Is Sunny D Healthy? 13 Things You Should Know

Is Sunny D a healthy choice?

No, Sunny D is not a healthy choice as it contains excessive sugar, artificial sweeteners, and lacks nutritional value.

Continue reading to find out more and check your knowledge!

Ingredients to be cautious about

  • Sucralose
  • Sodium Hexametaphosphate
  • Neotame
  • Sugar
  • Natural Flavors
  • Acesulfame Potassium
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup
  • Artificial Flavors
  • Juice Concentrate

Possible short-term side effects

  • Increased blood sugar levels
  • Weight gain
  • Poor nutrition

Possible long-term side effects

  • Obesity
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Tooth decay
  • Poor immune system function
  • Nutritional deficiencies

Healthy alternatives

  • Water
  • Fresh fruit juice
  • Milk
  • Plain yogurt
  • Natural herbal tea

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Is Sunny D a healthy choice?

Does Sunny D contain excessive sugar?

Does Sunny D have nutritional value?

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There are a many misconceptions about Sunny D. Based on the name, some people think it has vitamin D (it doesn’t). Others fear it will turn their skin orange (it won’t). Today, let’s take a closer look at this one-of-a-kind beverage. Is Sunny D healthy, really?

Sunny D is not very healthy, as it has 12g of added sugar per serving (8 fl oz). It also has artificial colors, which may cause hyperactivity in some children. And it has sucralose, which may worsen gut health over time, and canola oil, another highly processed ingredient.

Below, I’ll cover whether Sunny D is fattening, how it compares to soda and orange juice, and much more. And of course, I’ll cover the famous story of how Sunny Delight literally turned a little girl yellow.

Is Sunny D Bad for You?

Here are the 13 specific questions I’ll be answering about Sunny D nutrition. Click any of them to skip ahead to that section—or just keep scrolling to read them all:

  1. What Is Sunny D Made Of?
  2. How Much Sugar Is in Sunny D?
  3. How Bad Is the High Fructose Corn Syrup in Sunny D?
  4. Are the Artificial Colors in Sunny D Safe?
  5. Does Sunny D Have Artificial Sweeteners?
  6. Does Sunny D Have Caffeine?
  7. Is Sunny D High in Sodium?
  8. Does Sunny D Make You Gain Weight?
  9. Is Sunny D Healthier Than Soda?
  10. Is Sunny D as Healthy as Orange Juice?
  11. Is It Bad to Drink Sunny D Every Day?
  12. Does Drinking Sunny D Turn You Orange?
  13. Is Sunny D Vegan?

1. What Is Sunny D Made Of?

There are many flavors of Sunny D, but most of the ingredients are the same. So let’s look at the original flavor:

Sunny D Ingredients: Water, High Fructose Corn Syrup And 2% Or Less Of: Concentrated Orange Juice, Concentrated Tangerine Juice, Concentrated Apple Juice, Concentrated Lime Juice, Concentrated Grapefruit Juice, Concentrated Pear Juice, Citric Acid, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Thiamin Hydrochloride (Vitamin B1), Natural Flavors, Modified Cornstarch, Canola Oil, Sodium Citrate, Cellulose Gum, Sucralose, Sodium Hexametaphosphate, Potassium Sorbate To Protect Flavor, Yellow #5, Yellow #6, Calcium Disodium EDTA To Protect Color.

Here are my takeaway points on these ingredients:

  • Sunny D has high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Sunny D has 14g of total sugar per serving, mostly from HFCS. That’s not great. Just one serving of Sunny D takes you about half way to the American Heart Association’s daily sugar limit. (Below, we’ll explore whether HFCS is worse than normal sugar or not.)
  • Sunny D has sucralose. Sucralose is a somewhat controversial zero-calorie sweetener. It reduces the amount of calories and sugar in Sunny D, but it may come with downsides, too, particularly for gut health. More details below.
  • Sunny D has canola oil. Honestly, I don’t know why there is canola oil in Sunny D. The nutrition facts label doesn’t show any fat content, so it must be a small amount of oil. But still… I’m not a fan. Canola oil is highly processed fat. Who wants it in their drink?
  • Sunny D has concentrated fruit juice. Real juice! Sounds healthy, right? But it only makes up less than 5% of Sunny D. Also, fruit juice is not as healthy as many people think, due to the high sugar and low fiber content. So this is not a huge benefit.

As you can see, there are several negatives in Sunny D’s ingredients. But the biggest concern for most people will likely be the sugar. So let’s look at sugar content in the next sections below.

2. How Much Sugar Is in Sunny D?

Sunny D has 14g of total sugar per serving (8 fl oz), which is about 60% as much sugar as Simply Orange Juice. The sugar content of Sunny D is about the same as Gatorade. Two servings of Sunny D puts you near the American Heart Association’s suggested daily limit.

The American Heart Association recommends a limit of 25g of sugar per day for women and 36g per day for men. Two servings of Sunny D would put you at 28g, which is above the limit for women and near the limit for men.

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 Sunny D compares to other sugary drinks:

DrinkTotal Sugar (in 12 fl oz)
V8 Tomato Juice10g
Vitamin Water15g
Sunny D21g
Simply Orange Juice34g
Dr Pepper39g
Monster Energy40g
Barq’s Root Beer45g
Mountain Dew46g
Welch’s Grape Juice52g

Also remember, the sugar in Sunny D mostly comes from high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). So, does that matter? In the next section, we’ll look more closely at HFCS.

Related question:

  • Does Sunny D affect blood sugar? Sunny D contains significant amounts of sugar, in the form of high fructose corn syrup. High fructose corn syrup spikes blood sugar levels. So yes, Sunny D affects blood sugar.
  • Can you drink Sunny D on keto? Sunny D is not keto friendly. Pretty much all the calories come from carbohydrates, with 16g of total carbs per 8 oz serving.

3. How Bad Is the High Fructose Corn Syrup in Sunny D?

Sunny D is not sweetened with normal sugar, but primarily with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). And HFCS has a pretty bad reputation… Many people believe it is 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 Sunny D, the real problem isn’t specifically the high fructose corn syrup… It’s just the amount of added sugar overall. I mean, 14g per serving is not as bad as many sodas, but it’s still quite a lot of empty calories and high-glycemic carbs.

4. Are the Artificial Colors in Sunny D Safe?

Sunny D has artificial colors like Yellow 5, Yellow 6, and others depending on the flavor. Research suggests that artificial colors cause hyperactivity and behavioral issues in some children. There are also concerns around possible carcinogens in artificial colors used in Sunny D.

Some research has suggested that as little as 50 mg per day of artificial food colorings could cause behavioral changes in children.

In 2004, researchers from Harvard and Columbia University estimated that removing artificial food coloring from the diets of children with ADHD would be about one-third or one-half as effective as treating them with Ritalin.

There may also be cancer risks from some of these artificial colors, but the evidence is not solid:

  • Yellow 5: A 2015 study found that Yellow 5 caused DNA damage in human white blood cells that it was exposed to. It is possible that this DNA damage could lead to tumor formation if it were to happen in amounts that could not be repaired.
  • Yellow 6: Yellow 6 often contains known carcinogenic contaminants, including benzidine and 4-amino-biphenyl. These contaminants have only been documented at low levels where it shouldn’t be cause for concern, however. There were also animal trials where Yellow 6 resulted in kidney/adrenal tumors—but this result is disputed. (sourcesource)
  • Red 40: Red 40 has small amounts of benzidene, which is a known carcinogen. It’s legally allowed because the amount is small enough to have no presumed effect. The EU requires foods with Red 40 to bear a warning saying it “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.”
  • Blue 1: An unpublished study on Blue 1 suggested that it may cause tumors in mice. In addition, a test-tube study found that Blue 1 inhibited nerve cell development. So the effect on unborn fetuses may be of concern. (source)

All of these artificial colors are still being tested on animals to determine their safety. The most established problem is hyperactivity in kids. Some governments have taken steps to add warnings or ban some of these dyes in Sunny D.

It’s actually hard to find good credible sources on which of these dyes are currently banned in which countries. But I found the most credible documentation that Yellow 6 is banned in Japan and several European countries.

5. Does Sunny D Have Artificial Sweeteners?

Sunny D uses artificial sweeteners like sucralose along with high fructose corn syrup. This results in a drink with fewer calories and grams of sugar. However, sucralose and other artificial sweeteners may worsen gut bacteria and potentially cause other health issues over time.

Here are a few of the possible health issues with sucralose:

Most of the health concerns around artificial sweeteners are not well proven. But for many people, the risk feels scary nonetheless. Why take the risk if you don’t have to?

There’s still some uncertainty about how the human body reacts long-term to any artificial sweeteners. Here’s a video that covers more on the science around artificial sweeteners, to help you decide if you’re okay with consuming them.

6. Does Sunny D Have Caffeine?

Sunny D does not have caffeine. It is not an energy drink. It is not advertised as providing caffeine, and none of the ingredients have caffeine naturally. Sunny D should not keep you awake.

Caffeine is an interesting ingredient because it has documented health benefits, but it can also be bad 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.

In any case, Sunny D is caffeine free!

7. Is Sunny D High in Sodium?

Sunny D has about 190mg of sodium per 8 oz serving. This is over 6 times the sodium found in Coca-Cola. However, it is still only about 8% of the daily recommended limit of 2,300 mg of sodium per day. Therefore, Sunny D is not extremely high in sodium.

Sunny D is not as high in sodium as most canned foods or TV dinners… But if you drink Sunny D all day, you could end up consuming a lot of sodium from it. So, you should be mindful if you’re trying to keep your sodium intake low.

8. Does Sunny D Make You Gain Weight?

Sunny D has high-calorie ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrates, and canola oil, so it could contribute to weight gain. However, changes in bodyweight depend on overall calorie balance. Drinking Sunny D 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 Sunny D could lead to weight gain: It simply has a decent amount of empty calories, which don’t really fill you up.

That is, when you drink Sunny D, you’re getting calories without much satiation. And that can lead you to drinking more calories than you need. And in turn, that can cause weight gain.

So, yes, there is a sense in which Sunny D could 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 (A) tracking your calories, or (B) following some of these 18 tips for weight loss without counting calories. Whether you drink Sunny D will not make or break your weight-loss journey by itself.

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9. Is Sunny D Healthier Than Soda?

Let’s compare Sunny D with the most popular soda in the world, Coca-Cola. First, let’s look at some basic nutrition facts:

DrinkCaloriesTotal SugarsSodium
Sunny D6014g190mg
Sunny D vs Coke (per 8 fl oz)

In each 8 oz serving, Coca-Cola is much higher in sugar and calories. Meanwhile Sunny D is higher in sodium.

But it’s worth noting, too, the reason why Sunny D is lower in calories and sugar. It’s because Sunny D also includes artificial sweeteners like sucralose. And I already covered the potential problems with that above.

If you’re not worried about the long-term effects of artificial sweeteners on your health, then Sunny D may be a bit better choice than Coke. It’s lower in sugar, which is important—Coke is way too high in sugar.

But the real answer is that neither Sunny D nor Coke are healthy drinks.

10. Is Sunny D as Healthy as Orange Juice?

The most natural comparison to make with Sunny D is likely with orange juice. So, how do these two drinks compare, nutritionally?

Orange juice is actually not as healthy as many people assume. Although oranges are a healthy fruit, just 1 cup of orange juice ends up containing the sugar from many oranges, without the fiber that would naturally come with it.

So despite the “natural sugar” in orange juice, it may still be excessive total sugar overall. Here’s how Sunny D compares to orange juice in a few key metrics:

DrinkCaloriesTotal SugarsSodium
Sunny D6014g190mg
Simply Orange Juice11023g0mg
Sunny D vs Orange Juice (per 8 fl oz)

Does Sunny D have more sugar than orange juice? No, actually the opposite is true: Real orange juice has more sugar than Sunny D. Again, this is because Sunny D is sweetened partially with zero-calorie sweeteners like sucralose.

So, which is better, Sunny D or orange juice? Most people would say orange juice is healthier. Sunny D just has too many highly processed ingredients, including high fructose corn syrup, sucralose, artificial colors, canola oil, and more.

That said, real orange juice is higher in calories and total sugar. So be mindful of how it fits into your diet and macros, if that’s relevant to your current health goals.

11. Is It Bad to Drink Sunny D Every Day?

Generally speaking, yes, it is bad to drink Sunny D every day. It contains 12g of added sugar per serving, along with other processed ingredients like sucralose, canola oil, and artificial colors. Especially if Sunny D is part of a high-sugar diet, it is not healthy.

High-sugar diets lead to increased risk of obesity, heart disease, tooth decay, and more health problems. And if you drink even two or three servings of Sunny D, you’ve already entered into the realm of “high sugar,” to some extent.

So, side effects of drinking Sunny D every day could potentially include cavities, weight gain, blood-sugar spikes leading to acne and other issues, and more—all from the sugar.

And that’s not even mentioning the potential behavioral effects of the artificial colors—or the potential increased cancer risks with artificial sweeteners and colors.

Now, technically, you could drink one or two sips of Sunny D a day, and you could still be consuming a low-sugar diet. So, that would probably be fine. But who is stopping after one sip? Let’s be realistic here.

The most sensible general guideline would be to only drink Sunny D on occasion. Don’t make it a daily habit.

12. Does Drinking Sunny D Turn You Orange?

In 1999, a four-year-old girl in Wales reportedly turned yellow after drinking 1.5 liters of Sunny Delight per day. This story led to widespread fears and rumors about Sunny Delight, and sales dropped by ~half in the next year. (source)

In the years to follow, Sunny Delight turned into Sunny D, and the ingredients were revamped. But what happened with that yellow girl? And do you need to worry about Sunny D changing your skin color nowadays?

The girl apparently had a condition called carotenosis—and it was caused by the beta-carotene in Sunny Delight. Beta-carotene can build up in your skin, resulting in a yellow-orange color. (source)

Beta-carotene is naturally found in sweet potatoes, carrots, and other vegetables. And indeed, there have been documented cases of people turning orange from eating too many of these vegetables, too.

So, will Sunny D turn you yellow nowadays? The yellow color in Sunny D now comes from artificial colors Yellow 5 and Yellow 6, which do not seem to cause skin color changes, even when consumed in high quantities. So, you should have nothing to worry about.

Keep in mind: Even back in the 1990s when Sunny Delight had beta-carotene, there was only one documented case of it turning someone’s skin yellow. So it was not a common occurrence!

13. Is Sunny D Vegan?

Sunny D is generally considered vegan. It contains no milk, egg, meat, honey, or other animal ingredients

Sunny D is even more vegan-friendly than some other sugary drinks. That’s because Sunny D is sweetened with high fructose corn syrup—not cane sugar that may have been filtered with animal bone char.

Two More Recommendations for Your Plant-Based Journey

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