Drinks regarded as healthy often contain far more sugar than we realise and can add up to 450 calories a day to our diet, researchers have warned.
A survey has shown Britons consistently underestimate the amount of sugar contained in milkshakes, smoothies and some fruit juices.
Pomegranate juice contained nearly 18 teaspoons more sugar in a ‘serving’ than people guessed, while a chocolate milkshake had 7.5 teaspoons more than estimated. Servings of each type of drink in the survey varied from 330ml to 1l.
Research by the University of Glasgow suggests the average person in the UK consumes 3,144 calories a week through non-alcoholic liquid intake.
This adds around 450 calories a day to our diets – equivalent to almost a quarter of the recommended daily calorie intake for women and around a fifth for men.
For the survey, more than 2,000 Britons were asked to estimate how many teaspoons of sugar were in a typical serving of a variety of beverages – 1 teaspoon equating to 4.2g of sugar.
They ‘significantly misjudged’ the levels in milkshakes, smoothies and some fruit juices they were shown compared with fizzy drinks, it found.
Underestimated: Survey respondents thought a portion of pomegranate juice contained four teaspoons of sugar - the true number is 22
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On average, a smoothie portion was judged to contain four teaspoons but actually had six, while a similar underestimate was made for pure orange juice. Pomegranate juice was thought to contain four teaspoons of sugar when it actually had 22, while pure apple juice had four more teaspoons than most people thought.
Those surveyed guessed a chocolate milkshake had six teaspoons – it actually contained more than 13.5.
Treat: A chocolate milkshake contains 13.5 teaspoons of sugar, not the estimated six
A sparkling orange glucose drink had 16 teaspoons of sugar, seven more than most people thought.
Half of people who admitted to drinking three or more sugary drinks in a day said they did not compensate by reducing the calorie intake of their food. Nearly a quarter of those surveyed did not take into consideration their liquid sugar or calorie intake when they were last trying to diet.
UK guidelines recommend that ‘added’ sugars – those used to sweeten food, fizzy drinks, syrups and fruit juices – shouldn’t make up more than 10 per cent of the total energy we get from food. This is around 50g a day.
The over-consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks contributes to obesity, which is a major risk factor for health conditions such as type-2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease and stroke.
Naveed Sattar, professor of metabolic medicine at the University of Glasgow, said: ‘What you drink can be as damaging to the body as what you eat and there is no question that consuming too many sugar-sweetened drinks can greatly contribute to abdominal obesity.
‘This analysis confirms that many people are perhaps not aware of the high calorie levels in many commonly consumed drinks.
‘Some varieties of drinks such as pure fruit juices and smoothies which are perceived as healthy options are also very high in sugar.
‘For many people struggling with their weight, reducing their intake of such drinks and replacing with water or diet drinks would be a sensible first target to help them lessen their calorie intake.
‘The soft drinks industry also has a role to play here by providing drinks with less sugar or offering cheaper diet versions.
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