Rethink your drink: the skinny on sugary beverages

July 22, 2015 Providence Health Team

Sure, sugar tastes delicious, but consuming too much of it can lead to a host of health concerns. Sugar is a culprit in tooth decay. Eating too much added sugar also contributes to heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and liver disease, according to UCSF researchers behind And, a Journal of American Medical Association study found that eating too much sugar increases the risk of heart disease, even if you’re not overweight.

You may be shocked to realize how much sugar you’re consuming in your beverages. The table below includes beverages that are sweetened with added sugars or natural sugars, like those found in fruit. Just because a drink is loaded with calories doesn’t mean it offers much, if any, nutritional value.


Calories/teaspoons of sugar (per 12 oz.)

Chocolate milk (whole) 400 cal/12 tsp
Cranberry cocktail 200 cal/12 tsp
Apple juice 180 cal/11 tsp
Orange juice 170 cal/10 tsp
Regular soda 140 cal/10 tsp
Sweetened lemon iced tea 124 cal/7 tsp
Reduced calorie* 110 cal/7 tsp
Sports beverage 90 cal/5 tsp
Unsweetened iced tea 2 cal/0 tsp
Water (still or carbonated) 0 cal/0 tsp

*Defined by the FDA as least 25% fewer calories than the amount typically consumed

There are no federal guidelines limiting how much sugar you should have each day. However, the American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars to no more than half your daily discretionary calorie allowance. For most women, that amounts to no more than 100 calories or roughly 6 teaspoons of sugar a day; for men, that’s 150 calories or about 9 teaspoons of sugar.

Whether you want to lose weight or cut back on sugar for other health reasons, try dialing back your liquid calories. You don’t have to give up sugary drinks all at once. Start off slowly and decrease your sugar intake over time.

  • Drink water when you’re thirsty, both throughout the day and during meals. Not only is it healthy, it’s also inexpensive.
  • If you crave caffeine and flavor, try coffee or tea — with only one packet of sugar.
  • Read nutrition labels. Remember to look at the serving size. Sometimes, a bottle will contain 2 (or more!) servings. Ingredients are listed in order by weight, from highest to lowest. One teaspoon equals 4 grams of sugar.
  • Switch to diet or low-calorie soda, but keep in mind these drinks may contain artificial sweeteners.
  • If you can’t resist a sweet beverage, pour yourself a smaller glass or save half the bottle for later.

Drinking water can become boring day after day. Here are six tasty ways to spice up your drink.

  • Lemon, lime and thyme
  • Strawberry and basil
  • Blackberry and sage
  • Orange and pineapple
  • Cucumber
  • Add carbonated water to still water

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