The Jelly Bean Rule

For all of you busy moms out there, here is a way to think about sugar consumption that both you and your children can easily understand and apply on a daily basis.

Articles on sugar usually spell out the good, the bad and the ugly of sugar consumption, but they rarely help you make day-to-day decisions for yourself or for your family. A photo of an apple and a piece of cake next to their equivalent number of sugar cubes is a nice visual aid. The larger stack of sugar cubes next to the cake clearly demonstrates that the piece of cake contains MORE sugar than the apple. This information is immensely helpful when you are choosing between an apple and a piece of cake, but how does this help you when neither an apple nor a piece of cake is on the menu? Most people, especially children, do not think of food in terms of sugar cubes, so what easy reference can you use? The Jelly Bean rule.

Mr Bean

Most people are familiar with the little brightly colored jelly beans from Jelly Belly. They are the little jelly beans that come in an endless range of creatively named flavors. They can be found almost everywhere: at the supermarket check-out, the stationary store and at the ice cream shop. It also just so happens that each Jelly Belly jelly bean contains 0.8 grams of sugar – almost 1 gram. So, a handy reference for envisioning the amount of sugar in a particular item is to think of that item in terms of jelly beans. For example, a 12 oz. can of Coca-Cola soda contains 39 grams of sugar which equates to 39 jelly beans if you use the 1:1 Jelly Bean rule. (The actual number is 49 jelly beans). The next time you choose to drink a 12 oz. can of Coca-Cola, realize that you are drinking approximately 39 jelly beans. It stops and makes you think, doesn’t it?

kid drinking soda

So What Is The Jelly Bean Rule?

The Jelly Bean rule is also an easy rule for kids to grasp. For example, an 8 oz. Horizon’s Organic, single serving Chocolate Milk box contains 22 grams of sugar. Using the 1:1 rule, a child can quickly realize that they will get approximately the same amount of sugar as in 22 jelly beans by drinking the milk. (The actual number is about 28 jelly beans). The 1:1 Jelly Bean rule will always understate the number of jelly beans in an item. One should actually multiply by 1.25 to convert from grams of sugar to jelly beans, but, for a child, a 1:1 ratio is a simple and handy reference.

Explaining the Jelly Bean rule to children can ultimately help them understand a parent’s rationale for why he or she may not want to give them a particular treat. It can also help them make better decisions overall. Should Lia get a bottle of water (0 jelly beans), or have a simple glass of milk (12 jelly beans), or have the Horizon’s Chocolate Milk (22 jelly beans)? Lia can likely understand why Mommy doesn’t want her to drink “22 jelly beans”.

Of course, the sugars in a plain milk, Horizon’s Chocolate Milk and a Coca-Cola soda are not all the same.  Milk contains lactose which is a combination of galactose and glucose. Horizon’s Chocolate Milk contains lactose and cane sugar, while Coca-Cola contains high fructose corn syrup. Different types of sugars are processed via different mechanisms in the body and impact the body in very different ways. These differences will be explained in a subsequent blog. All of the ingredients discussed are, however, still considered sugars.

cooking with kid

Here are a few other reference points to start you on your way to using the Jelly Bean rule.


Note: The sugar in Tropicana orange juice
is naturally occurring sugar and is NOT the same as the sugar that can be found in processed drinks or food. Although naturally occurring, the sugar present in orange juice is still a sugar.

Seeing the amount of sugar and the equivalent number of jelly beans in an Icee can be a frightening revelation. Even a 20 oz. Mountain Dew would contain slightly less sugar than a 20 oz. Blue Raspberry Icee. Movie goers beware!

So, as you teach your child how to make decisions and trade-offs regarding food and snacks, the Jelly Bean rule can help them make good choices and, just hopefully, make your life a little bit easier.