Wellness worriers be warned: some drinks targeting health conscious consumers have more sugar in them than sports drinks.

Others are using trendy ingredients like coconut or cane sugar, or saying they sweeten their drinks with fruit juice.

There was no real difference between these and refined white sugar, one Auckland nutritionist has warned.

The case against sugar as a key driver of negative health impacts is growing stronger while demand for wellness products increases, thanks to global trends toward "clean" or "healthy" lifestyles which is showing no signs of slowing.


Comparing 11 sports and lifestyle drinks, the Herald on Sunday found nearly two thirds contained enough sugar to meet or exceed half the World Health Organisation's recommended daily adult intake of 26 grams of sugar.

A Teza feijoa and lime blossom iced tea marketed as being naturally brewed and organic with 6.3g of sugar per 100ml contained more sugar than a Powerade sports drink with 5.8g per 100ml.

Manukee's pear and ginger juice with manuka honey drink had 6.8g of sugar per 100ml.

The company's CEO, York Spencer, said the sugar component was naturally a part of manuka honey, which was part of the product's appeal in itself.

Teza spokesman Joe Gehrke said the company was not marketing their teas as a low-sugar drink and there were no false claims on its packaging.

"Our informal focus groups has shown us that about 6 per cent sugars is where most people find a drink begins to taste 'watery'. Most people do not like the taste of natural sweeteners such as Stevia," he said.

Both Teza and Manukee, whose single-serve drinks contained more than half the recommended daily amount of sugar, said their serving sizes were deliberately small to reduce overall sugar consumption.

Healthy Food Guide nutritionist Claire Turnbull said the amount of sugar in some drinks was worrying because most people drank them on top of a snack or meal.


"Drinks are a very easy way to get a lot of energy without realising it."

Sports drinks such as Powerade or Lucozade, which has 9.1g of sugar per 100ml, were appropriate for people doing enormous amounts of exercise because they did provide rapid hydration, she said.

Healthy Food Guide nutritionist Claire Turnbull says the best thing to stay hydrated is still water. Photo / George Novak
Healthy Food Guide nutritionist Claire Turnbull says the best thing to stay hydrated is still water. Photo / George Novak

However this came at a cost of high sugar consumption and for someone doing a few gym classes a week and trying to lose weight they were not necessary.

When it came to wellness products, branding could be misleading, Turnbull said.

Using phrases like "no refined sugar" or trendy ingredients like agave syrup could make it seem as if the product had health benefits it did not.

"A lot of the time they'll say natural, they'll say no added sugar, they'll say sweetened with fruit juice or whatever and it can create a false impression of how good for you they are."


Marketing would often specify that coconut or cane sugars, or syrup like agave had been used instead of white refined sugar, Turnbull said.

"That makes it kind of sound like it's somehow better than normal sugar but whether it's brown sugar, white sugar, coconut sugar, maple syrup or honey this all still needs to be considered as part of the 26 grams a day."

Sugar from fruit, when juiced, also counted toward the daily total, she said.

"Juice is a really, really big trap. When you have fruit juice, and vegetable juice for that matter, you are squeezing it, concentrating all the sugar, removing all the fibre.

"So you couldn't possibly eat the volume of fruit and vegetables that are in some of these drinks."

People would be better off simply eating a piece of whole fruit for the health of both their bodies and their wallets, she said.


"Many drinks which appear to be a healthy choice are over and above what people are eating.

"A lot of people are drinking these regularly, adding extra energy and extra sugar to their day without even realising it, which has a negative impact on your weight, on your overall wellbeing and your dental health."

Even lower sugar drinks like 1 Above, which had originally been created for people catching long haul flights and had the lowest sugar level of all the drinks the Herald on Sunday looked at with 1.8g per 100ml, came at a financial cost which was arguably not worth the benefits offered.

It may not be so exciting, but Turnbull said the best way to stay hydrated (and keep your wallet healthy too) was to simply drink water.

1 Above's CEO, Stephen Smith, said his company's product was priced similarly to bottled water with added benefits of electrolytes, vitamins and antioxidants.

Of all wellness drinks on the market, kombucha was the only one Turnbull said had potential benefits and low enough sugar content that she would opt to drink it.


The fermented drink had potential benefits for gut health and was generally low in sugar.

However even kombucha could vary wildly in sugar levels, and consumers needed to check the label, she said.

Frucor, which owns Gatorade and Lucozade, and Coca Cola, which owns Powerade and Vitamin Water, did not respond to request for comment.

CHIA, which owns Awaka coconut water, said they had recently reworked the drink's formula to reduce its sugar content to 3.3g per 100ml.

Bruce Juice, Ceres Organics and Bayer, which owns the Berocca brand, were aware their products were being used in the Herald on Sunday graphic and expressed interest in the results but elected not to comment.