amount of carbs, too -- more than you can likely drink on a low-carb diet. A 16-ounce green tea latte from one cafe, for example, has 34 grams of carbs, which is more than your entire daily carb budget on some types of low-carb diets.

Serving Green Tea for a Low-Carb Diet

Following a low-carb diet doesn't mean you're stuck drinking plain green tea. You can also make delicious and low-carb foods and drinks that pack in plenty of green tea flavor. Try adding cinnamon, cardamom and star anise to your green tea as it brews -- these warming spices impart a "chai"-like flavor that offers a departure from regular green tea. Flavor iced green tea with a muddled raspberry or two for fruity flavor without lots of carbs. Add powdered green tea -- called matcha -- to a vanilla protein shake, or stir it into Greek yogurt or quark for a low-carb treat.

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