Sugar-Sweetened Beverages

  • Young men's version of this guide

What is a sugar-sweetened beverage?

A sugar-sweetened beverage is a drink that has sugar added to it. This includes:

  • Soda (Cola, Mountain Dew, Sprite, Ginger Ale, Root Beer)
  • Sports Drinks (Gatorade, Powerade)
  • Sweetened Iced Tea (Arizona, Lipton, Snapple)
  • Sweetened coffee drinks (bottled iced coffees, coffee drinks with sugar or flavoring syrups, blended drinks like Frappuccino)
  • Energy Drinks (Monster, Red Bull)
  • Fruit juice (with added sugar), lemonade, or punch

What is the problem with sugar-sweetened beverages?

Sugar-sweetened beverages contain a lot sugar and often provide little to no nutrition for your body. Some beverage companies add vitamins to make you think that the drink is healthy when in reality it has just as much sugar as other sugar-sweetened drinks.

In addition to high amounts of sugar, these beverages also have a lot of calories. When you have a sugar-sweetened drink, you likely do not feel full afterwards compared to how you would feel from eating food that has the same amount of calories. The non-filling calories from these beverages can cause a person to consistently consume more calories than their body needs for energy, which over time can lead to a body weight increase beyond what is normally expected. Added sugar can also contribute to dental issues and diseases such as type II diabetes.

How much sugar is recommended in one day?

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest keeping added sugars to less than 10% of the calories you consume in a day. However, the American Heart Association is more specific and recommends consuming less than 6% of daily calories as added sugar, which means around 25 grams of added sugar per day for women, which is about 6 teaspoons worth.  Added sugar is sugar that has been added to sweeten a food or beverage instead of occurring naturally such as in milk or a piece of fruit.

How much sugar is in this drink?

To figure out how much sugar is in a beverage, first look at the Nutrition Facts Label.

Next to sugar, or “Added sugar” there will be a number in grams (g). Take that number and divide it by 4 to find the number of teaspoons of sugar in that drink. For reference, a sugar packet, like you would find in a coffee shop, contains 1 teaspoon of sugar. As an example, think about a 20 ounce bottle of Coca-Cola. This drink has 65 grams of sugar in the whole bottle. 65 / 4 = 16.25 teaspoons (or packets) of sugar! That means that this one bottle of Coca-Cola is more than double the recommended amount!

What about 100% fruit juice?

Juice, especially 100% fruit juice, can be confusing because it sounds like a healthy choice. It is true that with 100% fruit juice there is no added sugar. However, 100% fruit juice contains just as much sugar as other sugar-sweetened beverages. If you think about drinking apple juice versus eating an apple, eating the apple is the healthier alternative. Why? When juice is made, fiber, vitamins, and minerals that are naturally present in the fruit are often lost.

Juice is a condensed version of fruit. Eight ounces of orange juice contains about 4 oranges. Eating 4 oranges would take some time because you would need to peel them, chew, and swallow. Not to mention that you would likely feel full after eating 4 oranges! Eight ounces of juice, however, would not take long to drink, and your body would absorb it very quickly so you would likely feel hungry soon afterwards. The fiber and naturally present vitamins and minerals make whole fruits a better choice than fruit juice.

Other juices, fruit punch, or smoothies that are not 100% fruit juice often have additional sugar added in.

What are alternatives to sugar-sweetened beverages?

Instead of drinking a sugar sweetened beverage, try drinking water! If you want to add a bit of flavor,  try adding real fruit such as berries, watermelon, or lemon or other flavors such as basil or mint leaves to your water bottle. If you enjoy the carbonation in beverages, try seltzer or sparkling water instead. You can even try a splash of 100% juice in seltzer for some extra flavoring. Sparkling water is often naturally flavored and contains zero calories or sugar. Drinking low-fat dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soy milk) can help you meet your calcium and protein needs.

It can be challenging to cut back on sugar-sweetened beverages, especially if you are used to drinking a lot of them each day. Start with small changes and try to cut back on these beverages one at a time so you can make a long-term change.

What about sweet tasting sugar-free beverages?

There are many sugar-free or “diet” beverages that contain artificial or calorie-free sweeteners such as sucralose or stevia. These drinks include Crystal Lite, Vitamin Water Zero, diet soda, Mio drops, and many others. These beverages taste sweet and have no calories or sugar. For more information on artificial sweeteners see our guide. They can be an alternative to sugar sweetened beverages, but water or naturally flavored water is generally the best option when looking to swap out sugar sweetened beverages.

The following tables lists how much sugar is in some popular drinks:

For the most up-to-date information on sugar content, look at a product’s Nutrition Facts Label.

Beverage Grams of Sugar Teaspoons (packets) of Sugar
Coca-Cola (20 oz) 65 16.25
Mountain Dew (20 oz) 77 19.25
Sprite (20 oz) 64 16
Canada Dry Ginger Ale (20 oz) 59 14.75
Sports Drinks
Gatorade (20 oz) 34 8.5
Powerade (20 oz) 34 8.5
Vitamin Water (20 oz) 27 6.75
Sweetened Tea
Arizona Iced Tea with Lemon (20 oz) 59 14.75
Lipton Citrus Green Tea (20 oz) 29 7.25
Sweetened Coffee
Dunkin Donuts Iced Coffee Original ready to drink (13.7 oz) 39 9.75
Starbucks Frappuccino Coffee ready to drink (13.5 oz) 46 11.5
Energy Drinks
Monster Energy (16 oz) 54 13.5
Red Bull (12 oz) 37 9.25
Juice and Smoothies
Minute Maid Cranberry Grape Juice (12 oz) 48 12
Naked Strawberry Banana Fruit Smoothie (15.2 oz) 44 11
Simply Fruit Punch Juice (11.5 oz) 35 8.75
Minute Maid Lemonade (12 oz) 42 10.5