A new survey out of the UK shows that so-called adult sodas, which tend to be pricier, also carry a far higher sugar content than regular sodas.
Conducted by campaign group Action on Sugar, an organization of scientists and specialists who believe there are dangerous levels of sugar in our food, the research looked at 232 sugar-sweetened drinks from leading supermarket stocks sampled over the last month.
They found that around 79% of those soft drinks contained six or more teaspoons of sugar per can. To put this in perspective, the World Health Organization’s new draft recommendations say that an average adult really should not exceed six teaspoons a day of so-called free sugars, like glucose, fructose, and sucrose, which are regularly added to products by manufacturers and are especially abundant in soft drinks.
As a baseline, and rather unsurprisingly, a can of Coca-Cola was found to contain 9 teaspoons of sugar. However, a number of soft drinks that are usually thought of as healthier, and ones that are usually marketed to adults as more sophisticated drinks, in fact contained far more sugar. For example, at the top of that list was Waitrose Ginger Beer which contained 13.9 grams of sugar, M&S Firey ginger beer at 13.8 grams, Sainsbury’s Cloudy Lemonade at 13.5 grams, and grapefruit drink San Pellegrino Pompelmo at 12.1 grams.
Even drinks that traditionally are not associated with a particularly sugary taste contained in excess of 6 teaspoons of sugar, such as Shloer White Grape and Elderflower, which had 8.8 teaspoons per 330 ml serving.
Action for Sugar is urging that the UK government take action to reduce the sugar content of fizzy drinks, with Chairman Professor Graham MacGregor†quoted as saying: “Added sugars are completely unnecessary in our diets and are strongly linked to obesity and Type II Diabetes, as well as to dental caries; which remains a major problem for children and adults. We urge the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt MP, to set incremental targets for sugar reduction now — and to start with these sugary drinks. Replacing sugar with sweeteners is not the answer: we need to reduce overall sweetness so people’s tastes can adjust to having less sweet drinks.”
MacGregor relates this to how we have successfully reduced sugar intake, saying, “people are consuming 15% less salt than they were 10 years ago, and now prefer less salty foods, this policy is estimated to be saving 9,000 lives a year, plus healthcare savings of £1.5billion a year. It is NOW time to do the same for sugar.”
In response,†a Department of Health spokesperson told the press that the government is taking the problem seriously: “As a nation, we need to consume less sugar. We are working with the food and drinks industry to reduce the amount of sugar in products and make healthier alternatives available. And we are the first country in Europe to recommend simple voluntary front-of-pack labeling — this will make it easier for us to know how much sugar we are consuming. We eagerly await the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition’s independent report, to be published later this month, which will make recommendations around sugar consumption.”
A spokesperson for the soft drinks industry has reacted strongly against the research though, saying that “political zeal” appears to be blinding campaigners to the fact that more than 60% of soft drinks on the market actually contain no sugar at all, with Gavin Partington of the British Soft Drinks Association adding, “Perhaps unsurprisingly, they have also ignored the evidence that shows obesity arises from an imbalance of calories consumed and calories expended and is not caused by one particular ingredient.”
However, Partington cannot deny that there is a disconnect between official labeling and an actual awareness about the content of our food and its calories,†something that is especially true when those products are aimed at children or are associated with media figures that children aspire to emulate.
In that vein, Tim Lang of City University London†notes that there are a number of soft drink brands that sponsor the current soccer World Cup. “We really must address the connotations sought by makers and sellers of oversweet, unhealthy food and drink products with superfit young men running around football fields staying fit, while the UK and much of the world sits, watches, imbibes soft drinks and puts on weight. The flood of sugary drinks from so many sources which this report exposes simply must be reduced.”
A debate is still raging throughout Europe and the United States as to whether so-called sin taxes, or taxes on unhealthy foods, are appropriate or not. Evidence suggests such tax rises can be successful for some countries, but they can require massive amounts of political clout to fight the food industry and to convince the public.
In the meantime, if you do enjoy the odd soft drink but want to know exactly how much sugar you are drinking, you can get a better idea of the sugar content of any beverage by looking for the “sugar per 100g” ratio. The higher the figure, the more you may want to avoid the drink. Also, you can take a look at Care2′s list of soft drink alternatives so you can still enjoy a cool drink this summer without the hit to your health.
Photo credit: Thinkstock.