sugar

12 min read

Rethink Your Drink: 5 Functional Beverages That Are High in Sugar

In the early days of soda, no one paid much attention to the drink’s nutritional value (or lack thereof) listed on the back label. Artificial ingredients and 39 grams of sugar? Sounds good to me! But now people are wondering: why am I settling for carbonated sugar water?

The average consumer today wants more than just a sweet taste when it comes to their beverage of choice. We crave drinks that enhance our daily life or health in some way, or feature natural and science-backed ingredients. In other words, what can this drink do for me?

This paradigm shift shouldn’t come as much of a surprise when you consider the increasing attention given to diet-related health issues like diabetes and heart disease. Not to mention the fact that general health has become top of mind thanks to the spread of a global pandemic!1

And the beverage industry is paying attention. This craving for healthier alternatives has led to the rising popularity of a new category of drinks: functional beverages.

What Are Functional Beverages?

Functional beverages are drinks that promise a delicious flavor and offer potential health benefits. They feature ingredients like antioxidants, probiotics, or vitamins that can help boost your focus, increase your energy, support your gut health (hint OLIPOP!), and so on.1

Functional beverages are a loosely defined and incredibly broad category of drinks. They include everything from energy and sports drinks to kombucha to our very own OLIPOP.

But here’s the problem: just because a beverage promises that it’s healthy, doesn’t always make it so. Sometimes you have to be a bit of a detective to decipher the difference between a healthy functional beverage and a beverage whose main “function” is to load you up with sugar.

Be Mindful of These 5 Functional Beverages

To help you navigate some hidden pitfalls, take a look at these five beverages that fall under the functional beverage category. We recommend taking a hard look at the back label before you enjoy these, and here’s why:

Fruit Juice

In theory, fruit juice should be the healthiest of beverages. After all, what could be healthier than a juice made out of fruit? But occasionally hiding behind this healthy-sounding label is an unhealthy sugar-sweetened beverage.

For one, not all fruit juices are actually made of 100% fruit juice. Fruit juice cocktails and fruit-flavored beverages often contain very little actual fruit. When looking at the back label you might find that, in fact, your “fruit drink” only contains about 5% actual fruit. And the rest is essentially sugar and flavorings.2

Surprisingly, some fruit juices contain as much sugar as a regular can of soda! In other words, it’s the equivalent of fruit-flavored candy in drink form. While the juice might offer some nutrients, this high-sugar content outweighs the benefits.

But what about 100% fruit juice? While those are a better choice than other fruit drinks, certain varieties may also pose health risks. Unsweetened cranberry juice, for example, still has over 30g of sugar. And while unsweetened apple juice has just 5g more sugar than an actual apple, it has less than 1g of fiber. Having said all that, keep in mind that many fruit juices provide antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, which can make them an important part of a healthy diet when enjoyed in moderation.

Sports Drinks

After a high-intensity workout where you lost a ton of sweat, a sports drink could be a great way to restore your glucose, electrolyte, and fluid levels. And some sports drink brands even offer additional vitamins and minerals like B vitamins for an extra health boost.5

However, if you’re not working out or sweating profusely, a sports drink is no different from any other sugar-sweetened beverage. A 12-oz sports drink contains over 20g of sugar.5 While that’s less than a can of soda, that’s still a lot of sugar to be consuming in one sitting.

Yet many people overlook the high sugar content in favor of another ingredient: electrolytes. The beverage industry likes to advertise electrolytes as an essential part of your post-workout recovery. But unless you’re a professional athlete or out running marathons, chances are that you don’t need those electrolytes quite as badly as advertisers would have you believe.

Electrolytes include potassium and sodium. They’re positively or negatively charged substances that help maintain a balance of fluid in and outside your cells.6 They’re definitely important! But most people don’t need the over 150mg of sodium that a sports drink offers. Not to mention all that extra sugar!

The average American is already getting enough sodium from their diet. As for potassium, most sports drinks contain less than 1% of your daily value.

Unless you’re a pro athlete, the best way to stay hydrated is to drink water, not sugary, sweet, high-sodium drinks. And if you’re worried about electrolytes, you’re much better off enjoying high-potassium fruits and vegetables than consuming a sports drink.

Energy Drinks

As the name implies, energy drinks give you a boost in energy. But that energy comes at a cost. Most energy drinks contain anywhere from 54 to 62g of sugar—more than double the sugar you’ll find in a can of traditional soda!7

In addition to sugar, the high levels of caffeine are also a major cause for concern. Energy drinks have anywhere from 70 to 500mg or more of caffeine.8 9 To give you perspective, a cup of coffee has 80 to 100mg, tea has 30-50mg, and our Vintage Cola has 50mg of green tea caffeine.10

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it’s safe for most adults to consume up to 400mg of caffeine per day4. But if you’re throwing back multiple energy drinks a day, or drinking an energy drink that contains nearly 500mg of caffeine, this will put you well above that threshold.8

In other words, consuming an energy drink can introduce a lot of caffeine into your system all at once. The body doesn’t need this much caffeine, so it creates a bit of a system overload. This means you might experience some unwanted side effects such as:2 3

  • Faster breathing or heart rate
  • Restlessness
  • Shakiness
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea or dizziness
  • Dehydration
  • Headaches
  • Upset stomach or heartburn
  • Insomnia or trouble sleeping

Not to mention the health problems that could result from all that added sugar…
And there might be even more caffeine in your can than you realize! Most energy drink manufacturers classify their beverages as supplements, which require zero regulation from the FDA.8 But even energy drinks that do fall under the beverage category still have minimal to no regulation. When there’s no one patrolling the exact levels of caffeine, that often results in more caffeine in your can than what’s indicated on the back label.7 9

Coffee Drinks

But caffeine is not all bad when enjoyed in moderation! The caffeine in your cup of coffee, tea, or OLIPOP Vintage Cola could offer possible health benefits.

For example, research suggests that caffeine could have positive effects on your cognitive functions like thinking, learning, and memory.14 And the high levels of antioxidants and minerals in coffee could help fight inflammation and improve your overall health.11

But there’s a big difference between the cup of black coffee you brew at home and the sugary coffee-flavored beverage you buy at the store or coffee shop. One is coffee and the other is nothing more than a sugar-sweetened beverage with a coffee-like flavor.

Here are some of the startling levels of sugar and calories you’ll find in popular coffee beverages:12

  • Frozen French Vanilla Swirl Coffee Coolatta: 300 calories, 70g sugar
  • Vanilla Chai: 330 calories, 46g sugar
  • Chai Tea Latte: 240 calories 40g sugar
  • White Chocolate Mocha: 270 calories, 45g sugar
  • Frappuccino with whipped cream: 280 calories, 48g sugar
  • Frozen Caramel Latte: 600 calories, 91g sugar
  • Frozen Caramel Macchiato: 420 calories, 71g sugar
  • Mocha Frappé: 460 calories, 62g sugar

Most of these drinks contain very little to no real coffee at all, and their insanely high levels of sugar put you at a greater risk for health concerns like diabetes, heart disease, liver disease, or other metabolic issues.5

If you want to skip all this extra sugar, go for an actual cup of coffee or tea. If it’s a frappuccino or anything flavored, frozen, blended, or covered in a chocolate drizzle or whip cream, it’s probably not a healthy beverage. The same goes for the pre-made coffee drinks you’ll find in the frozen aisle of the store.

Smoothies

There’s a big difference between store-bought smoothies and the smoothies you blend up at home. Like coffee, packaged smoothies can get out of control when it comes to high levels of sugar. Some of the leading brands of pre-made smoothies have anywhere from 200 to 400 calories and 30 to 60g of sugar per serving.13

Like fruit juices, a lot of this sugar comes naturally from the fruit. But store-bought smoothies also add extra sugar and preservatives on top of the naturally occurring sugars you’ll find in your bananas, apples, strawberries, and so on. This added sugar serves to preserve the smoothie flavor so it can last longer on a shelf.

But when you make your smoothie at home, you have control over the ingredients you use and the amount of sugar in your beverage. For example, you can swap in veggies or unsweetened Greek yogurt to help reduce your sugar intake.

However, even homemade smoothies can put you into a sugar overload. And just like with fruit juices, blended fruit tends to lose some of the nutrients and fiber you’d get from eating that fruit whole.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy a homemade smoothie! But be mindful of the ingredients you put in your blender. And make sure you’re also regularly enjoying raw fruits and veggies too.

OLIPOP: The Ultimate Better-For-You Functional Beverage

As you can see, not all functional beverages are healthy. And some are worse or no better than a sugary can of soda! But here at OLIPOP, we’re changing the narrative of what it means to be a “healthy” beverage.

OLIPOP has all the flavor and fizz of a regular can of soda, but unlike your traditional sodas, we feature a research-backed, unique combination of botanicals, probiotics, and prebiotics for optimal gut health and wellness.

We dare you to look at the back label of any of our beverages! You’ll find ingredients like Cassava Root, Calendula Flower, Jerusalem Artichoke, and more, that work hard with every sip to fuel your microbiome and improve your digestive health. Plus, less than 5g of sugar!

Ready to give our functional and low-sugar soda beverage a try? You can buy all of our flavors at a variety of retailers and locations. To find a store near you, use this nifty tool that lets you search by location. And don't worry if you can’t find anything close, because we can come to you! Head to our shop page to order your favorite flavors, and they'll be on your front doorstep before you know it.

Sources:

  1. InsightAce Analytic Pvt. Ltd. (2022, January 25). Functional Beverages Market worth $265.9 Billion by 2030 - Exclusive Report by InsightAce Analytic [Press release]. https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/functional-beverages-market-worth-265-9-billion-by-2030---exclusive-report-by-insightace-analytic-301467892.html
  2. Mikstas, C. (2020, May 29). Best and Worst Juices for Your Health. WebMD. Retrieved July 11, 2022, from https://www.webmd.com/diet/ss/slideshow-juice-wars
  3. Apples vs. Apple Juice. (2021, July 20) Newbridge Health & Wellness. Retrieved July 11, 2022, from https://newbridgewellness.com/apple-vs-apple-juice/
  4. Good Food Is Good Medicine. (2019, July 19). Is fruit juice bad for you and your children? UC Davis Health. Retrieved July 11, 2022, from https://health.ucdavis.edu/blog/good-food/is-fruit-juice-bad-for-you-and-your-children/2019/07
  5. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. (2019, September 23). Sports Drinks. The Nutrition Source. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/sports-drinks/
  6. Electrolytes: Types, Purpose and Normal Levels. (2021, September 24) Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved July 11, 2022, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diagnostics/21790-electrolytes
  7. Energy Drinks. (2018, July) National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Retrieved July 11, 2022, from https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/energy-drinks
  8. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. (2020, July 30). Energy Drinks. The Nutrition Source. Retrieved July 11, 2022, from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/energy-drinks/
  9. Risks of Energy Drinks. (n.d.). Sutter Health. Retrieved July 11, 2022, from https://www.sutterhealth.org/health/nutrition/risks-of-energy-drinks
  10. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2018, December 12). Spilling the Beans: How Much Caffeine is Too Much? Retrieved July 11, 2022, from https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/spilling-beans-how-much-caffeine-too-much
  11. 9 Reasons Why (the Right Amount of) Coffee Is Good for You. (2021, October 28) Johns Hopkins Medicine. Retrieved July 11, 2022, from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/9-reasons-why-the-right-amount-of-coffee-is-good-for-you
  12. Smith, D. L. (2021, June 8). 20 Coffee Drinks with More Sugar Than a Can of Coke. Eat This Not That. Retrieved July 11, 2022, from https://www.eatthis.com/sugar-in-coffee-drinks/
  13. Heimsoth, A. (2016, June 20). A Ranking of Bottled Smoothies, Strictly By Nutritional Content. Spoon University. Retrieved July 11, 2022, from https://spoonuniversity.com/lifestyle/a-ranking-of-bottled-smoothies-strictly-by-nutritional-content
  14. National Institutes of Health. (2020, November 3). Tired or Wired? NIH News in Health. Retrieved December 8, 2021, from https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2020/10/tired-or-wired
Cheat Sheet
  • Functional beverages are drinks that promise a delicious flavor and offer potential health benefits.
  • Healthy food trends have bolstered the popularity of functional beverages, but that doesn’t mean that all functional drinks are healthy.
  • Some beverages to look out for include: fruit juice, sports drinks, energy drinks, coffee drinks, and pre-made smoothies.
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