Revealed: The 'shocking' sugar content in your favourite festive hot drinks

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Olivia Kinsley

High street coffee chains have failed to reduce the "shocking" amount of sugar in their festive hot drinks, a study has found.

Nutritionists found little action had been taken by stores to limit sugar in the drinks - with some actually increasing the amount of sugar in their beverages since 2016.

Action on Sugar said customers looking for alternatives to cow's milk were unwittingly consuming excess sugar due to a lack of labelling and the perception that vegan options are healthier.

One drink had 15 teaspoons of sugar. Credit: Action On Sugar

The charity, based at Queen Mary University in London, looked at the sugar and calorie content of the largest sizes of 124 hot chocolates and 79 seasonal lattes.

It found some drinks contained nearly as much sugar as three cans of coke.

Action on Sugar said 27 per cent of products were direct comparable with a similar study in 2016 had increased their sugar content.

Nutritionists found little action had been taken to limit sugar in the drinks - with some actually increasing sugar since 2016. Credit: Action On Sugar

Which are the worst offenders?

A Starbucks' Signature Caramel Hot Chocolate with whipped cream, using oat milk and in the biggest size available, had the highest sugar content of the hot chocolates surveyed.

It contained more than 23 teaspoons, or 93.7g, of sugar and 758 calories – equivalent to four white chocolate and strawberry muffins from Tesco.

The seasonal latte with the most sugar is the Starbucks Gingerbread Latte with oat milk in venti size, containing more than 14 teaspoons of sugar and 523 calories.

Starbucks said in statement: "The report reflects the most indulgent customisations a customer can make on the Starbucks menu. The examples used are the largest size, Venti, with additional toppings and customisations selected to result in the highest sugar content. Please see a statement from Starbucks below:

“All our drinks can be customized, such as asking for our smallest size; Short, requesting skimmed milk and less or no whipped cream. To help make it easier for customers to make informed choices, nutritional information is also available in-store, on our mobile app and online. We are committed to reducing sugar in all our beverages and since 2015, we’ve delivered a 9% reduction in the sugar content of our Gingerbread and core syrup range of vanilla, caramel and hazelnut.”

Drinks which had increased the amount of sugar since 2016. Credit: PA Graphics

A regular vanilla latte from KFC had 19g of sugar in 2016 but now contains 26g.

However a mocha from the same outlet reduced the amount of sugar from 45.1g in 2016 to 21g over the same period.

While some chains had increased the amount of sugar in their drinks, Costa had taken action to reduce the sugar content in some of its products by more than 50 per cent since 2016.

A KFC vanilla latte did contain 19g of sugar but now contains 26g. Credit: KFC

There were variations in the sugar content of milk alternatives used in hot chocolates and seasonal lattes.

A venti latte with oat milk from Starbucks had more than seven teaspoons of sugar and 350 calories.

But a venti latte with almond milk from Starbucks contained under three teaspoons of sugar and 121 calories.

Amount of sugar reduced in hot drinks since 2016. Credit: PA Graphics

What do the experts say?

Holly Gabriel, a registered nutritionist from Action on Sugar, said: “It is shocking that so many high street coffee chains are wilfully putting their customers’ health at risk despite Public Health England (PHE) setting sugar reduction targets for sugary milk drinks in 2018.

“Responsible coffee shops have shown reformulation is possible within this category.

Katharine Jenner, campaign director at Action on Sugar, said: “You can always add sugar in, but you can’t take it out.

“Customers looking for dairy alternatives could be shocked to learn that many coffee shops and cafes use pre-sweetened alternative milks as the nutrition information is often very difficult to find – with information only available on websites or not at all.”

Dr Saul Konviser, of the Dental Wellness Trust charity, described the findings as “deeply concerning” as many children also consume sugary festive drinks.

“Every day, at least 100 children are in UK hospitals having rotten teeth pulled out because of decay caused by sugary food and drinks that is entirely preventable,” Dr Konviser said.