How Many Sugar Cubes are in Your Favorite Soda?

A week or two ago, I posted a “how to pack a healthy lunch” blog.  It gave ideas about how to include all the food groups into a balanced, healthy meal for your school-aged child, or for someone to bring to work.  Wouldn’t it be great if everyone would just pack their own lunch from home, full of fruits and vegetables?  Ahh, a dietitian’s dream! Obviously, this is not realistic. Not everyone wants to pack their own lunch, cook their own meals, shop for their own groceries, and even wash their own dishes!  Often times due to time constraints, cost, convenience, or other reasons, employees and students of any establishment will choose to either go through a fast food drive through, nuke a frozen meal in a microwave, or head to the vending machines to find something to eat.  So, next Friday Mary and I will be hosting the first of a six-part “Lunch & Learn” series, where we will be addressing how to make healthier lunch choices at fast food restaurants nearby campus, which frozen entrees are the best choices, and which vending machine snacks are the healthiest at WVU.

This afternoon I ventured down into the lounge area in the Agricultural Science building where the vending machines are located.  WVU is a Coca-Cola campus, and they have 10 different 20-oz beverages for $1.25 in 2 separate vending machines.  There is also a snack vending machine with over 30 snack choices (mainly chips, candy bars, and pretzels/trail mix).

The soda vending machines in WVU’s Agricultural Sciences Building

There are many different rating systems I could use, from “never eat this” and “always eat this” to scales of 1-10, 10 being the healthiest, or even a grading scale like A, B, C, D, & F.  I decided upon a “stoplight” type system. Green means go ahead/yes and is a good vending machine choice, given the options.  Yellow means proceed with caution/maybe, and is an okay choice to make sometimes.  Red means its an item that probably shouldn’t be eaten/drank every day, but is okay to have once in a while.

I started with the beverages rather than the snacks, and I here’s what I came up with:

Vending Machine Beverages

The above link will open a docx where you can see a reader-friendly chart with images included.  The beverages that earned a green light were Dasani (best choice overall, indicated with a green star), Coca-Cola Zero, Diet Coke, and Mello Yello Zero for all having 0 calories and 0 grams of sugar.

The yellow light ratings were given to Coca-Cola, Sprite, and Pibb Xtra, all of which have 65 grams of sugar per bottle, at around 240-250 calories per bottle.

Finally, the red light ratings were given to Coca-Cola Cherry (260 calories, 70g of sugar), Fanta Orange (270 calories, 74g of sugar), and Mello Yello (290 calories and a whopping 78g of sugar).

To see what 65 grams, 70 grams, or 78 grams of sugar looks like, I’d recommend visiting for great visuals on how much sugar is in beverages, desserts, vegetables, fruits, breakfast foods, candy, and more. Here’s an example of our yellow star rated Coca Cola:

65g of sugar in a 20-oz Coca- Cola

Crazy, right? Can you imagine being given nearly 17 sugar cubes and told to eat all of them at once? That’s basically what is happening when someone is drinking a 20-oz Coca-Cola, Sprite, or Pibb Xtra.  Add 3.3 more sugar cubes to that stack, and you’ve now reached the sugar content of a 20-oz Mello Yello.

So next time you’re thirsty and thinking of reaching for an ice-cold soda, you might try an iced tea, lemonade, or juice instead, right?

Minute Maid Lemonade (20 oz), 67 g of sugar, 260 calories
Snapple Lemon Iced Tea (16 oz), 46 g of sugar, 200 calories
Sobe Mango Melon (20 oz), 70 g of sugar, 280 calories
Minute Maid Orange Juice (16 oz), 48 g of sugar, 220 calories

…okay maybe not.  As you can tell, they’re not much different than sodas– still 250-280 calories and 58-70 grams of sugar per 20 oz bottle.

What does all this mean?  Now, I don’t think anyone has to give up sodas or sugary drinks from the vending machine for life. But cutting back on the frequency of getting these drinks can not only spare your wallet, but spare your waistline, too.  Think of it this way: if a person who normally drinks an average of 2-3 Fanta Oranges per week cut back to only getting a Fanta Orange 1-2 times per week, and replaced the rest with water, they’d save 14,040 calories a year, which equates to a 4 pound weight loss.  In sugar terms, that’s 3,848 g of sugar per year, or 976 cubes of sugar! Plus, now this person has saved themselves $65, that they would’ve been spending on $1.25 drinks a few times a week. I personally don’t think I know anyone that is strongly against losing 4 pounds and gaining 65 bucks.

As I continue to work on the stop light system for the snack & food vending machine, it’ll be interesting to see what else I find.  No one has to give up their candy bars, chips, or sodas, but if you make simple switches, cut back on the frequency, or eat smaller portions of these items, these small changes over time will add up to something big!

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4 thoughts on “How Many Sugar Cubes are in Your Favorite Soda?

  1. Ian

    Wow Emily, I never thought of it this way! I guess I have always drank diet soda’s or lemonade. I am glad you broke down the numbers, and I will be sure to stay away from the sugar death! Good job!

  2. Brandon Bethea

    This is very informative and helpful. Thanks! Not trying to knock your judgement or system, but what about all the aspartame and other artificial sweeteners in soda. Not sure any of this stuff should get a green light, and I think Dasani’s water quality is lower, relative to other bottled water. Still very convincing stuff!

    • Thanks Brandon!

      As far as artificial sweeteners in sodas, I’m not convinced it “causes” obesity or is any worse for you than sucrose, in that sense. I’d much prefer a 0-calorie drink over a 240 calorie drink, if only to keep body weight and blood glucose in check.

      However I think that the full long-term effects of (high levels of) aspartame, etc. are still up in the air…. they could be linked to certain cancers, but we need more evidence. Something to consider, however! Thanks for your input.

  3. J

    Thank you for the article and visual representations of sugar in soft drinks. I learn by seeing and this is what I needed to see. 🙂

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