A Spoonful: The Not-So-Sweet News on Sugar


Last week, Molly McBrayer from our Bariatrics program posted some astonishing facts about how much sugar Americans eat — 100 pounds a year, each of us! Holy Sweet Tooth!! Today let’s chase that big bite of bad news with a swig about the sugar we drink. Thanks to Erin Brasch, a dietician in our Diabetes Treatment Center.

Sugar Sweetened Beverages

Mary Poppins was sweet and magical as she sang, “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” However, having too many spoonfuls of sugar can make the medical bills go up, as more and more people suffer from diabetes and obesity-related health issues. We recently posted about sugar in the food we eat, especially packaged food. Now let’s take a look at how the sugar in our beverages adds up.

Before you reach for that bottle of regular Coca-Cola or glass of sweet tea, think twice! Sugar-sweetened beverages, also known as ‘SSBs’, have been shown in many research studies to contribute to being overweight and obese. SSBs include soft drinks, fruit drinks, energy drinks and vitamin water drinks.

In the United States, SSBs are the largest single source of added sugar in our diet. In addition, they are positively associated with weight gain and obesity and therefore are a risk factor for type 2 diabetes. The American Diabetes Association recommends people limit intake of SSBs to prevent type 2 diabetes and for diabetics to avoid sugar-sweetened beverages to help control weight and blood sugar.

Over the years, portion sizes of soft drinks have increased. Prior to the 1950s, a soft drink would have been no more than six and a half ounces. Since the 1990s, the standard size of a SSB has averaged 20 ounces. Each day, half of our population consumes SSBs, and one in four Americans drink at least 200 empty calories from these sugar-packed liquids.

Everyone, including people with diabetes, has a specific daily, caloric “budget.” Once you meet your essential calorie needs for basic function, any leftover calories in your budget are to be used at your discretion. This means we should make wise choices, hopefully nutritious ones. A good rule of thumb is to avoid consuming more than half of your discretionary calories from added sugar.

SSBs provide added calories and sugar that can put us over our daily budget. In addition, the added sugar in SSBs is a carbohydrate and can raise blood glucose. The American Heart Association recommends no more than six teaspoons (24g) of added sugar per day for women and no more than nine teaspoons (36g) of added sugar per day for men. You may wonder: how many teaspoons are in commonly consumed SSBs? We will show you, but warning: this illustration may be hard to swallow.


Whether you are trying to get to a healthy weight, maintain the weight loss you have achieved or control your blood sugar, replacing SSBs with non-caloric options can be a simple solution. Opt for a diet beverage or use low calorie sweeteners such as Saccharin (Sweet-N-Low), Aspartame (Equal), Sucralose (Splenda) to sweeten freshly brewed coffee, tea or lemonade. If you aren’t a fan of artificial sweeteners, try Stevia, as this is a more natural sugar substitute. Or, best yet, make a cool glass of water your beverage of choice. Whichever you choose, making this small adjustment in beverage choice can help you achieve marked improvements in weight and blood sugar.

By Erin Brasch, RD, LD, RSF Diabetes Treatment Center at Bon Secours St. Francis Hospital.