Whether we call it soda, Coke, pop, cold drink, or juice, it’s all the same thing—a beverage sweetened with large amounts of sugar. We’ve heard that they’re bad for us, but just how bad can they be? Let’s start with a short quiz:


Sugary drinks quiz

1 / 5

True or false: Which contains more calories and sugar: one medium-size fresh orange or 8 ounces of fresh orange juice?

2 / 5

How many calories are in an 8-ounce glass of orange juice?

3 / 5

Which of these drinks contains the most caffeine in an 8-ounce cup?

4 / 5

Approximately how many calories are in that same 20-ounce bottle?

5 / 5

How many grams of sugar are in a 20-ounce bottle of the highest-calorie soft drink on the market?

Your score is

The average score is 35%


An important word from our expert

“Sugary drinks are some of the worst foods for your health,” says Jackie Elnahar, RD, Esq., head of Teladoc Health Dietitian Services. These drinks contain little to no fiber, causing blood sugars to spike, contributing to insulin resistance, obesity, and inflammation throughout the body.

“There really is no benefit to sugary drinks, even ones that market that they are high in vitamin C,” Jackie explains. “You are much better off eating a piece of fruit that has phytonutrients and enzymes that are not affected by the pasteurization [sterilization] process that most processed sugary drinks go through.”

Labels may try to fool you

When looking at the ingredients on a drink label, don’t be surprised if you don’t see the actual word “sugar.” It’s often disguised as these ingredients (carbohydrates), all of which contain 4 calories per gram:

  • Agave nectar
  • Brown sugar
  • Cane sugar
  • Coconut sugar
  • Corn sweetener
  • Dextrose
  • Fruit juice concentrate
  • Fructose
  • Glucose
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Honey
  • Invert sugar
  • Maltose
  • Maple syrup
  • Molasses
  • Powdered sugar
  • Raw sugar
  • Sucrose
  • Table sugar
  • Turbinado

We want to be careful about alcohol sugars too. While they contain about half the carbohydrate as their full-calorie brethren listed above, they can be difficult to digest, causing gastrointestinal distress.

When drinking and eating beverages containing alcohol sugar, “less is more” is a helpful rule of thumb until you know how your body tolerates it. Here are some commonly used forms of alcohol sugar on food labels:

Alcohol sugars
  • Erythritol
  • Hydrogenated starch hydrolysates
  • Isomalt
  • Lactitol
  • Maltitol
  • Mannitol
  • Sorbitol
  • Xylitol

Alternatives to sugary drinks

Now that we’re thinking about kicking those soda cans to the curb, what can we drink instead? Unsweetened teas, and good ol’ fashioned water. Try infusing it with slices of fresh fruits and veggies such as cherries, cucumber, kiwi, pineapple, or your favorite melon.

If you absolutely must enjoy a carbonated soft drink, try one sweetened naturally with products made from the stevia plant or monk fruit. Better yet, make your own healthy carbonated beverage. Try this refreshing recipe:

Blackberry-mint seltzer

Makes four 8-ounce cups

  • 1 liter plain seltzer water
  • 1 cup fresh blackberries
  • 1 tablespoon smashed fresh mint

Combine all ingredients and let the blackberry and mint sit in the seltzer water for 1 hour in refrigerator. Serve chilled.

Nutrition information

Each 8-ounce glass contains fewer than 16 calories and less than 2 grams of sugar, which come naturally from the blackberries. These juicy gems also have a low glycemic index and are a fantastic source of fiber, vitamin C, and manganese.

Making fresh fruit and water a family affair

The next time you’re tempted to supersize a carbonated beverage in the drive-through of your favorite fast-food restaurant, think about the calories and sugar you’re about to jolt into your system. Then bypass the drink altogether and ask for water. You can also keep a small container of low-calorie water flavorer in your car, at your desk, and on the kitchen counter next to the fridge. At home, make a weekly habit of cutting up fresh fruits and veggies, picking leaves from the sprigs of fresh mint and even basil, and storing them in a container on a shelf in the fridge where everyone in the family can see and use it. Make weaning sugary drinks out of your diet a family thing!

Teladoc’s board-certified physicians and registered dietitians believe that this dietary change will greatly benefit your health and immune system. Anytime you have a stomachache, flu, or other non-emergency condition, we’re available 24/7 wherever you are in the U.S. Be sure to keep us conveniently on hand with the app. Drink well, eat well, and live well!

This portion of the Teladoc website occasionally offers health, fitness, and nutritional information and is provided for educational purposes only. You cannot rely on any information provided here as a substitute for or replacement of professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Teladoc cannot assure that the information contained on this site always includes the most recent findings or developments with respect to the particular subject matter covered.

If you ever have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional. Do not disregard, avoid, or delay obtaining medical or health-related advice from your healthcare professional because of something you may have read on this site. The use of any information provided on this site is solely at your own risk.

If you are in the United States and think you are having a medical or health emergency, call your healthcare professional, or 911, immediately.