Last updated: September 2013
Satisfying a sweet tooth
The health issues associated with sugar and high fructose corn syrup in soft drinks are well known: tooth cavities, weight gain and associated type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
A study led by researchers at Imperial College London found that one can of fizzy drink a day can independently increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by one fifth.
Sugar content comparison
Key to table
There are approximately 4.2g of sugar to a teaspoon.
Sugar-content data was collected during a shop survey in July 2013.
Type of sugar present was ignored for clarity.
For your information:
Whole Earth Cola was sweetened by Agave syrup.
Gusto Kola, Purdeys, Free & Easy, and Feel Good drinks were sweetened with fruit juice. All other drinks were sweetened with sugar, sucrose, glucose or sweeteners.
Aspartame and Acesulfame k (E950) were the most commonly used sweeteners.
No information about the sugar content of Free & Easy fizzy drinks could be found, and the company did not respond to a phone call or email.
‘Guideline Daily Amount’ (GDA) information was obtained from www.betreatwise.org.uk. This website also contained GDA information for other age bands and sexes.
BB = listed as a Best Buy in our cola and soft drinks product guides
A.k = Acesulfame k, Asp = Aspartame, Steviol = Steviol glycosides, Sac = Saccharine
Reference: 1 The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: ‘Consumption of added sugars is decreasing in the United States’, Jean A Welsh, Andrea J Sharma, Lisa Grellinger, and Miriam B Vos, June, 2011, http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/94/3/726.short
According to the food and farming charity Sustain, the cost to the NHS, and therefore the tax payer, of treating diet-related illnesses amounts to about £6 billion a year.
Many initiatives have therefore arisen in an attempt to curb the consumption of sugary drinks. These include:
- Restricting drink sizes, as was done in New York City by Mayor Bloomberg
- Banning sugary drinks on sale in hospitals and schools, recently proposed in England
- The Public Health Responsibility deal. This includes a Calorie Reduction pledge, which was signed by major drinks manufacturer Coca-Cola, AG Barr, and Lucozade owner GlaxoSmithKline.
An additional idea is that of a ‘sin tax’- an approach similar to that used on alcohol and cigarettes. A proposal was made by Sustain in January 2013 for a 20p-per-litre levy on soft drinks in an attempt to curb the incidence of obesity and “reflect the ‘true’ cost of soft drinks to society”.
The proposal was supported by over 61 health organisations and charities and was unsurprisingly rejected outright by the soft drinks industry.
They claimed that “soft drinks only made up 20% of the average calorie intake; whilst the incidence of obesity had been increasing, 61% of soft drinks contained no added sugar; and that soft drinks companies already paid 20% in VAT to the government”.
Low calorie alternatives
Negative health publicity has forced the soft drinks industry to go on a diet. Low calorie variants of products have become commonplace, with a range of intense sweeteners – substances that are many times sweeter than sugar – ensuring that we can still enjoy our favourite beverages with less guilt.
60% of us now choose to drink these ‘healthier’ variants e.g. diet coke over traditional ‘full fat’ coke.
Although terminology is open to interpretation, ‘artificial sweeteners’ such as aspartame and saccharin have come under close scrutiny and have been linked, although still inconclusively, to a number of health issues.
In a recent move by Coca-Cola, all full sugar Sprite from the UK market was removed and replaced with a ‘Stevia’ sweetened version, presenting the Stevia plant as a ‘natural’, zero-calorie alternative to sweeten drinks.
At the time of writing, Stevia leaves were not used directly within soft drinks as, according to the Food Standards Agency, Stevia leaves were considered a ‘novel food’.
Steviol glycosides (E960), used to sweeten soft drinks, are isolated and purified from the leaves of the Stevia plant and were only granted approval for use in the European Union in November 2011.
No negative health issues have been associated with Stevia. The only negative comment reported was that Stevia can have a slightly bitter aniseed taste if used in high quantities.