Sugar-sweetened beverages, also known as sugary drinks, are any water-based drinks sweetened with sugars. This includes soft drinks, fruit drinks with added sugars, sports drinks, energy drinks, cordials, sweetened waters and iced teas. These products are high in energy (contain lots of kilojoules) and offer very little nutritional value.
Sugary drinks are a type of ultra-processed food. Their excess kilojoules contribute to weight gain, and the sugar content can also cause dental caries. Due to the high added sugar content of these drinks, they are not good at quenching thirst. The Australian Dietary Guidelines list sugary drinks as ‘discretionary foods’, that should be limited.
Did you know there are between 13-17 teaspoons of sugar in one 600mL bottle of soft drink? For more information on how much sugar is in different types of drinks, visit Rethink Sugary Drink.
Sugary drinks and cancer
There is no conclusive evidence that sugary drinks are a direct cause of cancer. However, drinking them often or in large quantities may contribute to increased cancer risk because it can lead to weight gain.
Being above a healthy weight increases your risk of developing 13 different cancers, including cancers of the bowel, kidney, pancreas, oesophagus, endometrium, liver and breast (after menopause). In addition, there are links between high sugary drink intake and weight gain in children, tooth decay, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.
Cancer Council recommends people choose water and other unsweetened drinks, such as plain milk.
What about fruit juice?
While fruit juice is made from fruit, the juicing process means that most of the fibre is lost. It’s better to eat your fruit whole as it is more satisfying and contains more nutrients and fibre. If you choose to have fruit juice, have only a small serve (1/2 cup), occasionally and consider diluting with ice or water.
Can I swap for diet drinks?
Although diet or intensely-sweetened drinks do not contain the same amount of energy (kilojoules) as sugar-sweetened versions, water or plain milk are the best options.
Diet drinks have been associated with overeating and weight gain, though it is not clear whether this is because intense sweeteners can stop you from feeling full, or whether people feel free to eat more because they have had a diet drink.
Diet soft drinks are also highly acidic and can lead to tooth decay.
Tips for reducing your sugary drink intake
- Sweeten water with a few berries or a squeeze of fresh orange juice.
- Choose unsweetened sparkling or mineral water to add some fizz.
- If you are having fruit juice, check the label to make sure it is 100% juice, and limit the serving size to 125mL (half a cup).
- Dilute 100% fruit juice with water, sparkling water or ice.
- When eating out, swap sugary soft drinks in meal deals for water, milk, small serves (less than 125mL) of 100% fruit juice or unsweetened tea or coffee.
- Carry a reusable water bottle and refill with tap water.
- Unless you are doing more than 90 minutes of vigorous (makes you huff and puff) physical activity at a time, sports drinks are unnecessary. The best way to hydrate is plain water.