Cutting back on sugary drinks…

Sugar intake in the UK

Average sugar intake in the UK exceeds current recommendations in all age groups.

The biggest contributor in the diet is soft drinks.

People’s health would benefit if sugar intake was reduced.

Current UK recommendation: no more than 10% of an individual’s daily total energy intake should be consumed as sugar (50g for women & 70g for men). This is equivalent to 11 to 14 level teaspoons per day.

The World Health Organisation has made new recommendations that the above target should be significantly reduced to 25g sugar for women and 35g sugar for men.

Why cut back on sugary drinks?

Sugary drinks have no nutritional value and are often described as containing ‘empty’ calories. This means they contain no essential nutrients other than providing calories in the form of carbohydrate from sugar. Sugar can either be found naturally in foods or added to foods during manufacture. Added sugar found in soft drinks is not necessary for a healthy diet.

Sugary drinks include those drinks with ‘added sugar’ such as fizzy soft drinks, fruit flavoured drinks, squash and energy drinks.

How can I tell if a drink is high in sugar?

There are 56 different names for sugar! The most common include maltose, glucose, molasses, fructose, sucrose, dextrose, honey, invert sugar, treacle and syrups – e.g. glucose syrup, fructose syrup, corn syrup and maple syrup.

If these are listed high up in the ingredients list on the nutrition label, it is likely the product is high in sugar as ingredients are listed in order of weight.

56 names of sugar infographic

Information can be found on the nutrition information panel (on the back of the packets – see fig 1.0 below). These labels will detail the total amount of sugar in the product, but bear in mind that sugar may appear in more than one form.

Fig 1.0

Front of Pack (FoP) Food Labelling

Colour coded nutrition labels on foods can make it easier to choose healthy options, showing you ‘at- a-glance’ if the food you are thinking about buying has high, medium or low amounts of sugars, salt and fat. Red means high, amber means medium, and green means low.

The majority of retailers in the UK will either use ‘GDA ‘ (Guideline Daily Amounts) or ‘colour coding’ or a combination of both on the front of packaging, to help customers read food labels and choose healthier options.

A low-sugar drink contains less than 2.5g of sugar per 100ml

A medium-sugar drink contains 2.5g to 11.25g of sugar per 100ml

A high-sugar drink contains more than 11.25g of sugar per 100ml

There is also a high sugar ‘cut-off’ point to show drinks where a normal portion would lead to eating or drinking a high level of sugar.

A drink with more than 13.5g sugar per portion is classed as high sugar.

So, that mean drinks containing more than 11.25g per 100ml of sugar or 13.5g or more of sugar per serving will be labelled red.

Low – a healthier choice Medium – in moderation High – just occasionally Per serving
Added Sugar per 100ml < 2.5g per 100ml > 2.5g to 11.25g > 11.25g > 13.5g per serving

Examples of  low sugar drinks

(Green – less than 2.5g sugar per 100ml)

Water contains 0g sugar per 100ml

Diet Cola 0g sugar per 100ml

Children’s low sugar fruit drink contains 0.8g sugar per 100ml

Skimmed milk contains 0g (added sugar) per 100ml, however it does contain milk sugars ‘lactose’ which are fine for us to drink!

Examples of high sugar drinks

(Red – over 11.25g sugar per 100ml or over 13.5g per serving)

Cola drinks can contains 35g sugar per 330ml serving (7 teaspoons or 9 sugar cubes/ 140 calories)*

Lemon and Lime flavoured fizzy drinks can contain 36.3g sugar per 330ml serving (7 teaspoons or 9 sugar cubes/ 146 calories)

Sparkling orange juice can contain 33.6g sugar per 330ml serving (6.5 teaspoons or 8 sugar cubes/134 calories)

Energy drinks can contain 27.5g sugar per 250ml serving (5.5 teaspoons or 7 sugar cubes/110 calories)

Chilled chocolate milkshakes can contain a whopping 50g sugar per 471ml serving (10 teaspoons or 12.5 sugar cubes/200 calories)

Ginger Beer can contain 52.8g sugar per 330ml serving (10.5 teaspoons or 13 sugar cubes/211.2 calories)

Orange flavour energy drinks can contain 47.5g sugar per 380ml serving (9.5 teaspoons or almost 12 sugar cubes/190 calories)

*1 x teaspoon = 5g sugar
1x sugar cube = 4g sugar
1x gram sugar = 4 calories

Make the switch! Healthier alternatives to sugary drinks


Lower fat milks

Sugar free and ‘diet’ soft drinks

No added sugar drinks


Try switching from sparkling orange juice to no added sugar squash with sparkling water / plain water
Try diluting fresh / pure orange juice (not made from concentrate) with sparkling or plain water


Pure fruit juices contain important vitamins but also a large amount of natural sugar. It is therefore recommended we consume no more than 1 x 150ml portion once a day, and at mealtimes.
‘Diet’ soft drinks contain no or little added sugar however they are acidic and can be harmful to teeth if consumed too often. For more information on diet drinks and artificial sweeteners see factsheet.
Water and milk are the best drinks to have between mealtimes.
Try and limit drinks that do contain sugar to mealtimes. (Each time you eat sugar bacteria in the mouth produce acid which attacks the enamel on teeth, causing tooth decay. Limiting sugary foods and drinks to mealtimes reduces the number of times teeth are under attack).


1. Department of Health (1989). Dietary Sugars and Human Disease Report of the Panel on Dietary Sugars of the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy. Report on Health and Social Subjects 37. London. HMSO
2. Guide to creating a front of pack (FoP) nutrition label for pre-packed products sold through retail outlets. DOH, 2013. Determining red, amber and green colour coding (and High, Medium and Low (HML) text if applied.
3. Public Health England. 2014. Sugar reduction, responding to the challenge.