The sugary truth of soft drinks and other beverages

Even if you’re not a Carolina grad or fan, it’s hard not to like this commercial.

But being an obsessive Tar Heel fan isn’t the only reason I like this TV ad. I, too, have memories of my grandfather (“Nannanny”) walking me over to the local gas station in Gadsden, TN, to buy me a coke when I was a little girl. They were always packaged in glass bottles, containers I’m convinced impart greater taste. Those are wonderful memories I’ll always cherish.

From exception to rule

One of the reasons Coke is especially nostalgic for me, and likely for Coach Williams, too, is that the beverage was a privilege back in those days. I didn’t drink Coke or other soft drinks at every meal; rather, it was a treat that I was excited to have on special occasions. Soft drinks were the exception, not the rule of everyday living.

Times have changed, however. In 2011, sales of carbonated beverages were about 9.3 billion dollars. According to NPR, soft drinks and other liquid calories now account for about one-third of the sugar we consume.

How did that happen?

The sugary truth

You may not even realize how much sugar you’re “drinking” each day, even as you move along the spectrum to “healthy” fruit smoothies. Take a look below at the sugar and calorie content of some popular beverages.

– A 12 ounce container of Coke contains 39 grams of sugar and 140 calories.

– 8.3 ounces of Red Bull contains 27 grams of sugar and 108 calories.

– 8 ounces of Nesquick chocolate milk contains 29 grams of sugar and 200 calories.

– 12 ounces of Gatorade Performance Series contains 78 grams of sugar and 310 calories.

– A tall-sized Starbucks Coffee Frappacino has 32 and 108 calories.

– A grande-sized Starbucks Raspberry Blackcurrant Frappacino blended fruit drink has 47 grams of sugar and 192 calories.

– 8 ounces of Nesquick chocolate milk contains 29 grams of sugar and 190 calories.

– 8 ounces of Minute Maid orange juice contains 24 grams of sugar and 110 calories.

– 8 ounces of apple juice contains 26 grams of sugar and 120 calories (same as coke on a per ounce basis!).

– A 22 ounce (regular-sized) Jamba Juice Banana Berry smoothie contains a whopping total of 82 grams of sugar and 400 calories!

Though I’m intentionally leaving out a pint of beer in my comparisons above, you can easily see that “harmless” beverages are filling up our bodies, and those of our little ones, with lots of sugar. When consumed in excess, we’ve got a sugary mess on our hands!

Moderation or else

I weaned myself off soft drinks, even the diet variety, years ago and don’t miss them at all. If I’m craving a Coke when I’m sick or have finished a grueling, long run, I treat myself to one, just like I did when I was a kid.

Another strategy is to drink the sugar-free alternative for a while. Though NPR admits there is no nutritional value to diet beverages, it’s better than drinking lots of sugar. I have given Luke sugar-free Hawaiian punch as a special treat, and he doesn’t know the difference. Sugar-free chocolate syrup for milk is a hit, too. I buy powdered, reduced calorie Gatorade to drink during/after workouts.


In the place of these beverages, it’s important to drink more water. We all know the many benefits of drinking H2O, and webMD even suggests: “While water doesn’t have any magical effect on weight loss, substituting it for higher calorie beverages can certainly help.”

Grab a glass or water bottle and keep filling it up.

Feel any better?

Melinda Hinson