Sugar Wars: How much sugar is your family drinking?


Since the POWerful Word for January was Health, we were all focused on making healthy choices for our families. I received a bunch of questions from parents asking “how much sugar is in soda?” “how much sugar is in juice?” “how do I interpret soda and juice labels?” and “what can I do to help my family kick the soda/sweetened drink habit?”

As you can tell, I’ve been thinking a lot about sugar lately. I recall one parent of Patrick, a 10 year old boy who tended to eat a lot of sweets, asking me “is it better for my child to drink Sunny Delight than soda?”

Those of you who’ve been with POWerful Words for a while know that I am not a fan of soda. There’s really anything particularly good that I can say about it. I mean, where else does fluorescent green and cola brown occur in nature? According to a spokeswoman from the Sugar Association, the major source of “added sugar” in the US diet is soda. They account for 33% of all added sugars consumed.

**Sunkist orange soda has 51.5 grams of sugar per 12 oz can (12+ teaspoons of sugar) and 85.8 grams per 20 oz bottle (21+ teaspoons of sugar, just 3 teaspoons shy of a half cup).

But we can’t fool ourselves. Sunny Delight and lots of other sweetened drinks that are masquerading as fruit juice are really not much better. Even fruit juice has a ton of sugar. A little research revealed that Sunny Delight contains just 5 per cent juice plus a whopping 10 per cent sugar. According to, one gram of granulated sugar is about 1/4 teaspoon, so about four grams of sugar would be in a teaspoon. (For Sunny D- 27 grams or about 7 teaspoons of sugar per 8 oz serving) —although there is now a lower sugar version.

**Minute Maid Cranberry Grape has 38 grams of sugar per 8 oz serving (almost 10 teaspoons of sugar) and 72.2 oz per 15.2 oz bottle (about 18 teaspoons of sugar).

But even I was surprised, when I was walking around the market yesterday getting both some everyday items and some things together for Super Bowl Sunday, and looked at the label of the StonyField Farm organic yogurt drinks (my husband drinks them in a pinch) and found that they had as much sugar in them per serving as soda. I believe the amount was around 35 grams. So much for a healthy snack.

Take the sugar challenge. How much sugar does your child take in during a typical day? Take a look at the labels and calculate it. You might be surprised. And don’t forget—what is listed as a serving size on the back of the bottle might not actually be the serving size your child ingests. What 10 year old drinks an 8 oz glass of juice, soda, or sweetened drink.

**In the 1800s, the average American consumed 12 pounds of sugar per year. By 1975, however, after the overwhelming success of the refined-food industry, the 12 pounds had jumped to a world-leading 118 pounds per year, and jumped again to 137.5 pounds per capita (for every man, woman, and child) by 1990. (Food Consumption, Prices and Expenditures, United States Department of Agriculture, 1991). How much sugar do we consume today? 156 pounds, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). That’s a whopping 31 five-pound bags for every patriotic one of us.

How can you help your family kick the soda or sweetened drink habit?

(1) Make your own “soda:” Use flavored seltzer mixed with some fruit juice. This is both sweet and fizzy like soda. Over the next few weeks cut down the amount of juice you add to the seltzer. Overtime, your child will get used to a much less sweet version of their favorite drink.

(2) Keep some flavorful fruit on hand to put in water: For many, adding a slice of lemon, lime, or orange can make water taste much better.

(3) Keep the sugary drinks out of the house: When it’s in the fridge, we drink it. After all, we “don’t want it to go to waste, get flat, get drunk by someone else…” When we keep sugary drinks out of the house and we get thirsty, we go for something else. Just be careful that you don’t replace one sugary habit with another.

(4) Give everyone their own special cup: Everyone likes something with their name on it! When your child (or even you) walk around with their own cup of water, they are much more likely to drink it.

(5) Be sure to model it: If you want your family to drink more water and less soda/sugary drinks, you have to show them how it’s done. When you drink more water and show that you enjoy it, your kids (and spouse) will likely follow suit.

(6) How about some homemade lemonade or fruit punch? You know you can make it better, fresher, and less sugary than they can. Try using half or a third of the sugar than what’s in your favorite soda (remember my previous post showed how much sugar is actually in soda) and you are well ahead of the game. Plus, making your own ensures that you’re not using corn syrup, additives, and preservatives that your family doesn’t need either.

(7) Have you tried stevia? It’s a very sweet dietary supplement that, when added to drinks, makes things taste sweet without adding sugar or calories. If you go to your health food store, they can tell you more about it and whether it can be a good alterative for your family.

(8) Read your labels: There is so much hidden sugar in things it would shock you. My realization about the yogurt drinks is just one example. This article provides even more but in a nutshell it says; “Some types of crackers, yogurt, ketchup, and peanut butter, for instance, are loaded with sugar — often in the form of high-fructose corn syrup, or HFCS. Use of this sweetener has increased 3.5% per year in the last decade, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). That’s twice the rate at which the use of refined sugar has grown.” When so much of our food tastes sweet, we are more likely to seek out sweet drinks as well!

(9) Use baking soda in the fridge: Sometimes water becomes unappealing because it absorbs other smells and tastes from the fridge. Nobody wants to drink water that tastes like last night’s meatloaf mixed with this morning’s bacon. Be sure that your pitcher of water has a tight seal and replace it often so that it doesn’t taste stale.

(10) Don’t make soda such a big deal: If you make soda into this monumental treat that your family “can’t have” then it’ll just make everyone want it more! Don’t store it away, hoard it, or give it to your child when they do something good. Soda should not be a reward.

(11) Give them a choice: You can still give your family a wide variety of great things to drink. Give them a choice—as everyone likes choices—“would you like orange flavored water or would you like mixed citrus?” “Would you like a “fizzy” drink or would you prefer “no bubbles?” When people feel like they have choices, they feel like they have some control over what’s happening to them. It goes the same for you—give yourself some choice. You don’t have to drink plain water all the time.

(12) Do a little science experiment: Measure out how much sugar is in your family’s favorite drink. If you allow your children to measure out how much sugar is in a can of soda, they will understand more about why it’s not a healthy choice. Perhaps it will help you, as well, see just how much sugar you are ingesting each day. Want to know how your family’s favorite drink stacks up? Check out this eye-opening site.

And just one last thing—remember, if the sugar content says “0” beware of other hidden sweeteners that may be just as bad for your family such as aspartame or other artificial chemical sweetener.

For more information, here are some more of my most popular entries on sugar; one detailing how much sugar is in your child’s juice and one on how much sugar is in your child’s food.

Have a sweet (but not too sugary) February!

Dr. Robyn


7 Responses

  1. […] many of these individual juice bottles contain more than one serving.  As you read in my article Sugar Wars: How much sugar is your family drinking?, these drinks can have as much sugar in them as […]

  2. […] in your children’s food and drinks after reading my articles “Hey Sugar, Sugar” “Sugar Wars” and Is Cola Really Bad for Your […]

  3. I have not had a soda in over 15 years. I have not had anything that breaks down as sugar in 6 months. This means no white rice,flour,potatoes,corn,fruit,or sugar. I eat fresh vegetables,fish,brown rice,and beans. I have more energy and feel better than ever. I had candida really bad and just had my blood test last week and its all gone .
    I have a ten year old daughter that drinks plenty of water everyday. we do not encourage juice or any drinks other than water. We live in the tropics where it is very hot and nothing is better than water when you are hot!
    I work for a ngo and we are going into schools doing the sugar game and showing kids how much sugar is in all the drinks we consume. The kids are always amazed by how much sugar is in the juices.

  4. […] food and syrupy drinks often look great to many children and adults alike. No wonder our sugar, fat, and “fake […]

  5. […] food and syrupy drinks often look great to many children and adults alike. No wonder our sugar, fat, and “fake […]

  6. […] was wrong with that child? Many of you are probably shouting “too much sugar!” while others are shouting “not enough discipline!” But what was perfectly […]

  7. […] own and freeze them in small amounts. Switch soda for more healthful options—some of which are listed here. Get your children on board and teach them the components of a healthful lunch and how to take care […]

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