16 Teaspoons Of Sugar Found In Coke Bottle

To find proof of why the government needs to force food labels to list “teaspoons” instead of “grams” of sugar, Marlene Schwartz set off in the aisles of Romeo & Cesare.

Schwartz—who runs Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity—had just finished holding a press conference Tuesday in front of the popular Orange Street gourmet grocery with New Haven U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro and Connecticut U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal. She praised a letter the pair wrote to the Food & Drug Administration urging that new labeling rules require plainer and more honest wording so people can avoid poisoning themselves. (Click here to read the letter.) Their suggestions included requiring, for instance, that food companies list the amount of added sugar in a product in teaspoons, not grams, so people can get a true grasp of how much obesity- and diabetes-causing added sugar they’re swallowing.

After the press conference, Schwartz agreed to enter the grocery to demonstrate the pernicious packaging the trio targeted.

Paul Bass PhotoIt wasn’t easy. Not in a store where aisles look like this ...

... and this.

Schwartz made her way to the back and finally seized a piece of evidence: a 20-ounce bottle of Coca-Cola.

She took a look (as shown in the video at the top of this story)—and offered the soda manufacturer props for placing a prominent calorie count on the front of the label.

Then she noted the calorie count: 240.

“Two hundred and forty calories,” Schwartz said, “is a lot.”

The subject at hand, anyway, was grams versus teaspoons. She read the label: 65 grams of sugar. Hmmm… How does that sound?

Not nearly as off-putting, she said, as 16 teaspoons of sugar. Which is roughly what the 65 grams equal.

“It’s as if you’re handing your a child a glass of water and sitting there with a sugar bowl and teaspoon and putting in 16 teaspoons,” Schwartz remarked. (Coca-Cola did not respond to requests for comment for this story.)

Schwartz’s center has surveyed people on the subject. They’re inevitably “shocked,” she said, to learn how many teaspoons, as opposed to grams, of sugar are piled into their soft drinks.

“Parents really want to make good choices for their children,” Schwartz said. She cited a survey in which parents identified one to two teaspoons of sugar as the appropriate amount of sugar to put in their kids’ drinks, not realizing six or seven (or higher) is the more common number.

At the press conference, Blumenthal argued that more people will make “smart choices” about what to feed themselves and their kids if they get better information. “Americans don’t know what grams are,” he argued. He said the issue matters because obesity has become an “epidemic” in America, along with attendant diseases like diabetes. Some one-third of American children are obese, he said. DeLauro said that 12 states have adult obesity rates over 30 percent, as of 2010. She said the recommended daily maximum amount of sugar men should eat is nine teaspoons, women, six teaspoons; the average American consumes more like 23 teaspoons.

Blumenthal’s and DeLauro’s letter was prompted by changes in food labeling recently proposed by the FDA. (Read them here.) They applauded the FDA’s proposal to require labels to include a count of added sugars. But in addition to seeking the measurements in teaspoons rather than grams, they called for including guidelines of recommended daily intake. They also called for putting nutritional labels on the front, not the back, of packages; using more readable fonts; disclosing amounts of caffeine; and more rigorously defining “whole wheat,” “natural” and “healthy.”

Back in the less-completely-healthful rear of the Romeo & Cesare oasis, Marlene Schwartz opened the freezer to retrieve a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream. She found more misleading labeling: a “serving size” of half a cup.

No wonder a “serving” is only 260 calories.

“Those of you who have measuring cups at home, take out a half a cup and you tell me how often” you eat only that much in a Ben & Jerry’s “serving,” Schwartz said. She said her center’s research said that a typical serving is clearly larger. Some people eat the whole pint!

Her solution: Have the FDA require companies to adjust serving sizes to reflect reality. Specifically, any time research shows a true serving size to be 100 percent larger than the listed serving size.

And the sugar in the Ben & Jerry’s?

Per listed “serving,” the ice cream contains 27 grams. A more realistic single-cup serving, then would contain 54 grams. Or more than 13 teaspoons.

That’s “fine, if you want to have a small serving of Ben & Jerry’s [be your] ‘dessert of the day,’” Schwartz advised. How to limit your serving to a cup? Schwartz recommended dividing the pint up with three friends.

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posted by: Walt on August 6, 2014  8:31am

Rarely agree with either Blumenthal or DeLauro,  but this time they are right,  particularly re teaspoon proposal

posted by: jayfairhaven on August 6, 2014  9:19am

i find it ironic that the rudd center doesn’t recognize that they are the junk food of policy centers, empty calories.

there are more teaspoons of sugar in an equivalent serving of orange juice than there are in that coke.

do they really think that people only finish a pint of ben and jerry’s because they’re unaware that it’s fattening? truly, food policy is a rigorous discipline.

posted by: robn on August 6, 2014  9:22am

I think the gov’t should eliminate the “serving size” labeling and simply label the nutritional content of the whole package.

As far as grams/teaspoons…instead of assuming stupidity, why don’t we just improve our students education? Like, for instance, the fact that a “gram” is a measurement of mass and a “teaspoon” is a measurement of volume.

posted by: cupojoe on August 6, 2014  11:00am

TAX SUGAR on everything! Cookies, ice cream… We’ve also got tons of sugar in things like ketchup and barbecue sauce. No brainer that if you let stores sell ten 2 liters of coke for $10, or five 12 packs for $2 each that Americans will buy it.

This country is WALL-E without the ship!


posted by: TheMadcap on August 6, 2014  12:32pm


I believe the FDA is actually moving towards making that policy, although it won’t be in effect for a few years, where the serving size listed on a product is more in tune with realistically how much someone is going to eat/drink. Energy drinks and soda bottles won’t be divided into 2 servings anymore for example. Also a serving of oreos or fig newtons will now probably be more than 2.

Realistically though it doesn’t matter how much someone logically knows about grams. Americans don’t use grams in their daily lives, we measure all of our food in tea/tablespoons and cups(occasionally ounces). Most Americans can’t easily visualize what X amount of grams translates into(except maybe weed smokers). As for volume vs mass, that doesn’t really matter, the goal is a labeling that is easily understood and visualized by people regardless of what approach is used.

posted by: BillSaunders1 on August 6, 2014  4:01pm

But I don’t want a 20 oz bottle of soda…....
Size is as big an issue as content….

posted by: robn on August 6, 2014  4:19pm


My point is twofold:

1) I don’t think there is a realistic amount of any package that the FDA can predict and in many cases, people will chow down entire packages in one sitting.

2) Kids and many parents don’t read labels. I’ve rarely to never seen people reading them at point of purchase (grocery stores) and I wouldn’t expect them to read them at home unless their educated to do so. And while were at it, let educate kids to understand the difference between weight and volume in both imperial and metric. The US is the only industrialized country in the world that hasn’t adopted the metric system. That’s fine but shouldn’t kids at least understand it.

3) Not a point but simultaneously fun and disturbing.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on August 6, 2014  6:25pm

Label or No label.I would not drink this stuff.



posted by: Don in New Haven on August 7, 2014  12:07am

To minimize guesswork and make calculations easier, just remember that one teaspoon of granulated white sugar is approximately 4 grams.

So when you know the number of grams of sugar content and want to think about teaspoons, divide the number of grams by 4 and the result approximates the number of teaspoons.

As mentioned in the article, the 20 ounce bottle of cola contains 65 grams of sugar. Divide 65 by 4 and the result is approximately 16.25 teaspoons of sugar.

Don’t forget: 4 grams per teaspoon only applies to white granulated sugar. Other substances have different values for grams per teaspoon (density).

posted by: Jill_the_Pill on August 7, 2014  8:41am

FYI, here is another conversion: 16 teaspoons is about 1/3 of a cup.  I have baking recipes that serve 8-12 that use that much for the whole batch.

posted by: David Backeberg on August 7, 2014  5:14pm

“In theory” there are spoonfuls of “sugar” in Coke, except that there hasn’t been sugar in American coke since the 1980s. Instead, Coke has high fructose corn syrup. If you can find high fructose corn syrup I suppose you could put it on a spoon.

If the point of the labeling is to scare away people from drinking their calories, the best would be a picture of what a glob of high fructose corn syrup looks like, and another good one would be a beaker of human fat after a liposuction procedure. Other countries have graphic art on their cigarette packs, like diseased lungs to remind smokers that smoking causes lung disease.

posted by: Christopher Schaefer on August 8, 2014  10:06pm

@ cupojoe: We can’t tax sugar. American Chrystal Sugar is one of DeLauro’s biggest perpetual re-election campaign donors:  http://www.opensecrets.org/politicians/contrib.php?cid=N00000615&cycle=2014&type=C&newMem=N&recs=100
So instead we’ll play make believe, and tell everyone that diabetes will go away if we simply change from grams to teaspoons. And, when we make our stunning announcement—we get free re-election campaign coverage [aka a “press conference”].