Sugar in children’s drinks

Many children like the taste of sweet drinks, which could be either juices, squashes or sodas, but these should not be had frequently because:

  • They tend to be high in sugar; therefore high in calories and if a child consumes these regularly it can lead to them becoming overweight. Also, many foods that are high in sugar are usually low in nutrition.
  • Consuming sweet drinks can cause tooth decay and cavities as the bacteria in the mouth feed on the sugar, creating acids, which wears down the tooth’s enamel.
  • Reduces their appetite as they fill themselves on the sugary drinks and won’t eat a nutritious meal later.
  • Affects their energy levels as they have a sugar spike and then a low, which not only affects their energy but also their mood.
  • Sugar affects immunity as was shown in a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (1) to reduce white blood cells ability to kill bacteria. In the study it was shown to have greatest effect between 1-2 hours after, and had an effect up to 5 hours after.

Below I compare the sugar content in some common children’s drinks and also with some drinks adults have, like coconut water, apple juice or orange juice.  I recently made two short videos on sugar in drinks and you can watch it here on my Facebook page where I also share weekly recipe videos


Drink Sugar Content Number of teaspoons Bottle/carton size Sugar notes
Coconut water 3.3 grams Just under 1 tsp 330 ml Is made with coconut water 99%, vitamin C and less than 1 % fructose.
Coke 35 grams Almost 9 tsp 330 ml Added sugar
Copella Apple Juice 31 grams Almost 8 tsp 300 ml Natural sugar in apples
Fruit Shoot – no added sugar (Apple and black currant) 1.6 grams Less than ½ tsp 200 ml Has added sweeteners (Acesulfame K, Sucralose)
Fruit Shoot (Apple and pear) 15 grams Almost 4 tsp 200 ml Fruit juices from concentrate
Innocent orange juice with bits 26 grams 6.5 grams 330 ml Natural sugars in oranges
Innocent juice (Tasty tropical) 14.4 grams Over 3.5 tsp 180 ml Pure fruit juices
Innocent smoothie (strawberries, blackberries and raspberries) 18 grams 4.5 tsp 180 ml Whole crushed fruit and pure juices
Ribena (no added sugar) diluted to portion size 1.3 grams Less than ½ tsp 250 ml Sweeteners (Aspartame,Acesulfame K)
Ribena blackcurrant

diluted to portion size

26 grams 6.5 tsp 250 ml Added sugar
Robinsons Squash (no added sugar)

diluted to portion size

0.3 grams Less than ¼ tsp 250 ml Sweeteners (Aspartame, Saccharin)
Sainsburys Organic apple juice 17.8 grams Almost 4.5 tsp 200 ml Apple juice from concentrate

Always read the nutrition label and check what ingredients have been used:

The label on the bottles in the left image says “No added sugar” – these are circled in red.  But these have artificial sweeteners  being used

Read the ingredients to see what the juice is made of and if the sugars are:

– natural sugars 

– added sugars 

– artifical sweeteners

As seen above there are three main categories of sugars in these drinks:

Sweetened with added sugar
These are the popular drinks that are found in supermarkets and served at children’s parties.  Drinks such as diet sodas or squashes should be limited or avoided as they are high in sugar but low in nutrition, lead to tooth decay and other reasons as stated above.

Sweetened with artificial sweeteners:
As seen in the table above, because some drinks contain artificial sweeteners they are therefore low in sugar. The Centre for Science in the Public Interest (2) has stated that there are some side effects of artificial sweeteners like headaches and some may also be associated with cancer risk. There have not been long-term studies on the effect of children regularly having artificial sweeteners or to assess what is considered a safe amount for them to consume.  Also, by having these drinks like squashes or diet sodas, that are low in calories, but made with artificial sweeteners the children still retain the habit of wanting sweet drinks. 

Natural sugars
These are found in juices or smoothies made with only fresh fruits, but are more concentrated than eating the fruit on it own and therefore higher in sugar.  For instance 1 cup of apple juice is 24 grams whereas 1 cup chopped apple with it’s skin is 13 grams.  (Source USDA food content)

In the table above, the innocent orange juice with bits is made by squeezing 4 juicy oranges and has 26 grams of sugar.  When we eat oranges we also get the fibre, and most likely we would eat less than 4 oranges.

It’s interesting on comparing apple juice to coke.   There’s almost 8 tsp of sugar in apple juice (300 ml Copella) and almost 9 tsp in a can of coke (330 ml).  Of course the apple juice has natural sugars and contains vitamin C, whereas the coke has added sugar and no nutrients.  So if having a fruit juice, do remember that it’s still high in sugar even if these are natural sugars.  I suggest when having juices, best to have small portions of fruit juice and have mainly vegetables juices which tend to be lower in sugar.

What to drink:
Good healthy habits begin at a young age so it’s best to encourage your children to make the best choices.  They look at us as to see what we are having, so set the right example for them. The best drink that I recommend for both children and adults is water.  It’s good to start the day with a glass of water and make sure that the children are drinking it through the day.  Some do not like the taste of water, so you can add some berries, mint leaves, lemon or orange slices to flavor it instead of buying the flavored water, which contains preservatives, sugar or artificial sweeteners. 

Read the labels on packaged drinks and check that the ingredients are real natural foods and that colourings and artificial sweeteners are not being used.

Read the nutrition label to check how much sugar in grams is in the serving size your child has of that drink. One teaspoon is approximately 4 grams.  Divide this number by 4 to see how many teaspoons it equals to.

Children should eat their fruit and vegetables rather than just drink them as juices, as are a good source of fibre, vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants.  Encourage your children to have these daily and if they don’t like them, try a different one.  You can use a popsicle maker to make popsicles which they can have as a treat after their meal.  Over time they will become accustomed to the taste of the fruit and should enjoy eating it.  Remember, it can take months to change eating habits, so be patient.

1) The American Society for Clinical Nutrition, Inc.  Role of sugars in human neutrophilic phagocytosis. Albert Sanchez, J. L. Reeser, H. S. Lau, P. Y. Yahiku, R. E. Willard, P. J. McMillan, S. Y. Cho, A. R. Magie, and U. D. Register
2) It’s Sweet… But is it Safe? Centre for Science in the public interest