Tuesday 13 November 2018

Action on Milkshakes

Action on Sugar's shtick is reading the labels on food and drink to see how much sugar is in them and then slapping the figures - always in 'teaspoons' - on a press release with some outraged quotes about how 'shocking' it is. They have been doing this for several years but the media still lap it up.

This week it's the turn of milkshakes. Milkshakes generally consist of around 10 per cent sugar, so a 400ml serving will have about 40 grams of sugar. They tend to have around 60-70 calories per 100ml. They're obviously not a health food but they are very tasty.

Public Health England, in its madness, wants to cap calories in milkshakes to 300 per serving. It is Action on Sugar's job to make Public Health England seem relatively reasonable. To that end, they are calling for it to be a crime to sell a milkshake with more calories than this.

In its early days, Action on Sugar only counted added sugar (AKA extrinsic sugar). In that context it made sense to talk about teaspoons. It also had some relevance to the government's sugar guidelines which, arbitrary and unjustifiable though they are, relate to added sugar, not the sugar that occurs naturally in the product (intrinsic sugar).

Those days are over - and it makes a big difference. Plain old semi-skimmed milk is 5 per cent sugar and has 50 calories per 100ml. In other words, the intrinsic sugar (lactose) is responsible for most of the sugar in a milkshake and the milk is responsible for most of the calories. Grams of lactose are in no sense 'teaspoons' and they do not count towards your daily sugar 'limit'.

Ignoring this entirely, Action on Sugar put out a press release yesterday saying:


Milkshakes sold across high street restaurants and fast food chains contain grotesque levels of sugar and calories, warns NEW survey by Action on Sugar

Some have a shocking 39 teaspoons of sugar – over 6 TIMES the recommended daily amount of sugar for a 7- to 10-year-old

At the top of their list, with 39 'teaspoons' of sugar is the Toby Carvery Unicorn Freakshake. Freakshakes were pretty much invented to annoy the kind of people who would set up a group called Action on Sugar, but they are desserts, not milkshakes. That's why they are on the dessert menu and come with a spoon. Two of the other villainous milkshakes in their top 6 are also freakshakes. The other three are patently indulgent drinks from Five Guys and Pizza Hut. It would be unwise for the average person to consume any of these everyday, and nobody does.

Of the milkshakes available in supermarkets, only one exceeds Public Health England's calorie limit - and only just, with 304 calories. Faced with this disappointing result, Action on Sugar resort to complaining that '90% of the 41 products surveyed (sic) would receive a 'red' (high) label for excessive levels of sugar per serving as sold'. Well, d'uh. They're milkshakes.

The press release contains a quote from Holly Gabriel, a nutritionist, who does a good impression of a finger-wagging scold who should mind her own business:

“It is unnecessary and unacceptable to sell milkshakes with over half an adult’s daily calorie needs in a single serving. There should be a limit of 300kcal per serving on these drinks."

Unnecessary? Unacceptable? In a free society, that is surely for the individual to decide.

Equally outraged is Linda Greenwall from the Dental Wellness Trust...

"These findings are remarkable, especially given tooth decay among children in Britain is now at a record high, largely because food and drink products are packed with unnecessary sugar."

Given that Linda is a dentist working for a dental charity it is hard to believe that she is ignorant of the fact that tooth decay among children in Britain is at a record low...

The Office for National Statistics has run the Children’s Dental Health Survey since 1983 and the figures are striking. The number of 12-year-olds who exhibited clear signs of tooth decay fell from 81 per cent in 1983 to 28 per cent in 2013. One in three kids of this age had a cavity in 1983 but by 2013 this had fallen to one in nine. 

Perhaps she is deliberately lying? Why would she do that?

And there's that word 'unnecessary' again. Unnecessary to what? Not unnecessary to flavour, clearly. Sugar costs money. Restaurants wouldn't use it unless it improved the taste.

Look, we know that milkshakes are unnecessary to sustain life. Added sugar is unnecessary, technically speaking, but so is alcohol, sausage rolls, vape juice and the latest remastered version of the White Album but I'm going to keep buying them anyway because I like them. Whether you think they are unnecessary - or, heaven forfend, unacceptable - is of no account and the government should not be banning things because they are 'unnecessary', nor because they exceed a recommended quantity of some ingredient or other. The clue is in the word 'recommended'.

As always, the only response to this hand-wringing wowserism is that if you don't like these products - or if you don't want your children consuming them - then don't buy them.


I was on the telly this morning talking about this. There are some clips below...

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