Why are sugary soft drinks so bad for you?

Sugary soft drinks are packed full of ‘empty kilojoules' which means they contain a lot of sugar but have no nutritional value. A 600ml bottle of soft drink contains 16 teaspoons of sugar and about 1000 unnecessary kilojoules.

Sugary drinks provide excess kilojoules which can lead to weight gain and obesity. This is because people do not generally reduce how much they eat to allow for the extra kilojoules in the sugary drink.

Being overweight or obese can lead to health problems like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some types of cancer.

See our infographic to find out what sugary drinks are doing to your body.

How much sugar is in a packet?

Most packets of sugar contain 4 grams, roughly equivalent to one teaspoon.

What about fruit juice?

We recommend avoiding all sugary drinks that provide unnecessary kilojoules and have no other nutritional value, such as soft drinks, energy drinks, and fruit drinks that contain added sugar.

Fruit juice, which by law must have more than 95% juice, can offer other nutritional benefits such as vitamin C and other nutrients. A standard serve of fruit juice is 125ml or ½ cup, according to the Australian Dietary Guidelines. If you have juice, limit it to this amount or better still, drink water and eat the whole fruit instead – it's more filling and has the added benefit of fibre.

* Beware – some sugary drinks have added vitamins to appear healthy and some can look like wholesome fruit juice, so just make sure you check the label for added sugars.

How do I know how much sugar is in a drink?

All packaged drinks have a nutrition information panel on the label that tells you the amounts of certain nutrients (e.g. carbohydrate, sugar, protein, fat) in that product per serve and per 100ml. For example, a 250ml serve of Coca-Cola (a small glass) contains 27g sugar.

Remember some packets contain more than one serve, so you may need to multiply the ‘per serve' amount provided by the number of serves in the packet.

* Remember that the ‘sugars' listed includes ‘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 drink is added sugar. For other products, also looking at the ingredients list helps determine if sugar has been added to the product or is naturally occurring.

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.

Diet soft drinks have been associated with overeating and weight gain. It is not clear whether this is because chemicals in artificial sweeteners stop you feeling full, or whether people feel free to eat more because they have had a diet drink.1

Why recommend low fat milk if sugar is the issue?

Full fat dairy products, including full cream milk, contribute significant amounts of unhealthy saturated fat to the Australian diet. Saturated fat is the type of fat that clogs your arteries and increases your risk of heart disease. Choosing low fat dairy products is a simple way to reduce the amount of saturated fat you and your family are eating.

1. Hector D, Rangan A, Louie J, Flood V, Gill T. Soft drinks, weight status and health: a review. A NSW Centre for Public Health Nutrition (now known as Cluster of Public Health Nutrition, Prevention Research Collaboration, University of Sydney) project for NSW Health, 2009.