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Jun 18, 2019

It's Wise to Limit Sugary Drinks, Including Fruit Juices

Study of 13,000 U.S. adults links consumption of sugary drinks, including 100% fruit juices, to increased risk of death.

Even 100 percent fruit juices can contribute to increased health risks, based on a recent study of sugar-sweetened beverages and mortality risk. Findings were published in JAMA: Open Network and support limiting consumption of all sugary drinks—including fruit juices—to promote good health.

Known as the REGARDS study (Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke) study, this study tracked the diets and health outcomes of more than 13,000 adults in the southeastern United States. Between 2003 and 2007, participants completed questionnaires about their diets—including consumption of sugary beverages—and were followed for an average of six years.

The goal of the recent analysis was to take a deeper look into the role of fruit juices when it comes to mortality risk.

Many studies have linked added sugars to increased risk for obesity, diabetes, heart disease and even death. However, the role of fruit juices—which contain natural sugars and healthy nutrients—is less clear.

A total of 13,440 participants were included in the recent study, all of who completed detailed questionnaires about their beverage consumption. Participants were 64 years old on average and two-thirds were white.

On average, sugary drinks made up just over 8 percent of participants’ daily caloric intake—exceeding the 5 percent total caloric limit for sugar consumption a day. Fruit juices accounted for about half of all sugary beverages, while the other half included sodas, soft drinks and other fruit-flavored drinks.

By the end of the study in 2018, there were a total of 1,000 deaths from all causes and 168 heart-related deaths. Analysis showed that adults consuming high levels of sugary drinks (greater than 10 percent of total daily calorie intake) had 14 percent greater risk of death from all causes and 44 percent greater risk of heart-related death than adults who got less than 5% of their daily calories from sugary beverages.

These associations were not considered statistically significant, largely due to sample

size. However, additional analysis showed that each additional 12 ounce serving of sugar drinks was associated with 11 percent greater risk of death, and each 12 ounce serving of fruit juice was associated with a 24 percent increase in mortality risk. These associations were considered statistically significant.

According to authors, larger more well-powered studies are needed to confirm these associations. However, there is a wealth of evidence linking sugary drinks to poorer health outcomes, and experts stand by recommendations to limit consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, including fruit juices.

As mentioned earlier, organizations like the World Health Organization and American Heart Association recommend that sugar make up no more than 5% of our total daily calories. When it comes to fruit juice, guidelines also recommend limiting consumption to six ounces a day for children under the age of six and eight ounces a day for older children and adults.

That’s because even though fruit juice is natural, sugar and water are the main ingredients contained in juices. Natural or not, the body processes sugars in much the same way, with too much sugar impacting both weight and overall health.

For this reason, experts recommend stronger policies to reduce consumption of sugary beverages, including fruit juice. They also note the importance of limiting sugar intake in individuals struggling with their weight, as we know that too much sugar increases risk for overweight and obesity.

Questions for You to Consider

  • How can I cut out excess sugar in my diet?

  • Many studies (including earlier NHANES reports) show that sugary soft drinks contribute more calories to the U.S. diet than any other single food or beverage. One 12-oz can of soda contains about 40 to 50 grams of sugar, depending on the type of soda. That’s equivalent to 10 to 12 teaspoons of sugar. Guzzle a 32-oz jumbo drink from a fast-food restaurant or convenience store, and you’ll take in 23 teaspoons of sugar. But sodas aren’t the only problem. Lots of hidden sugars find their way into processed foods in the form of high-fructose corn syrup and other sweeteners.

  • What should I look for on food labels if I want to cut back on the sugar I eat in processed foods?

  • The first place to look is the Nutrition Facts box under carbohydrates, where you’ll find the grams of sugar in each serving. However, this sugar can be combination of added sweeteners and natural sugars in the food itself, such as fructose in fruit and lactose in milk. To get a better idea how much added sugar is in the product, examine the ingredient list. The more sugar there is in the food, the higher it will be on the list. Look for high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, agave nectar, and almost any word ending in “ose,” including sucrose, glucose, dextrose and maltose. Cane sugar, beet sugar, molasses and honey are also forms of added sugar.

Featured Video

The average American today consumes three pounds of sugar a week. In the 1800s, the average American consumed two pounds of sugar a year!


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