The “Sweet” Truth About Foods With Added Sugar


Most Americans eat and drink too many calories from foods with added sugar. “Added sugars” are sugars or syrups that companies add to foods and beverages to make them sweeter. They are not the sugars naturally found in some foods, such as fruit or milk. Added sugars give you a lot of calories with almost no nutrients.

If you have diabetes, your healthcare provider may have already suggested that you avoid drinks with added sugars. Sugar is a carbohydrate, and if you have diabetes, you need to check how much added sugar you are getting from each food and drinks. This will help keep your blood glucose where you want it.

The most common drink sources of added sugars for Americans are:

  • Fruit drinks, fruit punch, and fruit-juice blends
  • Soft drinks, energy drinks, and sports drinks

Do you really know how much added sugar is in the beverages you drink? If you are like most Americans, you may not realize how much sugar and what types of sugar you are drinking. More than 3,000 adults were asked to answer a few questions in an online survey about their drinking habits. People were asked questions about what they drink, how much they drink, and what they know about the ingredients in different drinks.

What do you like to drink?

According to the online poll, water was the most popular drink. After water, the following drinks were reported from most popular to least popular:

  • “Other beverages” like coffee or tea
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages like sodas, sports drinks, and energy drinks (added sugars)
  • Milk (natural sugars)
  • Diet Drinks (no sugars)
  • 100% fruit juice (natural sugars)
  • Fruit blends like fruit drinks, fruit cocktails, and fruit punch (added sugars)

“Sweet” versus “Sugary”

In the online survey, many people were quizzed about what a “sugary” drink is. Researchers wanted to find out if people knew how to tell if a drink was sugary or not. They found that many people thought “sweet” drinks were always “sugary” drinks. This is not always true.

  • Diet Drinks: Researchers found that almost half of the people thought diet drinks were “sugary” drinks. A diet drink is sweet but it does not have added sugar. They are sugar-free!
  • 100% fruit juice: A little less than half of the study members said 100% fruit juices are “sugary.” Although 100% fruit juices have sugar, it is not added sugar. 100% fruit juice has natural sugars from fruit. It also comes with important nutrients like vitamin C. Added sugars do not naturally come with vitamins and minerals. So juice is a healthy choice if you drink the right portion size and count it into your meal plan. Double check the label to make sure it says 100% juice with no sugar added.
  • Milk: More than a third of study members though milk was sugar-free because it is not sweet. This is not true. Milk contains a natural sugar called “lactose.” Unlike added sugars, however, milk contains many vitamins and minerals important for your health, such as calcium and vitamin D. This is also a healthy choice if you drink the right portion size. Choose low fat or non-fat milk, and make sure to count the carbohydrates in your meal plan.

How to Spot Sugar

Just a single serving of fruit drinks, regular soft drinks, or energy drinks can raise your blood glucose and give you too many calories. How can you make sure you are not drinking something with added sugars?

There are many different names for sugar. Look on the drink label to find any of the following clues that there are added sugars:

  • Sucrose, dextrose, fructose, maltose
  • Corn syrup, corn syrup solids
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, molasses, raw sugar, pancake syrup, nectars

How to Stop Drinking Too Much Sugar

There are many easy ways to cut back on added sugars while still enjoying a tasty and refreshing drink. Choose low-calorie or zero-calorie drinks, such as:

  • Water: If you find yourself bored with water after a while, flavor it with a splash of lemon or lime juice, or add some frozen berries to keep it naturally sweet.
  • Unsweetened tea (hot or iced)
  • Diet soft drinks: These drinks are usually sweetened with artificial sweeteners, not added sugars. This will take out most or all of the calories and carbohydrates in the drink.
  • Coffee: If you want the taste of cream and sugar, try sugar-free syrup and non-fat or low-fat milk.
  • Low-calorie drinks or drink mixes: These low-calorie choices can give you the same fruity sweetness of regular lemonade or fruit punch with much less sugar and fewer calories.


Reviewed by Robert Ehrman, MD & Fran Daniel, MPH

  • Register For This Twitter Chat Series

    When you register, we will send you timely reminders about upcoming Twitter chats via email.

    Simply enter your email address below and click on the "Register Me" button.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Constance Brown-Riggs, MSEd, RD, CDE, CDN—an award-winning RD, certified diabetes educator, and past national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, is the author of The African American Guide to Living Well With Diabetes, which received the Favorably Reviewed designation from the American Association of Diabetes Educators, and Eating Soulfully and Healthfully with Diabetes.

Dr. Lori Shemek, PhD, CNC, CLC, the best-selling author of “Fire-Up Your Fat Burn! and leading health and weight loss expert, is also known as “The Inflammation Terminator.” She has made it her mission to educate the public on the toxic effects of certain foods and lifestyle choices and how they create inflammation in the body. She is a leading authority on inflammation and its role in weight loss, preventing disease and optimizing health.

Rebecca Bitzer – MS, RD/LD, CEDRD is an award-winning Registered Dietitian, writer, speaker, blogger, and REBEL Dietitian business owner. Rebecca and her team of six Registered Dietitians have counseled thousands of clients struggling with diabetes for over twenty-five years. They work closely with each other along with internists, endocrinologists, therapists, and families.

Maureen Sullivan – RN, CDE has worked for many years as a Registered Nurse, most of them in emergency and trauma services. She is a Certified Emergency Nurse, Certified Diabetes Educator, and the former manager of a hospital stroke program. Maureen’s wealth of knowledge, passion for nursing and education, and ability to engage people makes her an excellent teacher and a captivating lecturer. Recently, Maureen has been concentrating on writing, speaking and teaching, as well as working on her award-winning weekly podcast, “The Health and Humor Show.”

Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN is a nutrition communications specialist, registered dietitian in private practice, social media consultant, speaker, spokesperson and corporate consultant. She is currently the owner of Nutrition Starring YOU, LLC and Lauren strongly believes that we should “Think Healthy, not Skinny”, and “EveryBODY is unique, your diet should be too”. Lauren was co-host of the Family Food Experts Kitchen radio show, available for listening on iHeart Radio and iTunes. Also known as one of the “NutritionBabes”, Lauren co-founded, a popular Health and Wellness website in 2009. was voted one of Healthline’s Top 100 Health Blogs in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

Mark Heyman, PhD, CDE is a clinical health psychologist and the director of the Center for Diabetes and Mental Health (CDMH). In addition to treating patients with type 1 and type 2 diabetes, Dr. Heyman provides training for health care providers on how to identify and address the emotional and behavioral aspects of diabetes in their patients. He also works with pharmaceutical and medical device companies to help them understand these issues and incorporate this information into their sales, marketing, and patient education materials. He is particularly interested in empirically supported behavioral interventions that promote behavior change and improve physical and mental health in people with diabetes.

Katie Ferraro, MPH, RD, CDE is a nationally-recognized registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and author with an expertise in nutrition communications and curriculum development. She is the co-author of “Diet Therapy in Advanced Practice Nursing” (McGraw Hill, 2014) and an Assistant Clinical Professor of Nutrition at the University of California San Francisco and University of San Diego’s graduate schools of nursing.

Dr. Beverly S. Adler, PhD, CDE (aka “Dr. Bev”) is a clinical psychologist and certified diabetes educator, author and speaker. She specializes treating the emotional issues of people with diabetes. In her private practice, she provides individual, family and/or group therapy utilizing a cognitive behavior therapy orientation, combined with a spiritual approach. Her goal is to empower her patients to manage their diabetes.

Dr. Bev is the author of two self-help diabetes books. She has written numerous articles which are published in print and online – always focused on diabetes from the emotional perspective. She also speaks to audiences of people living with diabetes, as well as, to audiences of healthcare professionals and diabetes educators. Dr. Bev, herself, has been living successfully with type 1 diabetes for 40+ years.

In August 2016, Dr. Bev was honored to receive the “CDE Entrepreneur of the Year” Award from her Metropolitan NY Association of Diabetes Educators.

Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE, FAND is an internationally recognized nutrition and diabetes expert with more than two decades experience. Through writing, speaking and one-on-one coaching, Jill empowers people to grab control of their health. She has worked as both a nutrition counselor and a diabetes educator in the hospital and research settings, and now in private practice in Newport News, VA. Jill is known for her practical approach and caring attitude. Her no-nonsense strategies to eating well include foods that both taste good and are good for you.

Marlene Koch (pronounced ‘cook’) is a nationally recognized nutritionist, popular TV personality and New York Times bestselling author. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from UCLA with a Bachelor’s degree in Nutritional Science. She is a registered dietitian and one of a select group of dietitians to hold an advanced certificate in Child and Adolescent Weight Management from the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics.

Marlene has taught professional chefs from the American Culinary Federation the principles of healthy cooking and eating. She has been adjunct Nutrition professor and cooking instructor for Columbus State College and the Columbus State Culinary Academy, and she is a nationally recognized expert in weight loss, diabetes, child and adolescent nutrition, and sugar substitutes.

Marlene has sold over one million cookbooks, and is a regular guest on QVC.

Barbara Ruhs – MS, RDN is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and owner of Neighborhood Nutrition LLC, a consulting firm focused on providing solutions to help food companies and supermarkets improve consumer health & wellness. She’s a former supermarket dietitian and has run a successful business for 17 years. A leader in the field of nutrition, her mission is to help people by impacting the way food is produced, marketed and sold. She’s a strong advocate for supermarket dietitians and believes the retail food industry has the greatest potential to impact public health.

Cheryl Orlansky has over 25 years of experience in health promotion and chronic disease prevention and management. Her first career as a registered dental hygienist led her towards a path of wellness and nutrition! Her expertise is in diabetes, weight management and cardiovascular disease for individuals and groups. She works in a large private practice including endocrinology, internal medicine, rheumatology, neurology and sleep medicine. She is an award winning dietitian with current leadership positions in state and local dietetics organizations.

She has been interviewed and quoted in media outlets for WebMD, Atlanta Sports and Fitness, Georgia Public Broadcasting, and the Atlanta Journal and Constitution. She has partnered with V-103 Radio to lead supermarket tours as part of a community outreach during National Nutrition Month.

Cheryl helps her clients reach balance through lifestyle choices: cooking and eating, activity and purpose in life.

Jackie Newgent, RDN, CDN, is a registered dietitian nutritionist and classically-trained chef. With a passion for helping people (including her father) with diabetes, she’s author of The With or Without Meat Cookbook: The Flexible Approach to Flavorful Diabetes Cooking and the award-winning The All‐Natural Diabetes Cookbook, both published by the American Diabetes Association. Jackie is also author of 1,000 Low-Calorie Recipes and Big Green Cookbook. Her next book, The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbook—2nd Edition, was published in 2015.

Nutritionist Rania Batayneh, MPH is the author of the best-selling book, The One One One Diet. She holds a master’s degree in public health nutrition from the University of Michigan School of Public Health and is also a Wellcoaches Certified Health and Wellness Coach endorsed by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).

OmnichannelHealth Media, publisher of, does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. See additional information.