Coffee Chains Tally Significant Sugar Totals

You may want to think twice before ordering that extra-large, extra-sweet latte. Action on Sugar, a nutritional advocacy organization in the United Kingdom, reports that 98% of the 131 different hot flavored drinks sold in popular coffee shop chains it surveyed would receive the UK’s “red” label for exceeding 13.5 grams of sugar per serving.

Perhaps more importantly, more than 55% of the drinks surveyed by the group equaled or exceeded the World Health Organization’s maximum daily recommended amount of sugars for teens and adults, which is 30 grams or 7 teaspoons. Also, 35% of the drinks had the same or a greater amount of sugar than a can of Coca-Cola, which has 9 teaspoons.

The venti grape with chai, orange, and cinnamon Hot Mulled Fruit at Starbucks tallied the most sugar at 25 teaspoons and 99 grams. Next, Costa Coffee’s large chai latte totaled 20 teaspoons at 79.7 grams. The Starbucks venti white chocolate mocha with whipped cream was third, with 18 teaspoons and 73.8 grams.

“These hot flavored drinks should be an occasional treat, not an everyday drink. They are laden with an unbelievable amount of sugar and calories,” said Kawther Hashem, a registered nutritionist and researcher for Action on Sugar. “Our advice to consumers is to have a plain hot drink or ask for your drink to contain a minimal amount of syrup, preferably sugar free, in the smallest serving size available.”

The survey also included Caffe Nero, Eat, Greggs, KFC, Leon, McDonalds, and Pret a Manger. Serving sizes ranged from 97 to 667 mL. Data was collected either at the store or online via the chain’s website. All information reflected beverages with full or semi-skimmed milk, and all hot chocolates included whipped cream.

According to Action on Sugar, more than 18,000 outlets in the United Kingdom sell about 1.7 billion cups of coffee each year, with one in 5 consumers including teenagers visiting a coffee shop daily. Their appeal to teenagers is a particular concern, with 46% of 15-year-olds showing obvious decay in the 2013 Child Dental Health Survey.

“These results highlight the need for more transparency on sugar content and compulsory labeling of sugar content,” said Nicola Close, chief executive of the Association of Directors of Public Health. “Drinkers deserve to know how much sugar they are consuming.”

Some organizations in the United Kingdom are calling for more than increased transparency, also recommending a tax on sugary beverages. Public Health England, an autonomous agency of the Department of Health, recommends a 10% to 20% tax on high-sugar products. Also, the British Dental Association and research from the University of Warwick both urge a 20% tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.

“A tax on sugary drinks would also help by shifting consumption towards healthier alternatives, not only via the price itself but in the health message differential pricing would send,” said Dr. Mick Horton, dean of the Faculty of General Dental Practice (UK). “A tax should be backed up by stronger restrictions on advertising and promotions, and could pay for badly needed health education initiatives.”