A can of coke seems like a refreshing sweet treat on a hot summer day, but the short-lived tickle on your taste buds may not be worth the long-term consequences of regularly indulging. Just one 12-ounce can of coke contains 9.75 teaspoons of sugar, which equates to 39 grams of sugar. That's more than the American Heart Association recommends that adults get in an entire day!
Researchers are uncovering new information about the health dangers of added sugars, and it appears that sugar-sweetened beverages, like coke, may be especially problematic. And yet, sugary drinks remain the largest source of added sugar in the diet in the US.
One 12-ounce can of coke contains 9.75 teaspoons, or 39 grams, of sugar in the form of high-fructose corn syrup. In addition to contributing 156 excess calories, the teaspoons of sugar in soda have been linked to various health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, weight gain, fatty liver, metabolic syndrome and arthritis.
Health Dangers of Sugar
In a report published in the journal Circulation in 2019, researchers linked the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages like coke to increased mortality, or death, from a number of causes. Drinking sugar-sweetened beverages was linked to weight gain, increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and some diet-related cancers, like breast cancer and colon cancer.
Researchers above hypothesized that the underlying cause may be the weight gain associated with taking in extra calories. However, when they dug a little deeper, they found that the risk of developing these chronic issues increased in those who drank sugar-sweetened beverages even if their weight stayed the same.
Although the increases in mortality were seen with both men and women, researchers pointed out that the effect was seen more strongly in women than in men when it came to heart disease. In other words: researchers concluded that women who drink sugar-sweetened beverages are more likely to die from heart disease than men who drink sugar-sweetened beverages, and women who don't.
Read more: 15 Reasons to Kick Sugar
More Problems With Liquid Sugar
Although consuming too much sugar isn't ideal no matter what form it's in, taking in sugar in liquid form may be especially problematic. In a study published in Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, it was reported that when it comes to satiety, or feeling full, solid food takes the cake.
According to the study above, because liquid carbohydrates, like sugar, aren't filling like solid foods, regularly drinking sugar-sweetened beverages can lead to increased calorie (and more sugar) intake over the long-term.
Another study published in Behavioural Brain Research in 2016 found that liquid sugar, specifically, can increase inflammation and may cause memory problems.
Other health problems linked to liquid sugar include:
Empty Calories From Sugar
Aside from the notable health problems associated with increased consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, it's important to note that coke and other sodas offer no nutritional value. The only ingredients include:
- Carbonated water
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Caramel color
- Phosphoric acid
- Natural flavors
There are no vitamins, minerals, protein or healthy fats. A can of coke contributes only 39 grams of carbohydrates, all from added sugar in the form of high fructose corn syrup, and empty calories. In addition to providing a large dose of sugar, it offers no health benefits at all.
Recommended Sugar Intake
Your body doesn't need any added sugar to function, yet most Americans consume more sugar than is currently recommended to stay healthy. According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, U.S. adults take in 17 teaspoons of added sugar per day, on average. That's around 55 pounds per year! Diabetes Care notes that consumption of sugar has increased by 500 percent since the 1950s.
The American Heart Association currently recommends that women take in no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar daily, while men should limit their intake to less than 9 teaspoons per day. Keep in mind, this number is an upper limit. That means this is the absolute highest amount you should be consuming, but the lower the better.
To put it into a calorie perspective, a teaspoon of sugar contains about 16 calories, which means you'd get 96 extra calories from 6 teaspoons of sugar and 144 empty calories from consuming 9 teaspoons of the sweet stuff.
Other Sugary Drinks to Avoid
It isn't just coke and other sodas that's the problem, though. According to Diabetes Care, sugar is added to about 75 percent of all processed foods and beverages. Other sugar-sweetened beverages include:
- Iced tea
- Energy drinks
- Fruit juice
- Coffee drinks
- Sports drinks
- Sweetened waters
When trying to limit your intake of sugary beverages, you may have to do some detective work to decipher the ingredient list because sugar isn't always listed as "sugar." Instead, you may see ingredients like sucrose, glucose, fructose, maltose, dextrose, honey, syrup or concentrated fruit juice. All of these terms indicate that there's been some form of sugar added to the beverage. If you see any of these terms, it's best to skip it and opt for plain water instead.
Read more: The Top 10 Beverages to Avoid
Tips for Eliminating Sugar
Although it's best to abstain completely, if you drink a lot of soda, it may be difficult to cut it out completely overnight. Instead of going cold turkey, you can gradually wean yourself off to healthier beverage choices, like water or unsweetened tea.
Start by slowly cutting back on the amount you consume. If you drink two cans of coke per day, replace one can with a glass of water. You can also cut back on sugar by diluting your beverage. Fill up half your glass with soda and then fill the rest with water. This will help re-sensitize you to the sweetness while you adapt to drinking less sugar.
If it's the carbonation you like, opt for naturally-flavored, unsweetened seltzer water instead. You can jazz it up a little by squeezing a small amount of fresh lime, lemon or orange in it too.
- Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care: "Effects of Carbohydrates on Satiety: Differences Between Liquid and Solid Food"
- Behavioural Brain Research: "Short-Term Exposure to a Diet High in Fat and Sugar, or Liquid Sugar, Selectively Impairs Hippocampal-Dependent Memory, With Differential Impacts on Inflammation"
- The Coca-Cola Company: "Product Facts: Coca-Cola, Original - 12 FL Oz"
- Circulation: "Long-Term Consumption of Sugar-Sweetened and Artificially Sweetened Beverages and Risk of Mortality in US Adults"
- Journal of Hepatology: "Sugar-Sweetened Beverage, Diet Soda, and Fatty Liver Disease in the Framingham Heart Study Cohorts"
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Sugar-Sweetened Soda Consumption and Risk of Developing Rheumatoid Arthritis in Women"
- Nephrology: "Associations of Sugar‐Sweetened and Artificially Sweetened Soda With Chronic Kidney Disease: A Systematic Review and Meta‐Analysis"
- European Journal of Nutrition: "Sugar-Sweetened Beverage and Diet Soda Consumption and the 7-Year Risk for Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus in Middle-Aged Japanese Men"
- American Heart Association: "Rethink Your Drink: Reducing Sugary Drinks in Your Diet"
- Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion: "Cut Down on Added Sugars"
- American Heart Association: "Sugar 101"
- Harvard School of Public Health: "Added Sugar in the Diet"
- USDA National Nutrient Database: "Sugars, Granulated"
- Diabetes Care: Dietary Sugar and Body Weight: "Have We Reached a Crisis in the Epidemic of Obesity and Diabetes?"