is unhealthy when consumed in excess.
However, liquid sugar may be especially harmful.
Research shows that getting sugar in liquid form is much worse
than getting it from solid food.
This is why high-sugar beverages
like soda are among the worst things you can put into your
What Is “Liquid Sugar”?
Liquid sugar is the sugar you consume in liquid form, such as
from beverages like sugar-sweetened soda.
The sugar in beverages is often highly concentrated and easy to
consume in large amounts without feeling full.
Some examples of these drinks are fairly obvious, such as sodas
and fruit punch. However, many other beverages are high in
sugar as well.
For instance, although fruit juice is typically considered a
healthier option, even varieties without
added sugar can be as high in sugar and calories as
sweetened drinks — sometimes even higher.
What’s more, a high intake of fruit juice may lead to the same
health problems as drinking sugar-sweetened beverages (1).
Here are the calories and sugars in 12 ounces (355 ml) of some
popular high-sugar beverages:
Soda: 151 calories and 39 grams of sugar
Sweetened iced tea: 143 calories and 34
grams of sugar (3).
Unsweetened orange juice: 175 calories and
32 grams of sugar (4).
Unsweetened grape juice: 226 calories and 54
grams of sugar (5).
Fruit punch: 175 calories and 42 grams of
Lemonade: 148 calories and 37 grams of sugar
Sports beverage: 118 calories and 23 grams
of sugar (8).
Bottom Line: Sweet beverages, including
unsweetened fruit juice, are high in sugar calories.
Frequently consuming liquid sugar calories may increase your
risk of health problems.
Liquid Sugar Has Different Effects Than Sugar From Solid Food
A major problem with liquid sugar calories is that your brain
doesn’t register them in the same way as the calories from
In one study, people who ate 450 calories in the form of jelly
beans ended up eating less later.
Solid and liquid forms of fruit affect hunger levels
differently as well.
People in a different study consumed a whole apple, applesauce
or apple juice on six different days. Whether consumed as a
meal or snack, apple juice was shown to be the least filling,
while whole fruit satisfied appetite the most (10).
Bottom Line: Research shows that your body
doesn’t register liquid sugar calories in the same way as
sugar consumed in solid form. This can cause greater appetite
and calorie intake later on.
Drinking Sugary Drinks Increases Calorie Intake and Leads to
Frequently consuming most types of sugar may promote excessive
calorie intake and weight gain.
This may be because they contain a high amount of fructose,
which is harmful
when consumed in large amounts.
For example, table sugar contains 50% glucose and 50% fructose,
while high fructose corn syrup contains about 45% glucose and
Research shows that both affect appetite and calorie intake the
same way (11).
What’s more, several studies link excess fructose to weight
gain. A high intake seems to promote the storage of fat in the
belly and around organs in the abdominal cavity, which
increases disease risk (13, 14, 15, 16).
Sodas and other sweet drinks make it easy to consume large
doses of sugar and fructose in a very short period of time. As
stated above, these calories aren’t adequately compensated for
later in the day.
However, even when calorie intake is controlled, a high intake
of liquid sugars may lead to an increase in body fat.
In a 10-week study, overweight and obese people consumed 25% of
calories as fructose-sweetened beverages at a calorie level
that should have maintained their weight. Instead, insulin
sensitivity decreased and belly fat increased (15).
In addition, a separate analysis found that fat burning and
metabolic rate decreased in those who followed this
fructose-rich diet for 10 weeks (16).
Bottom Line: Several studies have linked
liquid sugar calories to weight gain, which may be due to the
effects of sugar and fructose on appetite and fat storage.
Liquid Sugar Raises Blood Sugar and Insulin Levels, While
Harming Your Metabolic Health
In addition to promoting weight gain, liquid sugar calories can
lead to elevated blood sugar levels and
Sugary beverages seem to further increase this risk by
delivering a large amount of fructose in a short amount of
In a detailed analysis of 11 studies including over 300,000
people, those consuming 1–2 sugar-sweetened beverages per day
were 26% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those who
drank one or fewer sweetened beverages per month (19).
In addition to insulin resistance and diabetes, frequent sugary
beverage consumption has been linked to non-alcoholic fatty
liver disease (NAFLD).
When you consume more fructose than your liver can store as
glycogen, the extra fructose is converted into fat. Part of
this fat can get stored in the liver, which may drive
inflammation, insulin resistance and fatty liver disease
Bottom Line: Consuming liquid sugar calories
can lead to insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, type 2
diabetes and fatty liver disease.
Liquid Sugar Raises Your Risk of Heart Disease
Liquid sugars also have negative effects on heart health.
What’s more, this doesn’t occur exclusively in people who are
insulin resistant, obese or have diabetes.
Another study in healthy adults found that even
small-to-moderate doses of sugar-sweetened beverages led to
unhealthy changes in LDL particle size and an increase in the
inflammatory marker CRP (26).
However, liquid sugars may be particularly harmful to people
who are already insulin resistant or overweight.
In the 10-week study that provided 25% of calories as
high-fructose beverages, overweight and obese people
experienced increases in small, dense LDL particles and
oxidized cholesterol. These are considered major heart disease
risk factors (15).
Bottom Line: Consuming liquid sugar calories
may lead to inflammation, high blood triglycerides and
changes in LDL particles that increase heart disease risk.
How Much Is Too Much?
The more sugar-sweetened beverages you consume, the more
problems you’re likely to cause.
In a study that provided between 0–25% of calories from
sugar-sweetened beverages, those in the 25% group had a greater
increase in disease risk factors than the 10% group (25).
Only the 0% group experienced no adverse effects (25).
Another study found that consuming 6.5% of calories as
sugar-sweetened beverages for 3 weeks negatively affected
health markers and body composition in healthy men (26).
On a 2,200-calorie diet, this would be about 143 calories,
or one soda per day.
The amount of liquid sugar that can be consumed without causing
health problems varies from person to person. However, limiting
fruit juice to 2 ounces (59 ml) per day and completely avoiding
other beverages with added sugars is your best bet.
Bottom Line: A high intake of liquid sugar
is bad for your health. Limit your fruit juice consumption to
2 ounces (59 ml) per day and avoid beverages with added
What to Drink Instead
Plain water is the healthiest beverage you can drink. However,
water with beverages that provide a little flavor is more
realistic for many people.
Here are a few healthy alternatives to sugar-sweetened
beverages and fruit juice:
- Plain or
sparkling water with a slice of lemon or lime.
- Iced black or green tea with lemon.
- Iced herbal tea.
- Hot or iced coffee with milk or cream.
Most of these beverages are delicious without any added
However, if you’re transitioning from sugar-sweetened
beverages, you may find it helpful to use one of these
Overall, there are many healthy and delicious alternatives to