What to Know About Liquid Sugar (Sugary Drinks)

Medically Reviewed by Christine Mikstas, RD, LD on February 25, 2024
3 min read

Sugary beverages like soft drinks carry many risks for obesity, diabetes, and metabolic syndromes. Below, you'll find out more about liquid sugar's impact on your health and how you can cut back on sugary drinks. 

Liquid sugar is found in sugar-sweetened beverages, including: 

  • Soda and cola 
  • Tonic
  • Fruit punch 
  • Lemonade
  • Sweetened powdered drinks 
  • Sports and energy drinks

Sugar-sweetened beverages can be sweetened by any of the following forms of added sugars: 

  • Corn syrup
  • Dextrose
  • Fructose
  • Lactose
  • Glucose 
  • Sucrose 
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Honey
  • Molasses 
  • Brown sugar 
  • Raw sugar

If you're regularly drinking sugary drinks, you're likely consuming way too much sugar. On average, Americans consume 22 teaspoons of added sugar daily. That equals an extra 350 calories from liquid sugar. 

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends only about six teaspoons of sugar each day for most women and nine teaspoons of sugar daily for most men. Added sugars have no nutritional benefit. You can look on the nutrition label for added sugars, but this can be difficult when sugars go by many different names. The law requires the Nutrition Facts Label to list grams of sugar in each product, but sugary drinks can get past this requirement with other added sweeteners. 

Liquid sugars added to drinks carry a significant risk for causing metabolic syndrome, a collection of risk factors that includes high blood pressure and high blood sugars. This may be because of how fructose is metabolized. Studies have shown that fruit juice, for instance, increases your risk for weight gain and insulin resistance compared to natural fruits.

There are other health problems that can be caused by drinking too many sugary drinks: 

Weight gain: By drinking sugar-sweetened beverages, you’re likely to compound the calories in your drink with more calories at a later meal. Sugary drinks don’t give you the same full feeling or satisfaction that a meal of the same calorie amount would give you. Some studies have shown that liquid sugar and even calorie-free sugar substitutes can act as an appetite stimulant.

Type 2 diabetes: If you drink more than one to two cans of sugary drinks a day, you have a 26% higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those who don’t drink sugary drinks. There’s a lot of evidence that shows how sugar-sweetened beverages are linked to developing diabetes. Young adults and Asians are at a higher risk.  

Heart disease. Drinking one can of a sugar-sweetened drink per day increased the risk of a heart attack in men by 20% when compared to the risk for men who rarely drink sugary drinks. People who drink more sugary drinks are also more likely to weigh more and have a less healthy diet. This can increase overall risk of heart disease

Liver disease. Liquid sugar is absorbed into your blood more quickly. This brings your body’s vital organs, like your pancreas and liver, more sugar than they can handle. This overload of sugar can increase your risk for liver disease. Your body’s response to that much sugar is to make more triglycerides, which end up getting stored in your liver or put into your bloodstream and could line your arteries.  

Premature death. One long-term study looked at the effects sugary beverages had on people in the U.S. People who drank more sugary drinks had a higher risk of early death from many causes. Drinking two or more drinks per day with added sugar increases your risk for premature death by 21%.

Giving up sugar-sweetened beverages can be hard to do at first. Start transitioning to healthy alternatives slowly. It would be best if you didn't try to give up sugary drinks all at once. Some alternatives include: 

  • Water with lemon, lime, cucumber, or watermelon slices 
  • Sparkling water or another low-calorie beverage
  • Unsweetened ice tea with decaf or herbal tea bags 
  • Low-calorie hot chocolate and low-fat milk as a treat

Find ways to make these alternatives work for you. You may not like the taste of plain water or seltzer, so try to compromise and find healthy drinks you do enjoy. 

 Giving up sugary drinks can help you reduce your risk for chronic diseases and other illnesses.