14 Sugary Drinks To Consume in Moderation—If at All

You may not realize how much sugar is in some of your favorite drinks.

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Occasionally, we might find ourselves eating too much sugar. It's likely that when people think about sugar consumption, sugary foods like candy, cakes, cookies, or other desserts come to mind.

However, sometimes the amount of sugar in those foods can be similar to the amount in drinks as well. Here are 14 sugar-filled drinks that are just as unhealthy to consume as soda.

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Fruit Juice

While fruit is rich in fiber, fruit juice is not. So even if you opt for 100% fruit juice and avoid drinks with added sugar (like cranberry or grape cocktail), they still have high sugar content.

For instance, a cup of grape juice contains 36 grams of sugar and a cup of apple has 31 grams—not far off from what you'll find in a can of lemon-lime soda, which racks up 44 grams.

"I don't recommend juice ever, even 100% fruit juice," said Ilyse Schapiro, RD, author of Should I Scoop Out My Bagel? ($11; amazon.com). "You'll feel much more full from eating the fruit, which has fiber, versus drinking the juice," Schapiro said.

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Hot Cocoa

The sip from hot cocoa might be warm and delicious, but keep in mind that it's more of a dessert than an afternoon snack, said Chicago-based nutritionist Renee Clerkin, RD. A typical 16-ounce mug with whipped cream packs 400 calories and 43 grams of sugar—more than a can of cola.

Clerkin recommended making your own mix of non-Dutch processed cocoa and sugar—that way, you control the amount of sweetness. Start with one teaspoon of sugar and gradually increase the amount to taste. (One teaspoon contains 4 grams of sugar.) Adding spices like a dash of cinnamon or cayenne will add even more flavor, allowing you to use less sweet stuff.

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Sweet Tea

Teas can be good to drink for health purposes; for example, dark teas have been associated with antioxidant properties and offer heart- or digestion-protecting benefits, per a March 2021 Trends in Food Science & Technology study. But syrupy-sweet teas contain a ton of sugar, practically canceling out the health benefits. Some brands can have over 30 grams of added sugar in one bottle.

Unsweetened iced tea is your best bet since it contains zero added sugar, no matter if it is bottled or poured at a restaurant. If plain tea is too bitter, Schapiro suggested adding 1 teaspoon (or one packet) yourself—it will still be less than a pre-mixed tea. Squeeze a lemon or orange on top for an additional flavor boost.

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Flavored Coconut Water

Coconut water is packed with electrolytes, like potassium; one 16-ounce container supplies more than 25% of the mineral you need in a day.

"Electrolytes are minerals that help keep the body's fluid levels in balance so that the body is hydrated," Clerkin explained. "You probably don't need to sip coconut water all day, but it can be helpful if you're sweating a lot during the summer or activity," Clerkin added.

Read labels carefully though. Flavored versions, like pineapple or mango, can pack more than 30 grams of sugar per 16-ounce container. Some have less because they use calorie-free sweeteners.

Stick to plain coconut water, Clerkin said, which doesn't contain added sugar. "Drink it when you need to hydrate, not just casually throughout the day," Clerkin added. "Remember it still contains calories."

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Sweetened Yogurt Drinks

Probiotics can help keep your gut healthy, so you may be trying to get more in your diet. Probiotic yogurt drinks or kefir can be healthy choices, but flavored versions rely on sugar to decrease yogurt's traditional tang. A small bottle may pack 26 grams of sugar and could contain sugar, fructose, and fruit puree or juice.

Plain versions are your best bet, since the only sugar they contain is from the milk itself. (A typical 1-cup serving of plain contains around 12 grams.) If that's not happening, consider skipping non-fat varieties and going for low-fat instead. In one popular brand, making that switch could save you nearly two teaspoons of sugar per serving.

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Sweetened Non-Dairy Milks

Non-dairy milks like almond milk, cashew milk, and soy milk say they're better than cow's milk, but choose the wrong one and you'll end up with sugar for breakfast. "A glass of chocolate plant-based milk can have the same amount of sugar as a handful of cookies or a chocolate bar," Schapiro said.

Read the ingredients and nutrition panel before you buy. That's because even deceptively innocent "plain" or "original" varieties may contain added sugar, Schapiro added. Look for unsweetened, unsweetened vanilla, or new reduced sugar flavors. And try the different types of plant milks—almond, cashew, rice—until you find one that you like the taste of when unsweetened, Schapiro said.

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Tonic Water

It's likely that you would be sipping on this as part of an alcoholic drink, not on its own. But if you're doing it because you think a "gin and tonic" is healthier than a "rum and Coke," you may want to rethink your choice.

Twelve ounces of tonic water adds 124 calories and 32 grams of sugar to your glass (that's 8 teaspoons). Compare that to a cola, which isn't too far off at 182 calories and 44 grams of sugar per 12 ounces.

When you're ordering up a booze beverage, ask for seltzer: It's sugar- and calorie-free.

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Fancy Coffee Drinks

"Most people are blown away when they look at the calories and sugar in their lattes and Frappuccinos," Schapiro said. A grande white chocolate mocha Frappuccino at Starbucks has 61 grams of sugar.

Sure, some is from the milk, but most is from sugars that add up to nearly one-third of a cup. A vanilla latte is better but still comes in at 35 grams of sugar for a medium size.

Stick with coffee with milk, adding a packet of sugar yourself or sweetening it up with a shake or two of cinnamon or nutmeg at the barista bar. If you want something fancier, go for a café misto (coffee with steamed milk), Schapiro recommended.

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Energy Drinks

Energy drinks are fortified with B vitamins and usually don't contain a ton of calories, but they aren't healthy. An 8-ounce serving can run you more than 25 grams of sugar.

Skip these entirely for more reasons beyond saving on sugar. Drinking energy drinks aren't good for your heart: A June 2019 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association noted that energy drinks were associated with increased emergency room visits and death and found that they raise blood pressure. So if you need a boost of caffeine, opt for a cup of coffee instead.

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Sports Drinks

Finish a bottle of one typical sports drink, and you'll have downed more than 50 grams of sugar. Additionally, sugar is usually listed as the second ingredient after water on the label.

If you're training for a marathon, that makes sense; the sugar supplies carbs that help keep up your energy during the tough workout. However, if you're sitting at your desk all day, you don't need the extra sugar and calories.

"Unless you are seriously training for a marathon or triathlon, you do not need to consume sports drinks," Schapiro said. Even if you regularly exercise three to five days a week, Schapiro recommended hydrating with water only.

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Margaritas

Margaritas can be one of the worst cocktail drinks to have. "A margarita made with a bottled mix can have more than 500 calories and more than 35 grams of sugar. That's the equivalent to the sugar in two and a half to three pieces of cake," Clerkin said.

Not all cocktails are off limits, however. Your favorite booze plus soda water and a squeeze of lemon or lime is a great option because the combination is almost sugar-free. "Pure alcohol, like vodka or tequila, does not have any carbs, protein, or fat," Clerkin said. A 1-ounce shot of tequila mixed with soda water and a squeeze of lime juice sets you back just 70 calories.

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Flavored "Nutritional" Waters

Drinking flavored waters with vitamins added to the mix is just like drinking sugar water. Some bottles pack 30 grams of sugar (7 teaspoons) or more.

"Even if they don't have added sugar, they have to be flavored somehow," Schapiro said. "This means they may contain artificial sweeteners or Stevia. And just because it uses a more natural calorie-free sweetener doesn't make it healthy."

There's nothing wrong with not loving plain water. However, you can add natural, sugar-free flavor by infusing water with lemons or fresh fruit. Do that either using a water pitcher with a built-in infuser or simply put cut up fruit in a water jug and enjoy.

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Lemonade

Even though the main ingredient is lemon in this beverage, you're still probably drinking mostly sugar water. Also, consider a powdered lemonade drink mix: The first two ingredients are sugar and fructose (also sugar) plus artificial colors. Some lemonade brands use high fructose corn syrup. Making it at home might be the best way to cut down on sugar.

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Smoothies

You really can have too much of a good thing when it comes to fruit-packed smoothies. "Fruit is healthy, but too much fruit adds up in calories and sugar, leading to blood sugar spikes and crashes," Schapiro said. One popular green bottled smoothie may advertise "no sugar added" but all of the juice and fruit purees add up to 53 grams of sugar per bottle.

Schapiro preferred that you eat your fruit whole, but a smoothie can pack a lot of nutrition in a handy container you can run out the door with on busy mornings. Rather than buying a bottle at the store or going to a smoothie place, make it at home where you can control the ingredients.

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