If a drink has “doctor” in the name, it should be healthy, right? Ha ha ha… Well unfortunately, that’s not how it works. Today, let’s look at the nutrition behind Dr Pepper. Is this soda really that bad for you?
Dr Pepper is not very healthy because it has 39g of sugar per can (12 fl oz), in the form of high fructose corn syrup. It also has caramel color and sodium benzoate, which have been linked to potential carcinogens. And it has phosphoric acid, which may lead to osteoporosis and tooth decay.
Below, I’ll discuss all these ingredients and the research on whether they’re healthy. I’ll also discuss whether Dr Pepper is fattening, whether it’s ok to drink it every day, and how it compares to Coke and other sodas.
Is Dr Pepper Good for You?
Here are the 11 specific questions I’ll be answering about Dr Pepper nutrition. Click any of them to skip ahead to that section—or just keep scrolling to read them all:
- What Is Dr Pepper Made Of?
- How Much Sugar Is in Dr Pepper?
- How Bad Is the High Fructose Corn Syrup in Dr Pepper?
- Does Dr Pepper Have Caffeine?
- Is Dr Pepper High in Sodium?
- Is the Sodium Benzoate in Dr Pepper Harmful?
- Does Dr Pepper Make You Gain Weight?
- Is Dr Pepper Healthier Than Coke?
- Is It Bad to Drink Dr Pepper Every Day?
- Does Dr Pepper Make You Live Longer?
- Is Dr Pepper Vegan?
1. What Is Dr Pepper Made Of?
Let’s start by looking at what Dr Pepper actually contains. There are a few different flavors, including Cherry and Caffeine Free. But most of the ingredients are the same. So let’s look at normal Dr Pepper:
Dr Pepper Ingredients: Carbonated Water, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Caramel Color, Phosphoric Acid, Natural And Artificial Flavors, Sodium Benzoate (Preservative), Caffeine.
Here are my takeaway points on these ingredients:
- Dr Pepper has high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Specifically, Dr Pepper has 39g of sugar per can, in the form of HFCS. That’s not good. Even one can of Dr Pepper puts you over the American Heart Association’s daily sugar limit. (Below, we’ll explore whether HFCS is worse than normal sugar or not.)
- Dr Pepper has caramel color. This coloring ingredient can potentially contain a carcinogen called 4-MeI. In a Consumer Reports study, many sodas with caramel color tested at surprisingly high levels for 4-MeI. So, that might not be good.
- Dr Pepper has sodium benzoate. This preservative is a bit controversial because it can potentially turn into benzene, which is a carcinogen. That said, this may be very unlikely in Dr Pepper. More on sodium benzoate below.
- Dr Pepper has phosphoric acid. As a food ingredient, this particular acid has been linked to osteoporosis and lower bone density, as well as cavities and tooth decay. So, not great.
- Some flavors of Dr Pepper have Red 40. Red 40 isn’t in normal Dr Pepper, but it’s in Cherry and Cherry Vanilla Dr Pepper. This dye is controversial for causing possible hyperactivity in children, and for possible connections to cancer. More on red 40 here.
As you can see, there are plenty of potential negatives in Dr Pepper’s ingredients. That said, the biggest concern for most people will likely be the sugar. So let’s look at the sugar content in the next two sections below.
- Does Dr Pepper Have Alcohol in It? Dr Pepper is a non-alcoholic soda. It does not have alcohol. However, some people may use Dr Pepper as a mixer along with vodka, rum, or other alcoholic drinks.
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2. How Much Sugar Is in Dr Pepper?
Dr Pepper has 39 grams of sugar per can (12 fl oz). That is about the same amount as in Coca-Cola, Sprite, or Monster Energy. Drinking just one can of Dr Pepper puts you above the daily sugar limit recommended by the American Heart Association.
The American Heart Association recommends a limit of 25g of sugar per day for women and 36g per day for men. Even just one can of Dr Pepper already puts you above that.
Keep in mind: No added sugar is needed for human health. Really, the healthiest diet would likely just have natural sugar from fruit and whole foods. So in a sense, any “added sugar” is already a negative.
Here’s a table showing how the sugar content of Dr Pepper compares to other sugary drinks:
|Drink||Sugar (per 12 fl oz)|
|V8 Tomato Juice||10g|
|Simply Orange Juice||34g|
|Barq’s Root Beer||45g|
|Welch’s Grape Juice||52g|
As you can see, sodas like Dr Pepper are among the most sugary drinks on the market. Now, Dr Pepper doesn’t have quite as much sugar as Mountain Dew or Barq’s—but it’s not far behind.
3. How Bad Is the High Fructose Corn Syrup in Dr Pepper?
Dr Pepper is sweetened with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). And HFCS has a pretty bad reputation… Many people believe it is even far worse than normal table sugar. But is it really?
Some research suggests HFCS may increase appetite and contribute to obesity more than regular sugar. However, other research contradicts this. Overall, it’s still debated whether high fructose corn syrup is actually worse than normal sugar. (source)
But the real bottom line is this: Any high-sugar diet, whether it’s HFCS or normal sugar, can increase heart disease and obesity risk, while raising blood sugar, triglycerides, and blood pressure. (source)
So, when it comes to Dr Pepper, the real problem isn’t specifically the high fructose corn syrup… It’s just the amount of added sugar overall. Thirty-nine grams per can is a lot of sugar. And that doesn’t bode well for long-term health.
4. Does Dr Pepper Have Caffeine?
The normal version of Dr Pepper has about 43mg of caffeine per 12 oz serving. This is within the normal range of caffeine content for soda, which is generally less than energy drinks or coffee. There is also Caffeine Free Dr Pepper, which has no caffeine.
Here is a comparison table showing how Dr Pepper’s caffeine content compares to energy drinks, coffee, and other soda brands:
|Bang Energy Drink (16 oz)||300 mg|
|5-Hour Energy Regular Strength (1.9 oz)||200 mg|
|Folger’s Classic Roast Coffee (12 oz)||120-160 mg|
|BodyArmor Edge (20 oz)||100 mg|
|Red-Bull (8.4 oz)||80 mg|
|Monster Energy (8 oz)||80 mg|
|V8 Energy (8 oz)||80 mg|
|Lipton Black Tea (1 bag, brewed)||55 mg|
|Mountain Dew (12 oz)||54 mg|
|Diet Coke (12 oz)||46 mg|
|Dr Pepper (12 oz)||43 mg|
|Coca-Cola (12 oz)||34 mg|
|Barq’s Root Beer (12 oz)||22 mg|
As you can see, Dr Pepper has a pretty normal amount of caffeine for soda. It has less than Mountain Dew or Diet Coke, while having more than Barq’s Root Beer or normal Coke.
Caffeine is an interesting ingredient because it has documented health benefits, but also can be detrimental in many cases. Studies show it may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. But it’s habit forming, and too much can disrupt sleep.
Therefore, I wouldn’t consider caffeine as broadly “healthy” or “unhealthy.” It’s more complicated than that. Most likely, it can be good or bad depending how it’s affecting your life specifically.
5. Is Dr Pepper High in Sodium?
Dr Pepper has about 55mg of sodium per 12 oz can. This is only about 2% of the daily recommended limit of 2,300 mg of sodium per day. Therefore, Dr Pepper is not very high in sodium.
Of course, if you drink Dr Pepper all day, you could end up consuming at least several hundred milligrams of sodium from it. So, you should still be mindful if you’re trying to keep your sodium intake low.
6. Is the Sodium Benzoate in Dr Pepper Harmful?
Sodium benzoate is a preservative used in Dr Pepper. It is only present in small amounts. Sodium benzoate is limited by the FDA to make up only 0.1% of the weight of the foods it’s added to. Still, some people have concerns.
The biggest concern is that sodium benzoate is able to convert to benzene, a known carcinogen, in certain conditions. This has particularly been a concern in soft drinks where sodium benzoate is also present with ascorbic acid. (source)
(Side note: Dr Pepper does not have ascorbic acid as an ingredient. So theoretically, there should not be any benzene in Dr Pepper.)
There was a study in 2005-07 showing that 10 out of 200 soft drinks tested contained more than the allowable levels of benzene (5 parts per billion).
Since then, the offending soft drinks have been reformulated to comply with allowable levels. But the study also showed ~60% of soft drinks had some measurable level of benzene.
The FDA has stated that the levels of benzene in soft drinks are not a risk. (source)
There have been some other concerning studies on the impacts of sodium benzoate in animals. It may raise levels of inflammation, oxidative stress, or even risk for ADHD (source). Some people also have allergic reactions to it.
The Environmental Working Group has assigned sodium benzoate a risk score of “1 to 3” on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being the worst). So the overall risk is low.
Personally, after reading into all of this, I’m not that worried about the safety of sodium benzoate in Dr Pepper. But personally, I’d still rather not consume it every day.
7. Does Dr Pepper Make You Gain Weight?
Dr Pepper is high in calories—150 calories per 12 oz can—so it could contribute to weight gain. However, changes in bodyweight depend on overall calorie balance. So drinking Dr Pepper in moderation will not automatically cause weight gain.
Many people misunderstand what actually causes fat gain. It isn’t generally caused by eating a specific unhealthy food. Fat gain is a result of consuming more calories than you burn overall. The overall quantity of calories is what’s important.
For example, it’s possible to gain fat from healthy foods—if you eat large portions and don’t exercise. In the same way, it’s been proven that you can lose weight by eating McDonald’s, if you eat a small amount.
So, there’s a sense in which no specific food is “fattening.” Only overall diets can be fattening… However, there’s another sense in which Dr Pepper may indeed lead to weight gain: It simply has a lot of empty calories, which don’t really fill you up.
That is, when you drink Dr Pepper, you’re getting a lot of calories, but not much satiation. And that can easily lead you to consuming more calories than you need for the day. And in turn, that can cause weight gain.
So, yes, there is a sense in which Dr Pepper can cause weight gain. But the actual key is your overall diet and calorie balance. One specific food doesn’t necessarily make or break your diet.
If your goal is weight loss, I would consider tracking your calories, or following some of these 18 tips for weight loss without counting calories. Whether you drink Dr Pepper will not make or break your weight-loss journey by itself.
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8. Is Dr Pepper Healthier Than Coke?
Dr Pepper is very similar to Coca-Cola nutritionally. They both have 39g of sugar per can (12 fl oz). They both have potentially unhealthy ingredients in caramel color and phosphoric acid. And they have similar sodium content (55mg vs 45mg). Dr Pepper and Coke are both generally considered unhealthy.
What about comparing Dr Pepper to other sodas?
- Dr Pepper vs Sprite: Sprite may actually be slightly healthier than Dr Pepper, since it avoids the caramel color and phosphoric acid found in Dr Pepper. (The sugar content is close to equal.)
- Dr Pepper vs Pepsi: Pepsi has about 2g more sugar per serving compared to Dr Pepper. The ingredients are almost the same. Really, these drinks are very similar nutritionally.
- Dr Pepper vs Mountain Dew: Dr Pepper has about 7g less sugar per serving than Mountain Dew. Mountain Dew also has the artificial color Yellow 5, which may cause behavioral issues for some children. So, it’s possible Dr Pepper is slightly healthier—but neither drink is very healthy.
- Dr Pepper vs Root Beer: Dr Pepper has about 6g less sugar per serving than Barq’s Root Bear. So, it’s possible Dr Pepper is slightly healthier—but again, neither drink is very healthy.
Really, any of these sugar-loaded sodas are not the healthiest choice. For a healthier soda option, you can look at Zevia. It’s sweetened with stevia rather than sugar. Read my Zevia review here.
9. Is It Bad to Drink Dr Pepper Every Day?
Generally speaking, yes, it is bad to drink Dr Pepper every day. Even drinking just one can of Dr Pepper already puts you above the American Heart Association’s recommended daily sugar limit.
High-sugar diets lead to increased risk of obesity, heart disease, tooth decay, and more health problems. And if you drink even a can or two of Dr Pepper, you’ve already entered into the realm of “high sugar.”
Now, technically, you could drink one sip of Dr Pepper a day, and you could still be consuming a low-sugar diet. So, that would probably be fine. But who is really stopping after one sip? Let’s be realistic here.
The most sensible guideline would be to only drink Dr Pepper and similar sodas on occasion. Don’t make it a daily habit.
That said, in the next section, we’ll discuss an unusual news story that may contradict this advice.
10. Does Dr Pepper Make You Live Longer?
A few years ago, there was a news story about a 104-year-old woman who credits her longevity to Dr Pepper. She had reportedly been drinking three Dr Peppers a day for the last 40 years.
Surely, it was an amusing story. But is there any truth to the idea that Dr Pepper makes you live longer?
Well, probably not. There is no logical reason to expect that Dr Pepper will make you live longer. Most of its ingredients are generally considered neutral or bad for you.
Some studies suggest there could be longevity benefits from long-term moderate caffeine intake. So it’s possible the caffeine in Dr Pepper could have a positive effect. But even if so, other sources of caffeine may be a lot healthier than Dr Pepper.
11. Is Dr Pepper Vegan?
Dr Pepper is generally considered vegan—there are no obvious animal ingredients. However, there are several “gray area” ingredients for vegans: Natural flavor, caramel color, and sugar (in the “Real Sugar” flavor).
Basically, it is possible for the caramel color or natural flavors to be sourced from animal-derived ingredients, but it is not likely. And the sugar in the “Real Sugar” flavor may have been filtered with animal bone char, although we don’t know that for sure.
Most vegans are okay with drinking Dr Pepper. For more on this topic, see my separate post: “Is Dr Pepper Vegan?“
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