Ho, Ho... How much sugar?! 

Your seasonal favourite could be less than merry for your teeth.

After fighting your way through hordes of Christmas shoppers with what feels like a metric ton of Christmas presents, you’d be forgiven for treating yourself to a well-earned soothing coffee in your local high street coffee shop. But what happens when those inviting speciality hot drinks become a regular habit over the Christmas season?

After looking at a number of festive speciality coffees from well known high street coffee chains, we discovered that many contain shocking levels of sugar – one Christmas hot chocolate contained up to 24 teaspoons of sugar. If these drinks are accompanied by cakes or other sweet treats, the amount of sugar consumed can double.

“While most people will probably be aware that their festive drink contains some levels of sugar, they might not be aware of the sheer quantity,” says Henry Clover, our Deputy Chief Dental Officer. “Many of the festive coffees, lattes and hot chocolates that we looked at across a range of high street coffee chains contained, on average, around 12 to 18 teaspoons of sugar in their largest portion sizes. One caramel fudge hot chocolate from a popular coffee chain even contained a shocking 24 teaspoons of sugar – that’s the equivalent to around two and a half cans of cola.

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How much sugar is in your Christmas coffee?


“As a one-off treat, a sugary festive drink won’t do you any harm, but if you get into the habit of frequently consuming high levels of sugar, this may cause tooth decay. Every time we eat or drink something sugary, bacteria in our mouths produce acids that can cause tooth decay. A high sugar diet is also linked to other health problems such as obesity and diabetes.”

The vast amounts of sugar found in high street coffee chain beverages is especially concerning in light of guidelines from the World Health Organisation published earlier this year*. The WHO suggests that adults should consume no more than 12 teaspoons of ‘free’ sugars a day, but should really be aiming for six. ‘Free’ sugars refer to sugar that is added to foods and drinks, as well as things like honey and fruit juices.

In addition, research conducted earlier this year by YouGov on behalf Denplan** also suggests that consumers would welcome knowing more about the levels of sugar found in their food and drinks, and would even like to see an overall reduction in sugar content. The survey revealed that only a third of UK adults (35%) think that retailers and food companies do enough to inform them of how much sugar is in food and drinks. Of those who disagreed that retailers and food companies do enough, 73% said retailers and food companies should reduce the overall sugar content in food and drinks.

So what are the healthier options for a festive beverage this Christmas? 

“It’s certainly not all doom and gloom for the Yuletide season – it’s all about being informed and enjoying things in moderation,” says Henry. “Opting for a peppermint tea or an Americano coffee or plain latte with sugar-free syrup can warm you up without the added sugar.

“If you do decide to sample a speciality coffee during the festive period, make sure you’re aware of the sugar content before you order, and try to drink this as part of a balanced meal.”

*World Health Organisation, March 2015 http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2015/sugar-guideline/en/ on 4th March 2015.

**Denplan/YouGov Survey February 2015. The survey was carried out online. Total sample size was 5,315 adults. Please note, as of February 2017, Denplan have rebranded as Simplyhealth Professionals.

Published on December 15th, 2015

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