Many Americans don't know how much and what kinds of sugar
are in their beverages, according to a new study. But people who are concerned
about sugar tend to be better at avoiding it, researchers found.
The confusion is understandable. Regular soft drinks and
many fruit juice beverages and sports drinks are sweetened with added sugars
such as sucrose or high fructose corn syrup, while 100% fruit juices
only contain natural sugars. Milk has natural sugar too, even though it isn't
Diet soft drinks may taste sweet, but they don't contain any
sugar. "Some dietary recommendations call out 'sugary' beverages,"
lead researcher Gail Rampersaud told Reuters Health in an e-mail.
"We wanted to see how consumers were interpreting that
term and whether they had a good understanding of the types of sugars or other
sweeteners in commonly consumed beverages." Rampersaud studies nutrition
and education at the University of Florida in Gainesville's Institute of Food
and Agricultural Sciences.
Types and amounts of sugar
She said the new study was originally designed to see how
consumers interpret drink labels. Rampersaud and her colleagues surveyed 3 361
US adults through an online questionnaire.
They asked participants about their diets including
non-alcoholic beverage consumption and quizzed them on types and amounts of
sugar found in various beverages. They also asked about use of food labels and
general nutrition and health knowledge.
People in the study reported drinking the most water, more
than four cups every day, on average. They drank about two and a half cups per
day of "other beverages" such as coffee and tea.
Further down the list were sugar-sweetened beverages, milk,
diet drinks and 100% fruit juice and blends. Most people 96% identified regular
soft drinks as sugary. But only three quarters of them knew soft drinks contain
added sugar, according to findings published in Nutrition Research.
Over half of participants referred to fruit drinks, fruit
cocktails and sports drinks as sugary. About 60% correctly reported that fruit
drinks and sports drinks contain added sugar, and half knew cranberry juice
cocktail contains added sugar.
It's possible many people use the word "sugary" to
mean sweet, regardless of the type of sweetener used. 45% of people identified
diet soft drinks as sugary and only one quarter were sure diet drinks are
Another 40% called 100% fruit juices sugary. Those juices
only contain natural sugars and not added sugars. More than one third of
participants incorrectly thought milk contains no sugar. Less than one quarter
correctly indicated that milk has natural sugar called lactose.
About half of people were concerned about the total amount
of sugar in their drinks. Just under 40% were worried about only the added
sugars, and most of them made beverage choices based on those concerns.
Not all sweet beverages should be avoided, Rampersaud said.
Fruit juices, for instance, contain vitamins. "If dietary recommendations
recommend to replace sugary beverages in the diet (with the intent of replacing
added-sugar beverages), our results suggest that nutrient-dense beverages
containing only natural sugars, such as 100% orange juice, could also be
eliminated from the diet," Rampersaud said.
"This means that consumers could miss out on the
nutrition and health benefits that some beverages offer," she said.
They may also keep drinking other beverages that contain
added sugars they don't know about.
Rampersaud believes including added sugars on the Nutrition
Facts panels would be helpful. But because that would require more regulations,
consumers need to know what to look for on labels and in ingredient lists so
they can make the best choices.
"We need more research to identify education efforts
that would be successful in enhancing consumer knowledge about sugars with the
overall goal of helping consumers make more healthful beverage choices,"