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Consumption of sugary drinks is good for industries profits, but bad for the health of South Australians.
Cancer Council SA encourages South Australians to make informed health choices by rethinking consumption of sugary drinks – drink water instead.
What is the health impact of sugary drinks?
Sugary drinks are high in kilojoules (energy) and regular consumption can lead to weight gain and obesity, increasing risk of serious health problems, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.
It is important to acknowledge that obesity is a complex condition with multiple causes and therefore is not always an easily modifiable risk factor.
A 2021 study found South Australian teenagers and young adults are more likely to be regular consumers of sugary drinks, including soda, energy and sport drinks.
What do the recommendations say?
The Australian Dietary Guidelines (ADG) recommend limiting the intake of foods and drinks containing added sugars, including confectionery, sugar-sweetened soft drinks and cordials, fruit drinks, vitamin waters, energy and sport drinks.
What is a ‘sugary drink’?
Sugary drinks (or sugar sweetened beverages) are drinks (like soda) that are low in nutritional value, but high in kilojoules. Australia’s Dietary Guidelines consider these ‘discretionary foods’— they are not needed in your diet, as they have little or no nutritional value and should be limited.
Sugary drinks refer to all non-alcoholic, water-based beverages with added sugar, including:
- soft drinks / soda (excluding diet or artificially sweetened varieties)
- flavoured mineral water
- sports drinks
- energy drinks
- sugar sweetened teas
- fruit and vegetable drinks
What about fruit juice?
The key difference between sugary drinks and fruit juice is that fruit juice can provide valuable nutrients, but most types naturally contain a similar amount of sugar and kilojoules as soft drinks.
A piece of fresh fruit is a better alternative to a glass of juice; it contains more fibre and fewer kilojoules.
If you do choose to drink fruit juice:
- Choose 100 per cent fruit juice (avoid sweetened varieties).
- Limit to 125 ml or half a glass per day.
- Choose small serving sizes from juice bars.
- Try diluting juice with water or ice.
Is flavoured milk a good healthy drink?
Milk provides important nutrients like protein and calcium. Dairy foods are a core component of a healthy diet and the Australian Dietary Guidelines recommended daily consumption of milk, particularly reduced-fat varieties for adults and children above the age of two.
Flavoured milks can contain a lot of added sugars and therefore kilojoules. Plain, reduced-fat varieties are the better choice. If you choose to drink flavoured milk, select the smaller sized drinks (375 ml or less) with no added sugar.
What can I replace sugary drinks with?
Replace sugary drinks with water. Water is the best drink for your body. It is free when accessed from the tap, contains no kilojoules, and is the best fluid for hydration.
To help you drink more water and add variety:
- Add a squeeze of lemon or lime juice.
- Pop ice cubes made from fruit into your glass of water.
- Keep a glass of water handy on your desk, or a bottle of water in your bag or backpack.
If you enjoy a little fizz in your drink, try:
- Soda water or plain mineral water with fresh lemon or lime juice.
- Soda water with cut up slices of fruit like oranges and strawberries; vegetables like cucumber and/or mint leaves.
- Check out our mocktail recipes.
How do I know how much sugar is in a drink?
- All packaged drinks (except alcohol) have a nutrition information panel on the label stating the amounts of certain nutrients—eg carbohydrate, sugar, protein, fat—in that product per serve and per 100ml. For example, a 250 ml serve of Coca Cola contains 27 g sugar.
- Some packaged drinks contain more than one serve, so you may need to multiply the ‘per serve’ amount by the number of serves in the packet.
- Common added sugars found on an ingredient list include sugar, cane sugar (or sucrose), fruit puree, fruit juice concentrate, fruit puree concentrate, nectar, reconstituted fruit juice, fructose, fruit syrup and sugar syrup (e.g., glucose syrup, cane syrup).
- The sugars listed include ‘added sugar’ (like that added to soft drinks) and ‘natural sugar’ (like the naturally occurring sugar lactose in milk). The main ingredient in sugary soft drinks is added sugar. For other products, such as milk or fruit-based drinks, the ingredients list helps you determine if sugar has been added to the product or is naturally occurring.
- For more information, check out our label reading guide.
Is it okay to have ‘diet’ soft drink instead?
- Although diet soft drinks do not contain the same level of kilojoules as sugar-sweetened versions, we still recommend choosing water or low-fat milk instead. Water is the preferred source for hydration and low-fat milk provides important nutrients such as calcium and protein, especially for children and young adults.
- Diet soft drinks have been associated with overeating and weight gain. It is not clear whether this is because artificial sweeteners stop you feeling full, or whether people feel free to eat more because they have had a diet drink.
Below are some handy resources to highlight the importance of healthy choices and support you to rethink your next sugary drink.