Last week a photo demonstrating the amount of sugar in various drinks made the rounds on Facebook. It surprised a lot of people, and illustrated one of the main arguments for changing current food labels: Most folks just don’t know what “65 grams” of sugar looks like. But it also seemed to give a lot of people (including myself) a false sense of smugness. Pffft, I thought, I don’t drink soda! I’m healthy! I know better than all of those silly Mountain Dew drinkers! Don’t they understand?
And then I looked at how much sugar was in the “healthy” juice drink I was sipping. Whoops.
But here’s the thing: sugars are different.
Unlike conventional sodas, some (but not all) “better” beverages stray from cane and corn syrup, and instead choose to use fruit sugars, natural sweeteners like agave or honey, artificial sweeteners, or a sugar alcohol called erythritol. And while these aren’t necessarily more responsible choices than conventional sweeteners, they do impact our bodies differently.
Unfortunately, current nutrition labels don’t describe which type of sugar is in a product, like whether it comes from fruit or high fructose corn syrup, or what kind of glycemic load it carries (fruit sugar and agave, which have a lower glycemic load, don’t spike blood sugar levels as much as refined cane sugar does, for instance). Even raw fruit contains a lot of sugar—for example, a medium-sized apple can have as many as 20 grams of sugar, but nutrition labels won’t tell you that it’s a lot better than getting 20 grams of sugar from a candy bar. For that, you’ll need to read the ingredients list and know your sweeteners.
The sodas and “juice cocktails” featured in the popular Facebook photo are pretty much all sweetened with cane sugar and corn syrup, whereas some (but not all) “natural” drinks use natural, less harmful sweeteners. Yes, the amount is important–but so is the source.
For comparison’s sake, we chose seven drinks based on the size, amount of sugar, and source of the sugar, and measured out how much was in each, compared to its size. Some only use fruit. Others are still surprisingly reliant on conventional sugar.
Just for reference, according to my box of cane sugar that I used for these photos, there are four grams of sugar per teaspoon, so I measured in teaspoons. Each of these images uses the same shot glass (which holds about 7 teaspoons), except the one where I needed to bring in reinforcements. The second glass holds the same amount. All of them were also photographed on the same table, in the same place.
Images: All mine, except for the one from Facebook, who I was unable to find an original credit for because it has been shared a bazillion times)