Study Finds Shocking Levels of Sugar in High Street Hot Drinks
Photo: Michael Allen Smith: /CC

Study Finds Shocking Levels of Sugar in High Street Hot Drinks

Which Drink is Best?


Picture the scene – you are walking down the local High Street, getting a few bits for home, and you have a sudden thirst. You see a coffee chain shop just in front of you, and you dive in for a drink.


Once inside the shop, you see two drinks you fancy – a can of Coke, or a hot chocolate.


You can’t decide what to have! So you choose the drink that is, in your eyes, the slightly healthier one = the hot choc. “A hot choc must be heathier than a Coke, right?” 


Little do you know, that the hot choc contains more than twice the added sugar than a can of Coke.


You have just stumbled on one of the big hidden health issues of our time – high Street hot flavoured drinks. We’ve all heard about the sugar in fizzy drinks; now it’s time for sweetened hot drinks to take the stand.


Action On Sugar


The Charity Action on Sugar recently released a study which found a “shocking” amount of sugar in many hot flavoured drinks.


Action on Sugar analysed 131 hot drinks from outlets such as KFC, Costa and Café Nero, and found a third contained as much sugar as a can of Pepsi or Coke (nine teaspoons).


The worst offender, a hot drink from Starbucks, contained a whopping 25 teaspoons (!) of sugar. This is much more than 3 times the NHS guideline daily amount of added sugar for a UK adult – 7 teaspoons.


To match up the study to the Government Daily Guidelines on sugar, it must be also stated that 98% of the drinks tested in the study would receive a red nutrition label for high sugar content.


Food Labelling – Red, Amber and Green


NHS Choices tells us that green, amber or red colours on food labelling tell you at a glance what health level the food contains, in terms of fat, salt and sugar.


Obviously red means caution!


High sugar content in this case means more than 22.5g of sugar per 100g. Some are campaigning for these traffic light labels to be placed on takeaway hot drinks, just to give consumers an idea of what they are drinking.


These drinks should be an occasional treat at most, not the daily fix that many people treat them as. You could say that hot sweet drinks are adults’ weakness, in contrast to sugary fizzy drinks which seem to be many young people’s Achilles Heel.


It’s no good leaving fizzy drinks behind just to embrace sugary hot drinks instead!


See below for some of the hot drinks to avoid, some of the worst offenders:


High Street Hot Sugary Drinks


  • KFC – Mocha – 15 teaspoons of sugar per serving
  • Starbucks – “White Choc Mocha With Whipped Cream”, Venti – 18 teaspoons of sugar per serving
  • Costa – Chai Latte, Massimo, Eat In – 20 teaspoons of sugar per serving
  • (The worst offender) Starbucks - Hot Mulled Fruit - Grape with Chai, Orange and Cinnamon - Venti – 25 teaspoons of sugar per serving


Health Body Response


Nicola Close, Chief Executive of the Association of Directors of Public Health says,


"These results highlight the need for more transparency on sugar content and compulsory labelling of sugar content. Drinkers deserve to know how much sugar they are consuming.”


It’s only fair to give the coffee shops a chance to respond to this here. A Starbucks spokesman says,


Corporate Responses


 “Earlier this year we committed to reduce added sugar in our indulgent drinks by 25% by the end of 2020.  We also offer a wide variety of lighter options, sugar-free syrups and sugar-free natural sweetener and we display all nutritional information in-store and online."


Costa Coffee commented to the BBC that they had taken “significant steps” to reduce the sugar in their drinks. They added that they would setting salt and sugar reduction targets for 2020. 


Sugar Tax


Since this report was released, we have seen the introduction of the sugar tax in this year’s Budget – that levy is applicable only to cold fizzy drinks though, and is aimed at tackling childhood obesity, rather than the mostly adult world of hot flavoured drinks.


Perhaps the next Jamie Oliver campaign we will see will be about a sugar tax on hot drinks…?