According to a report by the National Soft Drink Association, we guzzle down an average of more than 600 12 oz. drinks per year, more than any other country. This is bad for a lot of reasons, especially considering how many sodas are consumed by children.
To make matters worse, many convenience stores sell soft drinks in ridiculously large sizes. The 7-Eleven chain’s Big Gulp is 32 oz., and if that’s not enough to quench your thirst, the Super Big Gulp is 44 oz! No wonder it’s so easy to consume those 600 drinks per year.
A few years ago, I had a nasty soda habit—two 2-liter bottles of Diet Coke per day. Finally, I got tired of having to tote all those heavy bottles home from the store and kicked the habit. Now I don’t crave soda at all, but that’s not true for many Americans.
Besides the fact that our soda habit is responsible in part for the obesity epidemic in this country, the consumption of soft drinks is also linked to diabetes, tooth decay, osteoporosis and heart disease. The main culprits found in soft drinks are sugar, caffeine and sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup.
While no soft drinks are exactly good for you, some of them are even less healthy than others. Here are some of the worst choices from the soda aisle.
When Jolt Cola was introduced years ago, the advertising said something like “all the sugar, twice the caffeine.” That’s still true, plus this one comes in a 23.5-oz. can, and each of those ounces packs twice the caffeine of Coke Classic. Inside that big can is 280 mg of caffeine and 94 g of sugar, some of it in the form of high fructose corn syrup.
The worst of a bad lot when it comes to caffeine content is Hype Energy Drink. A 16-oz. can contains a whopping 160 mg of caffeine, plus 8.4 g of sugar per ounce—all of it derived from high fructose corn syrup. Drink a couple of these and you won’t sleep for a week.
A runner-up for the title of worst soft drink is Rockstar Punched Guava, which packs 330 mg of caffeine and 102 g of sugar into a 22-oz. bottle. The “Guava” part may sound healthy, but this soda can give you nightmares, if you get to sleep at all.
Back in olden days, soft drinks like Coca Cola and Pepsi were sweetened with real sugar, which is probably why we remember them as tasting better when we were kids. Now, part or all of the sugar content in soft drinks is in the form of high fructose corn syrup, a cheaper alternative sweetener.
Sunkist Orange Soda sounds deceptively fruity and healthy, but in reality, a 20-oz bottle contains 41 mg of caffeine and 52 g of sugar, all of it from high fructose corn syrup. That’s 4.33 g of sugar per ounce—but no real orange juice. The “orange” in the title must refer to the color of this stuff, which comes from artificial colors yellow 6 and red 40. Both of these have been linked to behavioral problems in kids.
Another super-sugary drink is Bawls Geek Beer, which packs 100 mg of caffeine and 72 g of sugar into a 16-oz can. That’s 4.5 g of sugar per ounce.
As if the sodas from traditional soft drink companies aren’t bad enough, there’s a carbonated energy drink called Lucozade from the big pharma brand GlaxoSmithKline. A 13-oz bottle contains 46 mg of caffeine and 68 g of sugar from glucose syrup. That’s 5.26 g of sugar per ounce, one of the highest percentages of any drink. You have to congratulate GlaxoSmithKline for this brilliant idea—market a soft drink that’s almost guaranteed to give people diabetes, then sell them the drugs for that.
Mountain Dew is a clear soft drink that’s advertised as being “refreshing,” but there’s nothing fresh about the ingredients. A 12-oz can contains 54 g of caffeine and 47 g of sugar, all of it from corn syrup. While less toxic than the so-called “energy drinks,” these figures are still higher than those of Coke Classic.
Almost as bad is rival 7Up, with 150 calories and 38 g of sugar in a 12-oz bottle. On the bright side, 7Up has no caffeine.
What could be healthier than something that calls itself “water?” Well, for starters, plain water, because some flavored waters rival soft drinks when it comes to sugar and caffeine. If plain bottled water is too boring for you, squeeze a little real fruit juice in there instead of buying something like Snapple Agave Melon Antioxidant Water. It sounds healthy, until you read the label and find out that a 20-oz bottle contains 150 calories and 33 g of sugar.
Ice tea can be a natural, healthy drink—as long as you make it yourself from real tea bags. Sure, there’s some caffeine, but you can control the sugar content yourself, by not adding any. Just because a bottled drink calls itself “tea” doesn’t mean it’s pure.
A 20-oz bottle of SoBe Green Tea contains 240 calories and 61 g of sugar. I bet when Paula Deen makes sweet tea, it doesn’t have that much sugar. If you really crave tea in a bottle, a slightly better choice is Honest Tea Green Dragon Tea, with 60 calories and 16 g of sugar in a 16-oz bottle.
What about all those healthy-looking bottled teas by Snapple? Most flavored teas from Snapple contain about 31.5 mg of caffeine per 16-oz. bottle. Amounts of sugar vary according to flavor, with Snapple Peach Tea having 160 calories and 39 g of sugar per 16 oz. bottle. Snapple Fruit Punch packs 200 calories and 47 g of sugar. The healthiest of the bunch is probably Snapple Green Tea with 120 calories and just 30 g of sugar.
If you want to start your day with something that has more sugar and fat than a doughnut, slug down all 13.7 oz. of Starbucks Vanilla Frappuccino. You’ll be getting 290 calories and 45 g of sugar, plus 4.5 g of fat, 2.5 g of it saturated. You also get 140 mg of caffeine, which is right up there with the amount in energy drinks.
Do the traditional soft drinks we grew up with fare any better? Not really, since they’re also packed with sugar and caffeine. The diet versions of popular soft drinks have practically no calories but do contain artificial sweeteners.
A 12-oz can of Coca-Cola has 140 calories, 30-35 mg of caffeine and 39 g of sugar. Diet Coke may have fewer calories, but it packs more caffeine, with 38-47 mg in a 12-oz can.
Arch-rival Pepsi has a similar 150 calories per 12-oz can with 32-39 mg of caffeine while Diet Pepsi has no calories but 27-37 mg of caffeine.
The bottom line is that no soda, energy drink, or flavored tea is really good for you, so they should be consumed sparingly.