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The Sugary Truth Behind Canned Drinks

As part of the work I do at AUT, I often do a tutorial on the sugar content of canned drinks. It still comes as a surprise to me how many of my students consume these products with very little awareness of what is actually in them. So I thought I would also impart some knowledge your way…

As a mum, we often battle fatigue and exhaustion on a daily basis and sometimes this can be chronic, especially in the first three months. Our first son did not start sleeping through regularly until 7 months and I returned to studying for my PhD when he was 6 weeks old and back in the research centre when he was 12 weeks. Now we have two monkeys will go often through periods when they will wake up frequently (as young children do!). So I understand how hard it can be to function on broken sleep and have to perform. It can be very easy to turn to high ‘energy drinks’ when you are really tired. When I say ‘energy drinks’ I mean anything you turn to for a boost of energy be it high sugar, high caffeine or both. You may however not be aware just how much sugar and caffeine they contain!

Generally speaking, 4 grams of sugar is equal to one teaspoon, so when you read the back of a label you can quickly do the maths. A standard orange juice contains approximately 24grams of sugar, which equals 5 teaspoons of sugar. A can of coke (350mls) 39grams of sugar which equals just under 10 teaspoons of sugar and 35mg of caffeine. Red Bull and V (250mls) contain approximately 27grams of sugar which is equivalent to 6.7 teaspoons and around 80mg of caffeine. The energy drink Mother comes in at a whopping 500ml serving 51 grams of sugar, just under 13 teaspoons and 160mg of caffeine. To think that children also drink this just sends shivers through my spine. You can check out my quick you-tube video showing the boys some of these drinks and their sugar content here.

The volume of sugar in these drinks, including orange juice, will give you a hit but your body will produce insulin to bring your blood sugar down and it will go down quickly and rapidly, leaving you feeling more fatigued and still craving a pick-me-up. Not only is this detrimental to your energy levels but also your body’s ability to burn fat as a fuel. While this is far from an extensive list of drinks available on the market I hope this will start to give you an idea of how sugary they are.

The Ministry of Health Guidelines for juice is that it is diluted to at least a half and half ratio with water. Children are recommended to only have either milk or water which I would strongly recommend.

Some healthier drink alternatives can be:


*Herbal tea – in particular those containing ginseng can provide a natural energy

*Green tea

*Hot water with a slice or lemon

* Soda water

If you have been previously used to drinks with high levels I would say adding a teaspoon of honey or stevia would be an option while you adjust and work your way to dropping this down. However these are still sweet or have a high sweet taste (stevia) so you still want to eliminate this eventually.

For children, as a different healthy option, our boys love the Red Seal cold brew range, especially during summer you can check out our vlog here and also we have recently made ice cubes using herbal tea which was such fun! Check out everything you need to make them here.


As a final note - I know it may seem impossible but grabbing a 10 minute power nap when you can make such a difference when chronically fatigued. I actually set my alarm for 10 minutes or ask my husband to come and get me after 10 minutes and it is amazing at how restorative this can be for the body and mind.

xx Dr Julie 

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