Study: Sugary Beverages Have Tenuous Relationship Between Reality And Nutrition Info

Adding fuel to the HFCS vs. sugar fire, a new study claims that not only does the actual amount of sugar in a sweetened beverage vary wildly from what the nutritional information says, but that drinks sweetened with High-Fructose Corn Syrup contain significantly more fructose than had been expected.

The study, published by the Childhood Obesity Center, tested 23 different sweetened beverages — from fountain sodas at McDonald’s and Burger King to canned tea and bottled apple juice — and found that the actual total sugar content of these drinks ranged anywhere from 85% to 128% of what the nutritional info states.

Fountain sodas were uniformly sweeter than the other drinks, with a Coke from McDonald’s containing 128% of the sugar it was supposed to. The least sugary fountain drink in the study was a Coke from Burger King, which contained around 117% the amount of sugar on the nutritional info.

On the low end of that test was the Kroger Apple Juice Cocktail, which only had 85% the amount of sugar on the label. Surprisingly, both Dr. Pepper (approx. 87%) and Mountain Dew (approx. 92%) made up the rest of the bottom three.

The other test done in the study was to determine just how much fructose is contained in these drinks. The standard combination in HFCS is somewhere between 42%-55% fructose, but this study found a mean of 59% fructose among the drinks researched.

Both Pepsi and Coke contained the highest amount of fructose, around 65%. Meanwhile that super-sweet fountain Coke from McDonald’s was just below the mean.

Says the study’s author:

The elevated fructose levels in the sodas most Americans drink are of particular concern because of the negative effects fructose has on the body… Unlike glucose (the smaller component of HFCS), over consumption of fructose is directly responsible for a broad spectrum of negative health effects.

Of particular interest are the results of the tests on Mexican Coke, which showed virtually no sucrose, but equal parts glucose and fructose. Researchers believe this suggests that HFCS, which is not mentioned on the bottle’s label, was used to sweeten the Coke.

Check out the PDF of the study here.

Soda’s Sweetened with HFCS Deliver Unexpected Jolt of Unhealthy Fructose [Press Release PDF]


Edit Your Comment

  1. ajkilroy24 says:

    “Of particular interest are the results of the tests on Mexican Coke, which showed virtually no sucrose, but equal parts glucose and fructose. Researchers believe this suggests that HFCS, which is not mentioned on the bottle’s label, was used to sweeten the Coke.”

    No wonder Coke doesnt want to bring it to the US in larger quantities. Then they’d have to show that theyve been lying all along!

  2. Destron says:

    Fountain drinks don’t surprise me because the water to syrup ratio can be adjusted at any time and that would change the mix. But pre bottled drinks are bottled under a more controlled environment so there really is no excuse for that,

    • adamstew says:

      I used to work at a fast food joint…we had a calibration kit that was used to make sure that the soda fountain was mixing the proper mixture of soda water and syrup. The correct ratio was 5-to-1… 5 parts soda water to 1 part syrup.

      We calibrated the thing about once a month.

      Anytime we had our soda fountain serviced by the Pepsi vendor, we always found that it was calibrated to put too much syrup in…by about 10%. Every time the Pepsi servicer left, we always went out and recalibrated it ourselves.

      Our conspiracy theory was that Pepsi makes their money by selling us the syrup and not the soda water. So by having your service people calibrate all the machines out there to put out 10% more syrup, then you’ve just increased your sales by 10%.

      • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

        Soda water? Didn’t your machine mix water and CO2?

      • YOXIM says:

        You are spot on. It’s in Pepsi’s best interest to sell you as much of the stuff as possible. Smart business on their part. I doubt the fast food joints would want to sell you too much syrup. The only reason I can see why McD’s or BK might oversweeten their soda is to make people feel full faster so they don’t get as many refills. But that’s a hypothesis at best. I have no idea if this is actually the case, or if more sugar results in people feeling fuller. I guess what I’m trying to say is; I have no idea what the hell I’m talking about haha.

        • murph89 says:

          My guess is the extra syrup is to balance out the flavor when your ice melts; another possibility is that they hope you’ll like the sweeter fountain drinks and feel compelled to come back instead of going to a competitor.

      • DanRydell says:

        It’s interesting that it was always off by about 10%, because the calibration test kit had two standard ratios – 5:1 and 5.5:1. Maybe the Pepsi guy was calibrating it correctly, and you were calibrating it incorrectly. Maybe you were intentionally instructed to calibrate it incorrectly, because watered down soda is less expensive for the owner of your store.

      • SagarikaLumos says:

        When I worked at a movie theater, our fountains were deliberately sweet-biased to account for ice melting. If you drew one off with no ice and tested it, it would be like those of this test, but it tasted perfect after a few minutes of ice melt.

    • An_Album_Cover says:

      Yep, although what’s interesting about the fountain drinks is that the researchers found differing amounts of glucose between the Coke at McDonald’s and Coke at Burger King. This resulted in what looks to be an ~3% difference in the percentage of fructose from their samples.

    • Zookoo says:

      Have you ever tried tasting that soda syrup? Crazy delicious!

  3. dolemite says:

    Aha! So just like cigarette companies were putting in more nicotene, soda companies are putting in more sugar!

  4. lihtox says:

    Mexican Coke, which showed virtually no sucrose, but equal parts glucose and fructose.

    The sucrose molecule is made up of one fructose molecule and one glucose molecule, if I recall correctly; is it possible the molecules are disassociating in the soda somehow?

    • Alvis says:

      You need an enzyme to break down sucrose like that.

      • AstroPig7 says:

        Damn Mexican enzymes, taking our sucrose molecules. We needs a wall, I tell ya!

      • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

        IIRC, you just need acid.

        • Alvis says:

          I stand corrected

          • ParingKnife ("That's a kniwfe.") says:

            No you were right the first time. Well you and GitemSteveDave were right. Acid hydrolysis can be a slow process. There are people with sucrose intolerance who have perfectly good stomach pH but can’t produce enough sucrase to aid the breakdown. In other words, it’s somewhat unlikely that simple hydrolysis could account for a terribly significant amount of HFCS.

        • LittleBlackFly says:

          And I believe that Coke has a pH of less than 4 – plenty acidic enough!

      • ludwigk says:

        As a chemical principle, enzymes can’t cause any chemical reaction that won’t happen on their own, they are merely expediters. So, the (sucrose -> fructose + glucose) reaction happens on it’s own, but may be in equilibrium with the opposite reaction, (fructose + glucose -> sucrose). Or, the rate of these reactions might be enormously low.

        Enzymes just catalyze a particular reaction, speeding up one side of the system. Saying that an enzyme is necessary for any given reaction is technically incorrect. Nerd out.

  5. miked says:

    “Of particular interest are the results of the tests on Mexican Coke, which showed virtually no sucrose, but equal parts glucose and fructose.”

    Umm….Sucrose IS 1/2 glucose and 1/2 fructose:

    • wastedlife says:

      Sucrose is derived from fructose and glucose, but it shouldn’t break down almost completely in the time it takes to go from bottling to being tested. Unless it was really old or one of the ingredients is sucrase?

  6. jtheletter says:

    The claims by some that HFCS is no different than sugar are easily debunked simply by drinking the beverages in question. I went on a trip to Italy in September and all the coke there is sweetened with sugar – the difference in taste, mouthfeel, and how much slower it goes flat is stark. When I returned to the US and had Coke here it was a huge contrast. Your mouth is immediately left feeling much more sticky and it is not nearly as refreshing as the sugar-only version. Now obviously these differences don’t prove anything about the health effects, but chemically and anecdotally there are notable differences between sugar and HFCS.

  7. crashfrog says:

    Wow, Mexican Coke has been corn syrup all along? So much for all those assholes who were absolutely so fucking sure they could tell the difference between Mexican and US Coke.

    Sorry, fructophobes, there’s actually no evidence at all of fructose being “directly responsible for health effects” in human beings. In rats, who have a completely different fructose metabolism? Sure, health effects. In humans? No clinical difference.

    • aloria says:

      I don’t give a damn if HFCS is healthy for me or not (soda isn’t healthy to begin with,) I just know it tastes like crap and makes me feel like a chugged a bottle of pancake syrup. I’d rather have diet than that syrupy junk.

    • IThinkThereforeIAm says:

      You may not taste the difference.
      I may not taste the difference.
      That does not mean that nobody can taste it – people are different.

      People used to laugh at me when I said I can taste the difference between diet and non-diet drinks (aka Nutrasweet) – until it turned out that here is a small (around 10%) of the population who’s missing some enzymes and for them (us) that stuff does not break down as for the rest of the people.
      (Now I feel inferior over my missing enzyme… :-( )

      • pecan 3.14159265 says:

        I thought it was really common for people to be able to taste the difference between diet and non-diet, especially if you’ve had both and you know the signatures of each. I can tell right off the bat whether a glass of Coke is regular or diet, but that’s also because I know what diet Coke tastes like.

        • Doncosmic says:

          Taste? Heck, I can SEE the difference between diet and regular coke, diet coke is darker colored, its a handy trick if you’ve ever worked as a waiter.

      • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

        “People used to laugh at me when I said I can taste the difference between diet and non-diet drinks (aka Nutrasweet) “

        People laughed at your for that?

        I’ve never had a diet beverage that tasted the same as the sweetened version. It’s hard to imagine anyone out there would be unable to taste the difference between Diet Coke and Coke.

        • wonderkitty now has two dogs says:

          I can smell the difference. As a server, this came in handy when my drinks weren’t laid out correctly to depict which were regular and which were diet.

        • IThinkThereforeIAm says:

          Maybe “laugh” is not entirely correct, but many certainly doubted me… as they said they could not taste any difference (so I shouldn’t either).

      • Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ã‚œ-゜ノ) says:

        I wonder, how do you feel about cilantro? Supposedly to a minority of people it tastes foul but to the rest of us it’s wonderful.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      This is by no means definitive evidence. Even the quote provided doesn’t state this as fact, only theory.

      • AstroPig7 says:

        I hate to be that guy, but facts and theories are totally different things: theories never become facts.

        • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

          We’re talking in the layman context, not a scientific one.

          If you want to be That Guy (and you are) then the person quoted offered merely a POSTULATE, and in no way offered support for the POSTULATE. It was merely speculation.

    • AwesomeJerkface says:

      Actually, I’ve got a pretty sharp sense of taste and smell.

      I’ve sworn up and down to people that the difference between Mexican coke, American coke, and even Ugandan coke isn’t in the sugar but the seasonings/recipe, level of carbonation, and vessel.

      I’ve done blindfold tests and can differentiate all sorts of things.

      The difference between can, plastic, and glass is pretty stark to me.

  8. Nogard13 says:

    My wife and I were able to pick out Mexican Coke AND throwback Pepsi from a blind taste test conducted in the very scientific research facility known as my kitchen.

    We blindfolded the other one, poured each other’s glasses, and then the blindfolded person drank from all eight glasses (two glasses of each, randomized) and both of us got all 8 correct, twice. I think that’s pretty convincing on the fact that they taste different. Now, weather they use HFCS or not, I don’t know, but it definitely tastes different.

    • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

      That’s because when made with sucrose, they change/tweak the formula. It’s why the first MountainDew Throwback was horrible. Case in point:

      Pepsi Throwback

  9. GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

    The studies author is an idiot. in HFCS, the smaller component isn’t always fructose. It’s sometimes the glucose, as in HFCS 42. That line is not truthful and should not have been included or vetted out during peer review.

    Also, the 50% fructose in sugar(sucrose), or the near 100% of it in things like fruit, or the 70%+ in things like Stevia are OK. But the extra 5% in HFCS 55 is the reason for the “broad spectrum of negative health effects”?

    • ubermex says:

      That last part is what I really want answered. I like the flavor of the throwbacks, whether it’s because they use less or more or because it’s sucrose or what have you, but I’m still not TOTALLY sold on health yet.

      That one study with the rats was a pretty big deal, but I still want it explained. It seems bizarre that a 5% ratio difference can have that kind of effect, but stranger things have happened in biology.

      If anything, the rat study just convinced me to drink more water instead of soda anyway, lol.

      • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

        It seems people confuse correlation with causation. We as a country and also the world, are consuming more calories than we did before, and because of things like the internet and cars, are moving less. I’m willing to bet that on a whole, we are also consuming more fruits than we did 100+ years ago. Does that mean fruit is making us fat?

        • mindaika says:

          Fructose is fruit is not at all like fructose in a soft drink. That’s like saying vitamins in a pill are the same as vitamins from vegetables. (Mind you, I’m not saying fructose is or is not healthy)

          • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

            How are they different? Is it a different molecular structure? Is pure sodium chloride made in a lab different than pure sodium chloride derived from salt water?

            • ParingKnife ("That's a kniwfe.") says:

              Yes, in the case of vitamins, different molecular structure. It’s not a big deal with some like Vitamin C, but vitamins do have more and less effective forms. Most pill vitamins are racemic mixtures of the molecules and are rated in IUs, or “International Units” which are supposedly a measure of efficacy and equivalency rather than milligram amounts of substance. There is some debate about the IU measuring scheme as well as some psuedoscientific paranoia to confuse a legitimate issue.

          • Zowzers says:

            Fructose in fruit is the exact molecule as fructose in HFCS. If it were different it would not be called Fructose, it would be one of the other many Monosaccharides in the world that are that make up what we call sugars.

        • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

          You might be on to something.

        • Jimmy60 says:

          “Does that mean fruit is making us fat?”

          Possibly yes. One theory is that in the history of human evolution agriculture is pretty new on the scene. Before that we were hunter gatherers. Meat is something available all year long and a staple of our diet. Fruit and vegetables are only available at the end of the growing season. The end of the growing season is just before winter. So when our bodies see lots of fruit and vegetables coming it’s way, it also knows that winter is coming and stores fat.

          It’s interesting that amongst hunter gatherers one of the most prized food sources is animal fat. Not meat, the fat. It’s also interesting to note that the demonizing of fat occurred around the time our obesity problems started.

          Would it be ironic if the reason we are getting fat is because we don’t eat enough fat?

          • crashfrog says:

            One theory is that in the history of human evolution agriculture is pretty new on the scene.

            Well, human agriculture is about 10,000 years old. Human consumption of maize is over 7,000 years old. Sure, you can say that’s a short time on an evolutionary time scale, but dietary adaptation can move pretty quick. For instance western Europe and India started milking cows a couple of thousand years ago, but within a handful of generations, nearly every Indian and European possessed the mutant gene that allowed them to digest milk as adults.

            So you have to figure we’re adapted to fructose sugars by now…

        • Dieflatermous says:

          Fruit eaten whole contains a huge amount of fiber, which offsets a lot of the detrimental health effects of sugar in general. So an apple is actually better for you than the same amount of calories in apple juice, because of this.

          Fruit juice, even 100% pure fresh-squeezed, is actually pretty bad for you on a daily basis (in terms of % daily intake of sugar). It has lots of vitamins, but it’s a major culprit if you’re looking at why your LDL levels are so high.

  10. dg says:

    The reason for the differences in fountain drinks is the water/syrup ratio that was set by the installer, or the location operator who’s futzing with the controls in order to stretch the syrup… That’s why sometimes you go in one place and the drink tastes right, and other times it tastes watered down…

    The whole thing with HFCS is that it’s dealt with by the human body differently from sucrose. Sucrose makes me feel full much faster than HFCS, so I end up drinking less soda with the real sugar in it, while I’ll end up chugging the HFCS and not feel full at all…

    Ya gotta wonder, in an X-Files Conspiracy kind of way, if this fact wasn’t discovered early on, and buried from the Public… Probably in a file cabinet with the car that runs on water… or the 100 mpg carburetor…

    • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

      How is it handled differently than sucrose? Sucrose, which is made of glucose and fructose in a 50-50% mix, has it’s weak bond broken by acid. When it hits your stomach, the bond is broken, and you then have fructose and glucose, which then travels to your small intestine to be absorbed.

      HFCS, which is made of glucose and fructose in either a 55%fructose-45%glucose or 42%fructose-58%glucose(lower than sugar), doesn’t need it’s bonds broken. So some will be absorbed through the mucous membranes in the mouth, but otherwise it travels to your stomach and then to your small intestine, where the glucose and fructose is processed the EXACT SAME WAY.

  11. mindaika says:

    What?! Mexicoke is made of lies?!

  12. RosevilleWgn says:

    HFCS is nasty, NASTY stuff. Seriously, do people realize how much of this crap they are getting in their diet? Take a look at the ketchup you eat. Sodas, Fruit juices (non organic), desserts, any sort of sweet sauce. Personally, I’ve given up sodas recently. All I really drink is about 1-1.5L of water a day (Sedentary office worker) and I can tell I’ve lost weight already from it.

    • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

      You “can tell”? You don’t have any objective proof? But that aside, you have proven what is the real cause of weight gain. TOO MANY CALORIES.

      When calories in is more than calories out/burned, we gain weight.

      When calories in is LESS than calories out/burned, we lose weight.

      Your dumping calories gotten from beverages, which lets say is 250 calories a day(2 cans of soda a day), means that every week you are consuming 1750 LESS calories a week, or half the calories contained in a pound of fat.

      • jesirose says:

        I don’t understand how people do not realize this. The #1 “weight loss tip” I see people give is “give up soda and juice”! Like the average person really doesn’t get that those drinks have calories? I just don’t get how people think it’s the soda or sugar or whatever – and not the CALORIES.

      • RosevilleWgn says:

        And your point is? It’s a given that HFCS (sugar) that I WAS intaking is no longer there. Did I need to spell it all out for you?

        • jesirose says:

          The point is if you had cut out 250 calories per day worth of dairy, or other fatty food, that wasn’t rich with HFCS, you’d STILL lose weight. It’s not the sugar, it’s the calories FROM the sugar, which could be calories from a cheese burger.

  13. banndndc says:

    I think the mexican coke thing varies. i did have one a few months ago that had a nutritional label on it that said corn syrup. it tasted a little sweeter (more like new coke) though.

  14. Hollihocks says:

    This is because of that Law & Order SVU episode that was on USA last night, wasn’t it!?


  15. XianZomby says:

    I watched a commecial from the Corn Refiners Association, a completly impartial group, that says HFCS is safe for you and is just like sugar. If you can’t trust the Corn Refiners Association to tell you the truth about HFCS, then who can you trust?

  16. notthemonth says:

    Seriously, HFCS is still a sugar. No matter if you’re loading sodas, ketchup, pies, pastries, juice, candy, etc., with HFCS, table sugar, agave nectar, or honey, it’s all still sugar in the body. If you’re really concerned with health, not flavor, because flavors even differ person to person, you’d reduce your total intake of ANY added sugar. The recommended daily intake of sugars, which is a discretionary food group, meaning a caloric luxury, is 6.5 tsp for women and 9.5 tsp for men. The average American is getting 22-30 tsp of sugar a day. Do the math.

    Not to mention HFCS is a godsend for diabetics. And another reason HFCS-laced beverages may taste different than table sugar-laden beverages? HFCS acts as a preservative since the syrup allows the suspension to last longer.

  17. consumerfist says:

    ‘Of particular interest are the results of the tests on Mexican Coke, which showed virtually no sucrose, but equal parts glucose and fructose. Researchers believe this suggests that HFCS, which is not mentioned on the bottle’s label, was used to sweeten the Coke.’

    This makes no sense at all. Sucrose is made up of 50% glucose, 50% fructose – hence EQUAL PARTS. Duh.

    HFCS-55, the kind used in softdrinks, is 55% fructose, 42% glucose. HFCS-42 is is 42% fructose, 53% glucose.

    Sounds like made with sucrose (table sugar) to me. I think the author has a lack of understanding.

    • DanRydell says:

      Sucrose is sucrose. 50/50 glucose and fructose is not sucrose. Sucrose can be broken down into glucose and fructose.

      • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

        And sucrose is broken down by acid. And I have heard from years how acidic Coke is.

        • crashfrog says:

          Yeah, but acid-catalyzed hydrolysis of sucrose is wicked-slow and reversible, so it doesn’t go to completion. They found almost no sucrose. That indicates that the sucrose present wasn’t there by addition, it formed spontaneously by acid-catalyzed reduction of fructose and glucose, driven by high concentration of the free reactants.

          In other words – the fact that there was hardly any sucrose proves, to a chemist at least, that they added free fructose and glucose – probably as corn syrup – which spontaneously formed a small amount of sucrose, not that they added sucrose which spontaneously broke down into glucose and fructose.

          Mexican Coke is a lie, in other words.

          • AnthonyC says:

            The Coke is a lie!

            That said, you’re otherwise right. Breaking down sucrose without enzymes, even in coke or stomach acid, would be really, really slow, and reversible (though equilibrium would tend toward dissolution at room or body temperature).

  18. JKulp42757 says:

    It will be interesting to see what Coca Cola has to say about the results of the Mexican Coke.
    I rarely drink soda, but when I do it’s usually something made with premium ingredients, such as those produced by Reeds, or Bundaberg.

  19. karan1003 says:

    Have I ever told you how much I like your headlines?

  20. Groanan says:

    1. I thought it was already known that bottled coke from Mexico came in sucrose and hfcs varieties. It could have been mislabeling that lead to the disparity in this study.

    2. When sales are down at fountain machines, as I read on a coke sticker on the side of one at a Chinese restaurant I frequent, soda jerk technicians will increase the syrup ratio. I swear the coke at Silver Dollar City in Missouri is 90% syrup.

    3. As per a whacko professor in California waging a war on childhood obesity:

    Calories are misleading as nutritional information because they are measured not by how the body processes the specific chemicals, but by how much stored energy they contain or some other irrelevant factor to our health. 100 calories of fructose is not the same as 100 calories of glucose, the prior effectively putting a strain on our liver and making us fat, the latter going more into the upkeep of our organs and fast to recapture energy reserves.

    The entire calorie counting method of dieting needs to be abolished, it is over simplistic and leads to poor dieting decisions.

  21. JulesNoctambule says:

    Some of the Mexican Coke at the market where we buy it is stated on the label as being sweetened with sugar, some with HFCS. It seems to depend on the location of the bottling plant.

  22. mosxs says:

    It’s a well known fact that some Mexican Coca-Cola has used HFCS for some time now. You just have to watch out for it. The local Mexican meat market down the street from me sells 1L bottles of Mexican Coke made with HFCS. While the big chain Mexican market further down the street sells 12oz bottles made with sugar.

    So theres not some big conspiracy theory that Mexican Coke states “sugar” but actually uses HFCS. It’s a matter of the people conducting the test failing to read ingredients.

    • JKulp42757 says:

      Yes, except in the study they state that the label says “Sugar”….so obviously they read the label.

  23. CornRefiners says:

    The abnormal results published in this study may have resulted from inadvertent errors in the analysis of the sugar content. For example, key factors in analyzing sugars were either overlooked or were not mentioned in the study, including not accounting for sucrose inversion (the breaking down of table sugar in certain Ph environments), or the presence of higher sugars (which were left out of the analysis or could have been erroneously added to the fructose content). Moreover, the authors did not specify which analytical method they used and how the samples were prepared, which could also compromise the findings from this study.

    It is important to have the sugars content replicated by a recognized standard setting body, like the International Society of Beverage Technologists, to confirm the validity of the results before any inferences can be drawn.

    Audrae Erickson
    Corn Refiners Association

  24. SagarikaLumos says:

    I typed this once before and it didn’t post:

    I worked at a movie theater many years ago, and our fountains were calibrated to make a sweeter drink because of the ice that melts into the drink. If you got a cup with no ice and tested it, it would test too high. If you got one iced per the typical instructions and tested after about 30 minutes, it would probably be right on. The ratio of fountain beverages could be adjusted up or down for many reasons, and I’m sure the theater wasn’t trying to unnecessarily increase the cost of its drinks. That said, I thought we had the best Dr Pepper in town.

  25. tomhirt says:

    Don’t forgot the profit motive. HFCS was introduced in the 70’s as a low cost replacement to pure cane sugar. The companies know how to use pure cane sugar, as they do every year for their passover versions.