This is how much sugar is actually in a can of coke

how much sugar in a can of coke
How much sugar is actually in a can of coke?NurPhoto

It’s no secret that fizzy drinks – Coke, Lemonade, Fanta – aren’t exactly a health food. Yet, they’re something plenty of us drink on a regular basis, whether it’s as an afternoon pick-me-up or a weekend treat.

One of the main reasons experts advise against drinking fizzy drinks such as Coca-Cola, is because they’re very high in sugar. ‘Added sugar – the sugar that’s been added to food and drinks and isn’t naturally occurring – is something that we all want to limit,’ advises Sophie Medlin, registered dietitian and director of City Dietitians.

Certain foods, such as fruit and honey, contain naturally occurring sugars. Whereas processed foods, like biscuits, chocolate and, of course, coke, are made with added sugar.

‘Coke and other fizzy drinks are also considered ultra-processed foods which again, have lots of negative health associations,’ Medlin continues to explain. Ultra-processed foods usually contain high levels of saturated fat, salt and sugar, all of which can have a negative impact on our health when consumed in large amounts, potentially leading to issues like weight gain and heart disease.

So, how much sugar is in a can of Coke?

Compared to other processed foods and fizzy drinks, coke does contain a high amount of sugar. To be exact, there are 35 grams of sugar in a standard 330ml can of Coke. To put that into perspective, that’s around 9 teaspoons of sugar.

The NHS recommends that adults have no more than 30 grams of ‘free sugar’ – the name for sugars that are added to food and drinks – so just one can of Coke already exceeds this.

There’s only slightly more sugar in a can of Coke than other fizzy drinks. A 330ml can of Sprite, for example, contains 33.3 grams of sugar and the same size can of Fanta contains 15 grams of sugar.

What are the risks of consuming too much sugar?

According to the NHS, eating too much sugar can lead to weight gain and it can also cause tooth decay. Free sugars are the type of sugars most adults in the UK are consuming too much of. ‘In research, too much-added sugar is associated with lots of negative outcomes including things like cancer and autoimmune diseases,’ Medlin says.

In fact, consuming a large amount of added sugar was associated with significantly higher risks of 45 negative health outcomes, according to a recently published review in The BMJ looking at over 8,000 studies. This includes diabetes, gout, obesity, high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, cancer, asthma, tooth decay, depression and early death.

‘Anyone who has existing dental problems needs to be careful with their sugar intake,’ Medlin explains. ‘Plus, Anyone who has a family history of diabetes or has diabetes themselves should be cautious too, as well as women who have PCOS, who need to be careful with their refined sugar intake which can worsen symptoms.’

What kind of interventions can help?

Following a report from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition in 2015, which recommended a target of 5 per cent dietary energy from free sugars, the UK government challenged the food industry to reduce the sugar content of foods by 20 per cent by 2020.

You may well remember that in March 2016, the government then introduced a ‘Sugar Tax’ – whereby products that contained more than 5–8g of sugar per 100ml (such as Coke) were taxed at 18 pence per litre.

Did the sugar tax work, then? We hear you ask. Well, sort of. 70 per cent of Britain’s soft drinks now contain artificial sweeteners instead of added sugar (to help reduce total calories and sugar intake). But are artificial sweeteners really the answer?

Is switching to diet drinks better?

Whether or not diet versions are better than full-fat and sugar versions of drinks is a big debate in the world of nutrition. Although drinks such as Diet Coke contain no sugar and no calories, they are made with artificial sweeteners and studies have shown that they can come with other health risks.

For example, diet sodas have been linked to an increased risk of obesity and metabolic syndrome. Overall, the research on how diet versions of drinks like Coke affect our health isn’t as simple as swapping your can of Coke out for the diet alternative, explains Medlin. ‘There's no absolute right answer. My interpretation of the research is you’re better having a little bit of natural sugar, rather than lots of artificial sweeteners, but that’s not necessarily the answer you’d get from everybody.’

In fact, some nutritionists have suggested that for sweet-toothed individuals, artificially sweetened drinks can actually help to manage cravings without the extra calories of sugar.

How to cut down on fizzy drinks like Coke

Clearly, drinking fizzy drinks like Coke regularly isn’t particularly healthy and it’s a good idea to try and cut down on them if you can. ‘If you’re someone who’s currently consuming fizzy drinks every day, it’s unrealistic to tell you to stop having them altogether. In that scenario, I usually recommend trying to cut them down by having one of your normal drinks and then a different drink,’ Medlin says. ‘Try and alternate with a healthier choice, and then gradually reduce your intake.’

Just like with most processed foods, if you don’t drink Coke on a regular basis the negative health outcomes will be reduced. Plus, it’s important to try and have a healthy approach to what we put in our bodies, rather than villainising any food or drink items. ‘If you're someone who has fizzy occasionally, I think that’s fine,’ Medlin says. ‘If you're consuming them regularly as part of your kind of day-to-day hydration, that’s where we really want to be thinking about cutting things down.’

The bottom line: Though the occasional can of Coke is obviously not a concern, focusing on natural sugars from fruits and dairy – while reducing our ‘added sugar’ intake from ultra-processed foods like fizzy drinks – is an essential part of improving both our physical and mental health.

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