How Much Sugar Is in a Can of Soda?

Soda

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

When it comes to sugar, not all forms are created equal. While the naturally occurring kinds found in fruit offer valuable carbohydrates, added sugars (those introduced during processing and preparation) are suspected to play a role in chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes. These kinds of sugars are typically found in sodas, but also in processed fruit juices, bottled iced teas, and energy and sports drinks.

While soda consumption has dropped overall in recent years, the Office of Disease Control and Health Promotion (ODCHP) reports that the average American eats roughly 17 tablespoons of added sugar every day, with almost half coming from drinks like soda.

How Much Sugar Is Healthy?

Sugar is a more nuanced ingredient than you may think—not all types are inherently bad. According to the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, naturally occurring sugars like fructose and glucose found in fruit, dairy, and certain vegetables offer beneficial, energy-boosting carbohydrates. When incorporated into a healthy diet, these sugars can also add texture to food, balance acidity, and satisfy your sweet tooth.

On the other hand, most added sugars and nonnutritive sugars, or "high-intensity sweeteners," have no nutritional benefits. In particular, the Academy states that added sugars are correlated with obesity, type 2 diabetes or prediabetes, inflammation, and cardiovascular disease.

Added sugars come in many different forms. Look out for these names on food labels:

  • Anhydrous dextrose
  • Brown sugar
  • Confectioner's powdered sugar
  • Corn syrup and corn syrup solids
  • Dextrose
  • Fructose
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Honey
  • Invert sugar
  • Lactose
  • Malt syrup
  • Maltose
  • Maple syrup
  • Molasses
  • Nectar (e.g., peach nectar)
  • Raw sugar
  • Sucrose
  • White granulated sugar

The Academy clarifies that while the body doesn't discriminate when it comes to sugar—it interprets naturally occurring sugars and added sugars as the same—added sugars are particularly problematic because they're usually found in foods lacking nutritional value. These added sugars can contribute to excess calorie intake, which can result in weight gain.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that women take in no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day (approx. 25 grams or 100 calories) and that men get no more than 9 teaspoons of sugar per day (approx. 38 grams or 150 calories). The AHA also says children ages 2 to 18 should have less than 6 teaspoons per day. Similarly, the ODCHP recommends added sugars account for no more than 10% of your daily caloric intake. Note that these recommendations don't apply to sugars that naturally occur in foods, including the fructose in fruits.

Sugar in Common Beverages

While the amount of added sugar you can consume without going overboard can depend on your biological sex, age, and weight, you may be shocked to learn just how much added sugar and how many calories are in a single sweetened drink. Here are some examples of the approximate amounts in a 12-ounce serving of several popular beverages.

Drink Sugar Calories
Cola 39 grams 140
Orange soda 44 grams 160
Sparkling juice (lemon-lime) 28 grams 120
Sports drink 21 grams 80
Sweetened bottled iced tea 27 grams 100
Vitamin-infused water  20 grams 75
Sweetened cranberry juice cocktail 49 grams 200
Caffeinated energy drink 39 grams 142
Apple juice  42 grams 180
Coconut water 13.5 grams 68

It's also important to note that most of the calories in these beverages are "empty," meaning they have little to no nutritional value. Even the potential benefits of certain drinks—such as the vitamins in fruit juice or the urinary tract health boost provided by cranberry juice—are minimized by their excessively high sugar content.

How to Decrease Soda Intake

Drinking an occasional soda likely won't hurt you so long as you're maintaining an otherwise well-rounded, healthy diet. But if you're frequently opting for soda or other sugar-loaded drinks, the effects can be serious. A 2019 study, for example, found a link between consumption of sugar- and artificially sweetened soft drinks and higher mortality rates.

If you want to curb your soda habit, the Academy offers the following tips.

1:38

How to Cut Soda and Cut Calories

Taper Off

If you or your child are downing super-size servings of soda or other sugary beverages each day, it can be tough to quit cold turkey. Your goal is to cut back to no more than 8 to 12 ounces, or none at all, per day. To get there, note how many ounces you typically drink in a day and then come up with a reasonable plan to decrease that amount by 2 or 3 ounces every few days until you reach the goal.

Order a Fountain Drink With Ice

By filling your glass with ice, you'll displace some of the sweetened beverage compared to a comparably sized bottle or can that's full of soda only. Ice ultimately means less sugar overall. In the case of soda, for example:

  • 12-ounce cup (child-size): 23 grams of sugar and 95 calories
  • 16-ounce cup (small): 31 grams of sugar and 128 calories
  • 21-ounce cup (medium): 44 grams of sugar and 180 calories
  • 32-ounce cup (large): 65 grams of sugar and 267 calories

Should You Switch to Diet Soda?

Diet soft drinks usually contain artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, that have zero calories but are made from chemicals that have no nutritional value.

While the zero-calorie characteristic of diet beverages makes it an attractive choice for weight loss, some research has found that those people who have a diet soda every day are still at an increased risk of metabolic syndrome and diabetes. While the research is mixed and results vary from person to person, drinking regular or diet soda in excess is not a healthy option overall.

Diet sodas are a lower-calorie than regular sodas, but with meals, it's best to drink water or low-fat or skim milk. And when it comes to quenching your thirst between meals? Plain old water is the best way to go.

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Article Sources
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