Swapping Just One Sugary Drink for Water Has Huge Health Benefits, Says Study

September 13, 2016 Updated: December 1, 2016

Many factors contribute to obesity and chronic disease, but a significant body of evidence points to our love of sugar as a cause for our declining health and expanding waistlines.

Much of our daily sugar intake comes from sweetened drinks, including soda, energy and sports drinks, fruit juice cocktails, chocolate milk, and sweet coffee beverages like caramel macchiatos or the latest seasonal latte.

A new study published in the journal Nutrients puts the health impact of sugary drinks into perspective. Researchers found that replacing just one 8-ounce, sugar-sweetened beverage with an equal serving of water could significantly lower the prevalence of obesity and risk of disease.

Nutrition researchers at Virginia Tech and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill looked at data from national health surveys. Whether subjects drank a little soda or a lot, all of them benefited from the single water swap.

The study found that adults who averaged one sugar-sweetened beverage per day lowered their energy intake from beverages by six percentfrom 17 percent down to 11 percentwhen they switched to water.   

Six percent may not sound like much, but the latest guidelines from the World Health Organization (WHO) advise that only 10 percent of daily caloric intake should come from added sugars. Strong evidence shows that restricting sugar consumption below this 10 percent threshold significantly reduces the risk of obesity and tooth decay. Cutting down even further to five percent a day has shown even more health benefits.

It’s hard to get away from added sugar (usually in the form of cane sugar or high fructose corn syrup). It’s a cheap, sweet preservative that food manufacturers put in seemingly everything. But drinking sugar can lead to more damage.

Sugary drinks feed a craving for additional calories, making it a major player in obesity.

Solid food eventually fills you up, but sweet liquid always leaves the body wanting more. The concentrated sweetness spikes blood sugar levels, leading to an inevitable crash, and the need to consume more calories (often in the form of more sugar) to stabilize the system.

This cycle takes a toll. A 2015 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology by researchers from Harvard Medical School found that consuming one to two sugary drinks a day raises the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by 26 percent, stroke by 16 percent, and heart attack and fatal heart disease by 35 percent.

Next time you reach for your favorite sweet drink, take a quick look at the sugar content, and see how quickly your daily intake can add up. The American Heart Association recommends limiting total added sugar intake to no more than 100 calories (about six teaspoons) per day for women, and no more than 150 calories (about nine teaspoons) per day for men. With just one 12-ounce can of Coke (which contains nearly 10 teaspoons of sugar, or 39 grams), you can spend your entire sugar allowance.

Sugar Content in Popular Drinks

Nutrition labels measure sugar in grams, but we’re more likely to visualize the amount in teaspoons. For sugar, convert grams to teaspoons by dividing by four. While some of the drinks presented here are listed in 8-ounce servings, consider that people often drink much larger sizes.

Red Bull Energy Drink
8.4 oz. can
27 grams (6.75 teaspoons) of sugar 

Minute Maid Lemonade
12 oz. can 
40 grams (10 teaspoons) of sugar 

20 oz. bottle
32 grams (8 teaspoons) of sugar

12 oz. bottle
21 grams (5.25 teaspoons) of sugar

Starbucks Caramel Macchiato Short
8 oz. cup (‘Short’ size)
15 grams (3.75 teaspoons) of sugar 

Starbucks Doubleshot Energy Vanilla
15 oz. can
25 grams (6.25 teaspoons) of sugar

AriZona Lemon Tea
8 oz. can 
24 grams (6 teaspoons) of sugar

Nesquik Fat-Free Chocolate Milk
14 oz. bottle
22 grams (5.5 teaspoons) of sugar

Hi-Ball Energy Coffee
8 oz.
25 grams (6.25 teaspoons) of sugar

8 oz. can
26 grams (6.5 teaspoons) of sugar

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