October 4, 2019

If You’re Cutting Back on Sugar, Beware of the Restaurant Drink Menu

It’s loaded with options high in calories and sugar

Couples at a restaurant deciding on drinks

If you’ve been out to eat at a large chain restaurant recently, you may have noticed the beverage portion of the menu looked a little (or a lot) longer than it used to be, with milk shakes, coffee drinks and sodas galore.


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

Your eyes aren’t fooling you. Beverages now make up one-third of restaurant menus, according to a study recently published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. And — surprise! — many of the drinks that have been added to menus in recent years are chock-full of sugar.

Newer, sweeter options

The study looked at the evolution of the menus of 63 U.S. chain restaurants (including fast food, fast casual and full-service restaurants) from 2012 to 2017. Researchers examined the calorie, sugar and saturated fat content of the beverage offerings.

The number of drink options jumped by 155% between those years, with 82% of the increase driven by sweetened beverages.

The sweetened beverages that were added to menus after 2012 also trended toward higher sugar content but less saturated fat, the researchers said.

“The study shows us that the sweetened options and the diverse choices available on the menu has really increased, which I think is surprising in light of the obesity epidemic and all the research that’s coming out how much sugar impacts our body,” says registered dietitian Ariana Cucuzza, RD, who did not take part in the study.

The uptick in sweetened beverages is problematic because of how often Americans eat out, she says. A recent survey from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that as many as one in three Americans eats fast food every day.

Too much sugar has been linked to weight gain, blood sugar problems and an increased risk of heart disease.


So how can you avoid falling into a sugar trap?

  1. Read nutrition labels to learn how many grams of sugar are in the drinks you’re choosing from, so that you can make better choices. “You can make healthier choices by picking things that are unsweetened, such as unsweetened ice tea or water (flavored seltzer waters are really popular now), which are usually available at restaurants as well,” Cucuzza says.
  2. Planning ahead can also help you make better choices throughout the day. For instance, if you know you’re going to eat out for dinner, you can make healthier choices for breakfast and lunch to limit the damage.

Related Articles

Roasted Beets with Balsamic Vinegar and Herbs
December 5, 2023
Recipe: Roasted Beets With Balsamic Vinegar and Herbs

This colorful side dish will tantalize your taste buds

variety of food groups containing manganese and magnesium
November 30, 2023
Manganese vs. Magnesium: Two Important Minerals With Key Differences

They’re both essential minerals but do different jobs in your body

holy basil leaves, known as tulsi, on wooden spoon
November 30, 2023
The Benefits of Holy Basil (Tulsi)

This herb offers different potential benefits from the basil you find in pesto

cool tropical smoothie with straw
November 30, 2023
Recipe: Cool Tropical Smoothie

A zesty thirst-quencher that’s dairy-free and vegan

salmon and broccoli over rice
November 29, 2023
6 Foods To Eat for Healthy Joints

Fish, cruciferous veggies, turmeric, yogurt, ginger and green tea all reduce inflammation

skillet of ground turkey stroganoff
November 28, 2023
Recipe: Healthy Turkey Stroganoff

A hearty dish that’s easy to put together

Top view of a bowl of chili topped with sour cream and jalapeños with tortilla chips for dipping.
November 24, 2023
Recipe Adventure: How To Build a Better Bowl of Chili

From meat to beans, we’ve got some ideas to help you create the perfect-for-you chili recipe

Spearmint tea in a glass see through cup with spearmint leaves scattered on the saucer and background.
November 22, 2023
3 Health Benefits of Spearmint Tea

This subtly minty beverage can help balance hormones and loosen stiff joints

Trending Topics

group of hands holding different beverages
November 14, 2023
10 Myths About Drinking Alcohol You Should Stop Repeating

Coffee won’t cure a hangover and you definitely shouldn’t mix your cocktail with an energy drink

Person applies moisturizer as part of their skin care routine after a shower.
November 10, 2023
Korean Skin Care Routines: What You Need To Know

Focus on the philosophy — replenishing and respecting your skin — not necessarily the steps

glass of cherry juice with cherries on table
November 8, 2023
Sleepy Girl Mocktail: What’s in It and Does It Really Make You Sleep Better?

This social media sleep hack with tart cherry juice and magnesium could be worth a try