Iced coffee blends from high street coffee chains contain shocking amounts of sugar, with many ‘regular-sized’ or medium drinks easily exceeding the maximum recommended daily sugar intake for adults and having higher levels than a Mars bar or can of Coke, Which? research has revealed.
The consumer champion compared frappès and frappuccinos from three of the biggest coffee chains – Caffe Nero, Costa and Starbucks – and found many had exceptionally high sugar levels.
One of the unhealthiest options the consumer champion found was a Starbucks caramel frappuccino with semi-skimmed milk, containing 48.5g of sugar – 12 teaspoons’ worth.
NHS health advice suggests a maximum of 30g, or around 7 teaspoons of free sugar per day.
A Caffe Nero Belgian chocolate & hazelnut frappè crème contained a staggering 44.5g of sugar – equivalent to 11 teaspoons.
Costa also fared badly, with a Chocolate fudge brownie frappè mocha with oat milk amounting to 42.6g of sugar, or 10.5 teaspoons.
For comparison, a 51g Mars chocolate bar contains 31g of sugar, working out at 7.5 teaspoons, while a 330ml can of Coca-Cola contains 35g of sugar, which works out at around eight-and-a-half teaspoons.
Consumers would likely think plain coffee flavour frappès and frappuccinos would be healthier, but, while they do contain less sugar, levels are still relatively high. For example, a Costa Coffee frappè with skimmed milk contains 21.3g of sugar.
By law, the calorie content of these drinks needs to be displayed in store. All restaurants with more than 250 employees must display calorie labelling for all food and drink. However, the sugar content does not need to be displayed so consumers are at risk of unwittingly exceeding the maximum recommended daily intake of free sugars.
While, for the dairy-based drinks at least, some of the sugar content comes from lactose, all also contain high amounts of free sugars. Free sugars are added sugars and those found naturally in syrups, honey and fruit juice. Health advice is to limit how much of these sugars people consume, due to their damaging impact on teeth. A high intake of free sugars can also lead to weight gain.
If consumers want to cut their sugar intake but still enjoy an iced brew, a simple switch is to opt for iced versions of a standard coffee instead. These are typically unblended, and involve a shot of coffee mixed with milk (or dairy-free alternative) and ice cubes in a cup, such as an iced Americano or Latte. These contain much less sugar, because they do not contain added sugar – or the sugary syrups used for frappès and frappuccinos.
In Starbucks, an Iced Americano contains just 0.2g of sugar whereas an iced cappuccino with skimmed milk has 8.5g, the equivalent of 2 teaspoons of sugar. At Costa, an Iced flat white with semi-skimmed milk contains 11.2g of sugar, which is 2.5g teaspoons. To note, this is sugar found naturally in cow’s milk and does not count towards your free sugar intake.
In 2018 the government introduced a Soft Drinks Industry Levy (SDIL), known as the ‘sugar tax’, in an attempt to clamp down on high sugar levels in drinks. Some drinks are exempt from the tax – including fruit juices, and drinks made on site and served in open cups. Syrups, often used in frappés, are also exempt. This means these iced coffees are exempt, even though they contain more sugar than other drinks that are subject to it.
If consumers were to purchase a drink in a shop, all nutritional information would be labelled clearly, including its sugar content. However, in a coffee shop, only displaying the number of calories is legally required.
Shefalee Loth, Which? Nutritionist, said:
“Our analysis of sugar content in iced coffee blends shows people could unwittingly be consuming much more sugar than they realise, with potentially damaging implications for their health.
“High street chains need to take more responsibility and reduce the excessive sugar content of some of their drinks to protect people’s health.
“When buying an iced drink, there are alternative, healthier options to choose, such as a standard iced coffee, which contains far less sugar.”
Notes to editors:
- Sugar content in iced coffees from Caffè Nero, Costa and Starbucks
These figures are based on medium or regular-sized drinks.
|Brand||Drink||Sugar (grams / no of teaspoons)|
|Caffè Nero (One size, 473ml drink)||Belgian chocolate & hazelnut frappè crème (oat milk)||44.5g / 11 tsp|
|Espresso & caramel frappè crème (semi-skimmed milk)||44.3g / 11 tsp|
|Costa (Medium, 499ml drink)||Chocolate fudge brownie frappè mocha (oat milk)||42.6g / 10.5 tsp|
|Coffee frappè (skimmed milk)||21.3g / 5.5 tsp|
|Starbucks (Grande 473ml drink)||Caramel frappuccino (semi-skimmed milk)||48.5g / 12 tsp|
|Java chip frappuccino (soya milk)||46g / 11.5 tsp|
- Healthier iced drink swaps:
|Drink||Sugar (g / No. of teaspoons)|
|Caffè Nero (One size, 473ml)||Iced cappuccino (skimmed milk)||8.5g / 2 tsp|
|Costa (Medium, 473ml)||Iced flat white (semi-skimmed milk)||11.2g / 2.5 tsp|
|Starbucks (Grande, 473ml)||Iced Americano||0.2g / 0 tsp|
- The analysis was based on information found on the coffee chain websites.
- For blends that contain dairy milk, some of the sugar within will come from lactose, a naturally occurring sugar. Cow’s milk contains 5g of lactose per 100ml. But any sugars in plant-based milks count as ‘free sugar’ – the stuff we are meant to limit. Either way, both types still also include high levels of free sugar.
Right of Replies:
A Starbucks spokesperson told us: “We are committed to helping customers make informed and improved choices that work for them, offering a range of customisation options such as choosing our smallest size (Tall) and our oat dairy alternative with no added sugar. Sugar content for an Iced Latte with Semi Skimmed Milk, one of our most popular beverages, starts from 8.7g for a Tall size. Customers can find all nutritional information available on our mobile app, online and our menu boards.”
A Costa Coffee spokesperson said: “We know our customers love visiting us for their everyday favourites or a treat with friends and family. We are proud to offer a balanced range of drinks which also includes, as part of our Summer menu, a fruity range of Refreshers which all contain less than 40 calories and 2 teaspoons of added sugar per serving.”
“We only offer our limited-edition seasonal drinks, including our Summer range of Frappes, in Small and Medium sizes. All drinks can also be customised to reduce the calorie or sugar content, including requesting skimmed milk and removing toppings, or downsizing to a smaller cup size.”
Caffé Nero responded to Which? ‘s request for comment to confirm that their drinks aren’t subject to the sugar tax.
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