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Food and Drink

Two-thirds of ginger beer contains more sugar than Coca-Cola, research warns

Perhaps it explains why the Famous Five always had so much energy for adventures

The UK’s most popular brand of ginger beer has more than 13 teaspoons of sugar in a single can, according to research published today.

Old Jamaica Ginger Beer, which has been sold in the UK since 1988, was found to contain 52.8g of sugar in a standard 330ml can. Overall, almost two thirds of ginger beer drinks tested had more sugar in them than a can of Coca-Cola.

The research was conducted by Action on Sugar, a campaign group made up of scientists and other specialists concerned about the effect of too much sugar on people’s health. They analysed 232 sugar-sweetened drinks taken from the shelves of leading supermarkets last month.

The results showed that 79 per cent contained six or more teaspoons of sugar per can – more than the World Health Organization’s recommended daily maximum – and that a typical can of cola had as much sugar as three and a half original glazed Krispy Kreme donuts.

Researchers warned that some products that might be associated by consumers with healthy ingredients or a wholesome image – such as ginger beer, which is knocked back in great quantities by the children in Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series – may in fact contain lots of added sugar. Shloer White Grape and Elderflower contained 8.8 teaspoons of sugar in a 330ml serving, the survey showed.

“They shouldn’t assume that just because it says ginger or another fruit that all the sugar content comes from that specific fruit,” said nutritionist Kawther Hashem, who helped conduct the research. “We’d encourage them to look at the labelling and the list of ingredients. If sugar’s the first or second ingredient … that means that the product contains more.”

Action on Sugar said the research also highlighted large variations in the sugar content of very similar products, demonstrating that sugar levels could be reduced significantly without dramatically affecting taste. Old Jamaica Ginger Beer contained 16g of sugar per 100ml, whereas Asda’s Chosen by You variety contained just 7g.

A spokesperson for Old Jamaica Ginger Beer said the drink was “produced using a traditional recipe, which includes authentic Jamaican root ginger, to create its trademark fiery taste and is designed to be a treat. We also offer a light version of Old Jamaica Ginger Beer which delivers the same flavour intensity but with no sugar.”

Professor Graham MacGregor, a specialist in cardiovascular medicine at the Wolfson Institute, Queen Mary University of London and the group’s chairman, said added sugars were a “completely unnecessary” part of human diets and contributed to high levels of obesity, diabetes and tooth decay.

“We urge the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, to set incremental targets for sugar reduction now – and to start with these sugary drinks,” he said. “Replacing sugar with sweeteners is not the answer: we need to reduce overall sweetness so people’s tastes can adjust to having fewer sweet drinks.”

But Gavin Partington, director general of the British Soft Drinks Association, said Action of Sugar had been “blinded by political zeal”, adding: “These campaigners appear to have missed the 60 per cent of soft drinks on the market which contain no added sugar. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they have also ignored the evidence that shows obesity arises from an imbalance of calories consumed and calories expended and is not caused by one particular ingredient.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: “As a nation, we need to consume less sugar. We are working with the food and drinks industry to reduce the amount of sugar in products and make healthier alternatives available.”