Beverages That May Have More Sugar Than You Think

The word is out: consuming sugar-sweetened beverages is linked to obesity and Type 2 diabetes and may even affect how long we live. Of all the sugar we consume, we drink a goodly portion of it. 


Not a Surprise: Soda

Cola in Glass
Cola in Glass. Jose Luis Pelaez/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Everyone knows that sugar-sweetened carbonated beverages (call it a soda, soft drink, Coke, tonic, or pop) lead that dubious pack. So the fact that soda has lots of sugar is not a surprise -- everyone knows that carbonated soft drinks are loaded with sugar.

Why does soda contain so much sugar? One of the reasons is that it turns out we like the combination of sweet and sour tastes (or sweet and bitter). Sodas have a lot of acid in them (usually phosphoric acid) and then a lot of sugar or other sweetener is used to counteract the sour flavor.

Prominent health organizations are recommending limiting sugar consumption to 6 -12 teaspoons of sugar per day, depending on the organization. A can of regular soda has about 10 teaspoons of sugar in it.



Lemonade sounds healthier, but it has a lot of sugar. Lemonade

Compared to soda, lemonade may seem downright healthy, but some lemonade can actually have more sugar than soda! When anything is sour, you can bet there is plenty of sugar in there to counteract the sour taste. Homemade lemonade has about the same amount of sugar as lemon juice in it.  

A 20-ounce bottle of Minute Maid lemonade has 17 teaspoons of sugar in it - 67 grams. That is significantly more added sugar than any organization recommends in a single day from all sources.


Energy Drinks

man at computer drinking energy drinks
ColorBlind Images/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Many energy drinks have a shocking amount of sugar in them. Here's a secret: loading lots of sugar into your body does NOT "give you more energy"! Overloading our bodies with sugar will simply cause it to turn to fat. In fact, the sugar in most energy drinks has a significant amount of fructose, which does not provide quick energy in any case.

It is caffeine and other stimulants in energy drinks that cause the "energy" effects. The sugar? Typical is 62 grams (16 teaspoons) in 16 ounces.


Sports Drinks

Man and Woman Drinking Sports Drinks
Most people don't need what sports drinks have to offer. Maskot/Getty Images

It may surprise you to find out that sports drinks actually have less sugar than most sugar-sweetened beverages. Still, at 16 grams (4 teaspoons) for an 8-ounce serving, it adds up fast. Plus, about half of it is usually fructose, which, as we have already seen, is not a great source of quick energy. For more information about sports drinks and how to make your own easy sugar-free version, see How to Make a Sugar-Free Sports Drink.


Coffee Drinks

Mocha Latte
Mocha Latte. Oleksiy Maksymenko/All Canada Photos/Getty Images

 It's surprising how many people have gotten used to basically having dessert every morning.  Did you know that a 16 oz ("Grande") Cafe' Mocha at Starbucks has 9 teaspoons of sugar in it? If you prefer a White Chocolate Mocha, that's (get ready for it) 6 MORE teaspoons of sugar, for a grand total of 59 grams/15 teaspoons of sugar. It pays to find out whether your favorite coffee shop has sugar-free versions of their drinks, or cultivate a taste for plain coffee.


Sweet Iced Tea

Iced Tea
You can have a refreshing glass of iced tea without all the sugar!. David Bishop/Photolibrary/Getty Images

To counteract the slight bitterness of tea (and often the sourness of lemon), there can be a surprising amount of sugar in sweetened tea. One popular brand has 12 teaspoons of sugar in a 16 oz bottle. Homemade is easy to make, tastier, and you can control exactly what is in it.


Juice Drinks and Fruit-Flavored Drink Mixes

Kool-Aid, or similar beverage
Not the best choice. Stephanie Phiillips/E+/Getty Images

Anything labeled a "juice drink" is basically sugar water flavored with juice. Furthermore, the juice is usually mostly a very low-nutrient juice, such as apple (most of the nutrients are lost when refined apple juice is made), pear, or white grape. Juice drinks vary in the amount of sugar they have in them. Servings are usually 6 or 8 ounces and have anywhere from 16 grams (4 teaspoons) of sugar to twice that.

Drink mixes such as Kool-Aid are, of course, even worse. They have zero nutritional value. They are ONLY sugar, water, and flavorings. Each 8-ounce glass delivers 6 teaspoons of sugar and absolutely nothing else.


Fruit Juice

Fruit Juice
Some fruit juices have more sugar than soda!. Marilyn Conway/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

What about 100% fruit juice? By definition, 100% juice has no added sugar. But it can take 2 or 3 cups of fruit to make one cup of juice, so there are a LOT of natural sugars in some juices. You are also losing nutrients and fiber when you choose to buy juice instead of fruit. 

Make sure look at the label to answer the question, "what kind of fruit"? Because, once again, there are lots of juice blends that have predominantly low-nutrient fruit juices in them (apple, pear, white grape). The majority of the nutrients (and phytonutrients) in an apple or pear are taken away in the process of making the juice.

Even with more nutritious juices, such as orange juice, it's SO much better to eat an orange. Some of the nutrients, such as calcium, are lost in the processing, as is all of the fiber. Also, to keep these juices uniform, many of them are processed within an inch of their (long-lost) lives, with lots of different adulterants and flavorings added.

Eating fruit is much better from a blood sugar perspective as well -- drinking fruit juice is a very effective way to get a quick blood sugar rise, as any diabetic will tell you.

How much sugar in fruit juice? You may be surprised to learn that some of them have more than soda!  Probably the highest-sugar juice is grape juice, at a whopping 38 grams (12 and a half teaspoons) per cup of juice. That's over a quarter cup of sugar in a cup of juice! Orange juice has about 28 grams (7 teaspoons) per cup, while grapefruit has 22 grams.

For low-sugar juices, try diet cranberry cocktail, which has artificial sweetener added instead of sugar, or go with tomato juice, either alone or in blends, for 11 grams per cup (a little less than three teaspoons of sugar).

Tip: If a juice has the word "cocktail" or "nectar" in the title, check the label.  Most likely, either sugar or some low-nutrient juice has been added.



Not all cocktails have sugar added to them -- a dry martini or a Bloody Mary are examples of those that do not. However, most popular cocktails are pretty loaded down with sugar. They are made with ingredients such as simple syrup (sugar dissolved in water), sweet and sour mix (sour juices mixed with water and sugar) and liqueurs, such as Amaretto, Kahlua, and Cointreau, which can have up to 25 grams of sugar (6 teaspoons) in a jigger. So, be careful when ordering! Or try making sugar-free cocktails at home!  It's fun and easy!

Example: a small margarita can easily have 24 grams of sugar in it.

Was this page helpful?