Ode (walla) to sugar: is 52 grams really so much?

Posted on November 18th, 2009 by

(Second in a series)

Our story so far: We were looking at a bottle of juice, remember? The bottle of real, honest-to-goodness, 100% juice, no added sugar. The one with “only” 52 grams of naturally occurring sugar in it. What’s the big deal about 52 grams (a.k.a. 12 teaspoons) of sugar?  That’s a good question. And the truth is, it’s hard to get a straight answer about how much sugar we “should” consume.  But here’s a couple benchmarks:

  • If you’re paying attention to the number of calories you consume, at 4 calories a gram those 52 grams of sugar add up to 208 calories, a tenth of a 2000-calorie diet. That’s an extra 20 to 25 minutes of running!
  • While there’s no US RDA (recommended daily allowance) for total sugar, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies recommends that you limit your consumption of all sugar (not just added sugar) to no more than 25% of your calories. On a 2000 calorie-a-day diet, that’s 500 calories, or 125 grams of sugar. Total. For the day. Your single bottle of juice adds up to forty percent of your daily maximum! Wouldn’t you get more pleasure out of that sugar in the form of a cookie or a muffin? (Three Oreos only contain 14 grams of sugar!)
  • Here’s another interesting way to conceptualize that amount of sugar.

But at least fruit juice is so much better than soda, right? I mean, soda is empty calories, whereas fruit juice is loaded with nutrients! Ummmmm, sort of. In the sugar department, it’s a tossup. Twelve ounce canned sodas have between 39 and 51 grams of sugar in 12 ounces (Welch’s Grape tops the list; Coke is lowest), compared to our 52 in that 16 ounce bottle. The sugar in juice is no more nutritious than the sugar in Coke; it’s just energy (i.e. calories).

True, you can get lots of valuable vitamins in those bottles of fancy juice—but you’d be better off nutritionally (and money ahead) getting an apple and a banana. And a glass of water. Not only would you get those vitamins, but you’d get the fruits’ fiber too.[1]

Here’s a pretty shocking fact: in 1996, Americans consumed about 153 pounds of added sweeteners (including sugar and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)) per person per year! In contrast, in 1913, people consumed about forty pounds per capita.

Those numbers don’t include the sugar that comes in juice–because it’s not added sugar. But back in 1913, a serving of juice would have been both a rarity and a much smaller item—six ounces, as opposed to 16.

Juice and soda are both delicious treats. So are donuts. We should all give ourselves a food treat every once in a while.[2] But you wouldn’t build a pyramid out of donuts, would you? Enjoy treats in moderation, but don’t squander your calories—or your nutrition—on soda or fruit juice.

[1] Hey, did we mention your carbon footprint? You can probably trim at least a shoe size by switching from juice (all that processing, and then that stupid plastic bottle) to whole fruit!

[2] Confession: sometimes when I drive home from Minneapolis late at night, I stop, fill up for gas…and buy a package of Twinkies (28 grams of sugar–and not a natural ingredient in sight!).


One Comment

  1. Shanon says:

    Well said, Lisa. This is precisely why I don’t give my kids juice! Water (the unfancy, unbottled kind) is the drink of choice in our house.