Dr. Andrea Middleton - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Andrea Middleton

Is A&W Root Beer Bad For You?



Short answer

Regular A&W Root Beer is high in sugar, exceeding the recommended daily intake, which can lead to health issues like diabetes and obesity. Its acidic nature can also cause dental erosion. Diet A&W uses artificial sweeteners with potential long-term health impacts. Caramel color in the drink raises concerns about the carcinogen 4-MEI. Sodium benzoate as a preservative is safe in moderation but may cause hyperactivity in children. Overall, A&W Root Beer should be consumed in moderation with awareness of these potential health effects.



Recommended Alternative

Long answer

Sugar Content and Health Implications of A&W Root Beer

Understanding the sugar content in A&W Root Beer is critically important when evaluating its potential health impact. A standard 12-ounce can contain approximately 39 grams of sugar, which translates to nearly 10 teaspoons. The American Heart Association recommends a maximum daily intake of 9 teaspoons (38 grams) of added sugar for men and 6 teaspoons (25 grams) for women. Exceeding these recommendations can have serious health implications.

Impact on Metabolic Health: High sugar beverages can contribute to insulin resistance, a condition where the body's cells do not respond effectively to insulin, potentially leading to type 2 diabetes. Additionally, excessive sugar intake is associated with the development of obesity which is a risk factor for metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease.

Dental Health Concerns: Sugar-laden drinks like root beer are a significant contributor to dental caries and tooth decay. The bacteria in the mouth can convert sugar into acids that wear away at tooth enamel, leading to cavities.

Effect on Energy Levels: Consuming a large amount of sugar, especially in liquid form, can cause a rapid increase in blood sugar levels, which is often followed by a crash, characterized by fatigue and decreased energy levels.

Non-nutritive Sweeteners: It's also noteworthy to mention that diet versions of A&W Root Beer use artificial sweeteners like aspartame. While these alternatives reduce calorie content and do not affect blood sugar in the same way, there is ongoing debate about their long-term health effects. Moderate consumption is generally considered safe, but some people may experience sensitivity or adverse effects from artificial sweeteners.

In conclusion, the high sugar content in A&W Root Beer can have various negative health implications if consumed in large quantities or on a regular basis. It's wise to consider this beverage as an occasional treat rather than a staple in one's diet and to be mindful of one's total daily sugar intake from all sources.

For those wanting to enjoy the flavor of root beer without the associated health risks, exploring lower-sugar or sugar-free alternatives might be beneficial, though it's essential to remain cautious and informed about the ingredients used in these substitutes.

Artificial Sweeteners in Diet A&W Root Beer: Pros and Cons

When considering the health implications of Diet A&W Root Beer, a critical aspect to examine is the use of artificial sweeteners. These sugar substitutes are crucial ingredients that provide the sweet taste without the calories associated with sugar. Let's delve into the types of artificial sweeteners used in Diet A&W Root Beer, and discuss their potential advantages and disadvantages for health.

Types of Artificial Sweeteners Used

  • Aspartame: Known for its sweetness that is about 200 times that of sugar. It's widely used in diet sodas and other low-calorie products.
  • Acesulfame Potassium (Ace-K): Often used in combination with other sweeteners to provide a sugar-like taste. It is 200 times sweeter than sucrose.

Pros of Artificial Sweeteners

  • Calorie Reduction: One of the major benefits of artificial sweeteners is their role in weight management. They allow individuals to enjoy sweet flavors without the caloric load of sugar, which can be helpful in reducing overall caloric intake.
  • Glycemic Response: Unlike sugar, artificial sweeteners do not cause a spike in blood glucose levels. This can be particularly beneficial for individuals with diabetes, as it allows for greater flexibility in diet without significantly impacting blood sugar levels.
  • Dental Health: Artificial sweeteners don’t contribute to tooth decay since they are not utilized by plaque bacteria in the same way as sugar, which can lead to cavity formation.

Cons of Artificial Sweeteners

  • Potential Health Concerns: Although the FDA has approved artificial sweeteners like aspartame and Ace-K as safe for consumption, there continues to be debate and investigation around potential long-term effects on health, including associations with changes in gut bacteria, appetite, and cravings for sweeter foods.
  • Taste Perception: Frequent consumption of artificially sweetened foods and beverages can alter taste preferences, making naturally sweet foods seem less appealing and potentially leading to increased consumption of sweetened products to achieve the same level of satisfaction.
  • Psychological Impact: There's some evidence to suggest that the consumption of sweet, calorie-free beverages may not provide the same sense of satiety, leading to snacking or overeating as the brain does not receive the same signals it would from caloric sweeteners.

While the consumption of artificial sweeteners found in Diet A&W Root Beer may have some appealing benefits, it is important to understand that the long-term health impact remains a subject of ongoing research and debate in the scientific community. Moderate consumption within a well-balanced diet is typically advised.

To provide a more comprehensive view, let’s consider some recent studies:

  • A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that replacing sugary drinks with artificially sweetened beverages resulted in modest weight loss in participants ([source](https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/107/6/949/4992612)).
  • However, research in the journal Cell Metabolism has raised questions about the impact of artificial sweeteners on the gut microbiome and glucose metabolism ([source](https://www.cell.com/cell-metabolism/fulltext/S1550-4131(16)30003-2)).

In conclusion, consumers should weigh these pros and cons and consider their own dietary needs and health objectives when choosing to consume Diet A&W Root Beer. For specific health concerns or conditions, consulting with a health professional may be beneficial.

Caramel Color: Safety and Health Concerns

When examining the potential health implications of A&W Root Beer, a critical ingredient that requires our attention is caramel color. This widely used food coloring gives the beverage its signature rich, brown hue. However, its impact on human health has come under scrutiny in scientific research and among nutrition experts.

Caramel color, specifically Class IV or 'sulfite ammonia caramel,' is produced by a chemical process involving sugars, ammonium compounds, acids, and sulfites. This process can lead to the creation of 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI), a compound that has been of particular concern. Animal studies, such as those mentioned by the National Toxicology Program, have shown that 4-MEI can cause cancer in some laboratory animals when consumed in high amounts.

While it's vital to understand that the levels of 4-MEI in beverages like A&W Root Beer are considerably lower than the amounts causing adverse effects in these animal models, the potential risk to humans at these lower levels remains a debated issue. For example, a study published in PLOS ONE journal suggests that there could be a link between 4-MEI exposure and an increased risk for certain cancers in humans, though the evidence is not conclusive and requires further research.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) monitors the amount of 4-MEI in foods and beverages, maintaining that the levels found in products like A&W Root Beer are generally regarded as safe. On the other hand, Consumer Reports and other health advocacy groups have prompted calls for stricter regulation and clearer labeling of 4-MEI in consumer products.

In response to these concerns, California's Proposition 65 has set a benchmark, listing 4-MEI as a chemical known to the state to cause cancer and therefore requiring products with certain levels of the compound to bear a warning label. This has led some manufacturers to alter their caramel coloring processes to reduce the levels of 4-MEI in their beverages.

For those wishing to limit their intake of caramel color and potential contaminants like 4-MEI, here are some practical measures:

  • Reducing consumption of colored sodas and other foods and beverages containing caramel color.
  • Checking product labels for the presence of caramel color, especially if the product is not typically brown-hued, as this may indicate unnecessary coloring.
  • Being aware of state and federal regulations, as well as any changes in food industry practices regarding caramel color.

It's important to note that individual health risks can vary based on genetics, lifestyle, and the amount of consumption. Nevertheless, making informed choices about the consumption of caramel-colored products can be a proactive step toward better health.

The Role of Sodium Benzoate as a Preservative

When assessing the potential impact of a beverage like A&W Root Beer on our health, it is important to consider not just the nutritional profile, such as calorie and sugar content, but also the additives it contains. Sodium benzoate is a common preservative found in many foods and drinks, including some varieties of A&W Root Beer. Its inclusion can have both positive and negative implications for consumers.

Purpose of Sodium Benzoate

Sodium benzoate is primarily added to acidic foods like soft drinks, salad dressings, and fruit juices, where it serves as a preservative to extend shelf life. By inhibiting the growth of mold, yeast, and certain bacteria, it plays an essential role in maintaining the safety and freshness of the product.

Health Considerations

While sodium benzoate is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there have been concerns about its potential health effects, particularly when combined with ascorbic acid (vitamin C) to form benzene, a known carcinogen. However, the FDA has determined that the levels of benzene formed from sodium benzoate in beverages are too low to cause harm.

Further research suggests that when consumed in large amounts, sodium benzoate may impact metabolic processes and has been linked to hyperactivity in children. A study published in "The Lancet" indicated that children consuming sodium benzoate in combination with artificial food colorings exhibited increased hyperactivity. Nevertheless, these findings have been subject to extensive debate and further scrutiny in the scientific community.

Dietary Restrictions and Sensitivities

For individuals with specific dietary restrictions or sensitivities, the presence of sodium benzoate can be a concern. Those who are sensitive to the preservative might experience symptoms such as stomach irritation, allergies, or headaches. While these reactions are not common, they are important to consider for individuals with known sensitivities to food preservatives.

Daily Intake Guidelines

The Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) for sodium benzoate, as established by the World Health Organization (WHO), is up to 5 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. It's recommended that consumers be mindful of their overall intake of sodium benzoate from all dietary sources, ensuring it remains within these guidelines.

Weighing the pros and cons of sodium benzoate's role in A&W Root Beer involves a careful consideration of preservative safety, individual tolerance, and consumption patterns. Consumers should make informed decisions based on their health conditions, dietary needs, and the scientific evidence at hand.


  • U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). (n.d.). Everything Added to Food in the United States (EAFUS). Retrieved from [FDA website]
  • McCann, D., Barrett, A., Cooper, A., Crumpler, D., Dalen, L., Grimshaw, K., ... & Sonuga-Barke, E. (2007). Food additives and hyperactive behaviour in 3-year-old and 8/9-year-old children in the community: a randomised, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial. The Lancet, 370(9598), 1560-1567.
  • World Health Organization (WHO). (2000). Evaluation of Certain Food Additives and Contaminants: Fifty-fifth report of the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives. WHO Technical Report Series, 901, 1-145.

Root Beer as a Contributor to Poor Dental Health

The concern regarding soft drinks and dental health is well-founded, with numerous studies highlighting the link between sugary beverages and tooth decay. When it comes to A&W Root Beer, there are specific considerations one must take into account.

Erosive Potential of Soft Drinks

Soft drinks, including root beer, contain acidic components. Although A&W claims that their root beer is caffeine-free and has a smoother taste than other sodas, it still contains acids like carbonic acid, which is a byproduct of carbonation. The erosive potential of these drinks can weaken enamel and make teeth more susceptible to decay. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association, non-cola sodas, which presumably include root beers, may have greater erosive potential than their cola counterparts.

Sugar Content and Oral Bacteria

A&W Root Beer is laden with sugar, unless one opts for the diet version. The regular serving contains a hefty dose of sugars, providing the perfect fuel for bacteria in the mouth. These bacteria, upon feasting on sugar, produce acids that can further erode tooth enamel and initiate cavities. The American Dental Association reiterates that frequent exposure to such sugars can significantly increase the risk of tooth decay.

Frequency of Consumption

It's not only the sugar content, but also the frequency of consumption that aggravates dental issues. Casual drinking of A&W Root Beer may not pose a significant threat, but habitual consumption can accelerate dental erosion and caries formation. A systematic review in the International Journal of Dental Hygiene points to frequent consumption of sugary drinks as a clear risk factor for dental caries.

Diet Root Beer Alternatives

For those looking to enjoy root beer while mitigating risk to dental health, diet versions of A&W Root Beer may offer a solution. These typically eliminate sugar, thus reducing the fuel source for harmful oral bacteria. However, even sugar-free variants can be acidic and therefore still carry a risk for enamel erosion.

Preventive Measures

Consumers can take certain measures to protect their teeth while still enjoying root beer occasionally:

  • Rinse the mouth with water after drinking to help neutralize acids.
  • Use a straw to minimize contact with the teeth.
  • Avoid brushing teeth immediately after consuming root beer to prevent brushing away softened enamel.
  • Maintaining good oral hygiene and regular dental check-ups.

Dental Expert Recommendations

Many dentists recommend limiting the intake of all sugary and acidic drinks. The American Dental Association suggests choosing water, particularly fluoridated water, over sugary beverages to maintain optimal dental health.

While A&W Root Beer and similar soft drinks are a staple in American culture, mindful consumption combined with good dental hygiene practices can help mitigate their negative impact on dental health.

Healthier Drink Alternatives to A&W Root Beer

For those seeking to indulge in a refreshing drink without the added sugars and artificial ingredients present in A&W Root Beer, there are numerous healthier alternatives to consider. These options can provide the satisfaction of a special beverage while aligning more closely with nutritional goals, whether they're aimed at reducing sugar intake, avoiding artificial additives, or simply opting for more natural ingredients.

1. Homemade Root Beer: A homemade version of root beer allows for complete control over the ingredients used. Utilizing natural flavorings such as sassafras or sarsaparilla, along with a sweetener of choice like honey or maple syrup, one can create a less processed, more wholesome version of this classic drink.

2. Sparkling Water with Natural Flavoring: As a bubbly alternative, sparkling water with natural fruit extracts offers a similar effervescent experience without the calories or sugar. Brands like LaCroix and Spindrift use real fruit and provide a variety of flavors to choose from.

3. Kombucha: For those who enjoy the fizzy nature of root beer, kombucha is a fermented tea beverage that not only imparts effervescence but also includes beneficial probiotics. It's generally lower in sugar than sodas and can contribute to gut health.

4. Herbal Teas (Chilled): An array of herbal teas can be cooled to create an iced-tea beverage that's free from caffeine and rich in natural flavors. Opting for teas with licorice root or vanilla can mimic some of the sweet notes found in root beer.

5. Fruit-Infused Water: Infusing water with fruits, herbs, and even spices can impart subtle natural sweetness and refreshing flavors. Ingredients like apple slices, cinnamon sticks, and vanilla beans can create a satisfying drink with a nod to the traditional root beer palate.

6. Diet or Zero Sugar Root Beers: While still a soda, diet or zero-sugar root beers may offer a lower-calorie, lower-sugar alternative. However, it's important to be mindful that these options often contain artificial sweeteners and other ingredients that may not be desirable for all health-conscious consumers.

When considering any drink as an alternative to traditional sodas like A&W Root Beer, it's important to review nutritional labels and ingredient lists. Choosing beverages with minimal ingredients and those that are closer to their natural state can contribute positively to overall health and well-being. Moderate consumption and an awareness of how these drinks fit into one's broader dietary pattern are key components of making healthier drink choices.

Frequently asked questions

A&W Root Beer contains sodium benzoate, a common food preservative. While generally recognized as safe, it can form benzene, a carcinogen, when combined with vitamin C, although the FDA states these levels are too low to be harmful. Some people may be sensitive to sodium benzoate, experiencing allergies or stomach irritation. Those with concerns about preservatives should check labels carefully and consult health professionals.

Yes, the standard version of A&W Root Beer can affect individuals with diabetes due to its high sugar content. It can result in spikes in blood glucose levels. For those with diabetes looking to enjoy root beer, sugar-free versions or diet root beer using artificial sweeteners could be a better option as they do not significantly affect blood sugar, though it's essential to consult with a healthcare provider.

A&W Root Beer is actually caffeine-free, which differentiates it from many other soft drinks that contain caffeine. Caffeine can have negative effects such as increased heart rate and disrupted sleep patterns when consumed in excess, but since A&W Root Beer doesn't contain caffeine, it avoids these potential issues. However, its high sugar content presents other health concerns such as an increased risk of obesity and diabetes.

Caramel color in A&W Root Beer has been a topic of concern due to a byproduct called 4-MEI that forms during production. High levels of 4-MEI have been linked to cancer in animal studies. However, the FDA monitors the amounts of 4-MEI and considers the levels found in A&W Root Beer to be safe. Consumers who are concerned can look for drinks with no added color or for companies that have altered their recipes to lower 4-MEI levels.

Ask a question about A&W Root Beer and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • insulin resistance
  • obesity
  • dental caries
  • tooth decay
  • blood sugar level spike and crash
  • sensitivity to artificial sweeteners
  • altered taste perception
  • increased appetite or cravings
  • headache
  • stomach irritation
  • hyperactivity in children

Possible long-term side effects

  • type 2 diabetes
  • metabolic syndrome
  • cardiovascular disease
  • potential cancer risk from 4-mei
  • changes in gut microbiome (from artificial sweeteners)
  • psychological impact from non-nutritive sweeteners
  • benzene formation from sodium benzoate and vitamin c

Ingredients to be aware of


  • calorie control (from diet soda)
  • no impact on blood glucose with artificial sweeteners
  • artificial sweeteners do not contribute to dental decay

Healthier alternatives

  • homemade root beer
  • sparkling water with natural flavoring
  • kombucha
  • chilled herbal teas
  • fruit-infused water
  • diet or zero sugar root beers

Our Wellness Pick (what is this?)

Virgil's Zero Sugar Root Beer

  • Zero calorie drink
  • Keto friendly
  • No sugar added
  • Great tasting
  • Convenient 6-pack
Learn More!

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 02-21-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 02-21-2024

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