Freaking out: restaurant milkshakes accused of containing 'grotesque' sugar levels

By Stefan Chomka

- Last updated on GMT

Restaurant milkshakes accused of containing 'grotesque' sugar levels by health charity Action on Sugar.

Related tags Health Sugar Casual dining

Restaurant brands Toby Carvery and Five Guys have been singled out for serving milkshakes with ‘alarming’ and ‘grotesque’ levels of sugar by health charity Action on Sugar.

The carvery chain’s unicorn freakshake, which contains the equivalent of 39 teaspoons of sugar and 1,280 calories, was named by the charity as the most ‘shocking shake’, with the US burger chain’s banana and chocolate and cherry milkshakes also named and shamed for their high sugar and calorie content, which were said to contain as much sugar as four cans of cola.

Action on Sugar is calling for a ban on what it says is excessively high sugar and calorie milkshakes sold in high street restaurants and fast food chains as well as for mandatory traffic light nutrition labelling across all menus.

It is also calling for a ban on the sale of milkshakes that exceed the calorie limit of 300 kcal per serving set by Public Health England’s sugar reduction targets.

Its research of 140 products from 14 high street restaurant and fast food chains found that all milkshakes, with nutrition labelling available online, would receive a red (high) label for excessive levels of sugar per serving.  

“It is unnecessary and unacceptable to sell milkshakes with over half an adult’s daily calorie needs in a single serving,” says Holly Gabriel, Nutrition Campaigner at Action on Sugar.

“There should be a limit of 300 calories per serving on these drinks. If you choose to eat out in a restaurant or cafe, you could unknowingly be consuming up to four times the amount of sugar and calories compared to a similar product from a supermarket, which demonstrates how easy it is to reduce sugar and calories.”

The amount of sugar and calories in milkshakes served in restaurants has crept up over the past few years thanks to the rise in popularity of freakshakes, described as a ‘monstrous mashup’ ​between a drink and dessert. The trend for freakshakes originated in Australia but has since spread across the UK, with drinks often topped with items such as waffles and doughnuts, thus significantly boosting their sugar content.

While restaurants don’t position such drinks as everyday options, Action on Sugar says there is often not sufficient nutritional information to allow consumers to make informed choices. It is calling for government intervention to force restaurants to display clear nutritional information online and in their sites.

“Undoubtedly some of these milkshakes contribute to excess sugar and calorie intake, and it is shocking this information is hidden from the consumer, who would struggle to find it,” says Kawther Hashem, a researcher at Action on Sugar based at Queen Mary University of London.

“It is time the government introduced legislation to force companies to be more transparent about what is in their products by displaying clear nutrition information online and in the outlets, at all times.”

Other drinks singled out by the research include Pizza Hut’s salted caramel ice cream shake and Harvester’s Cookie Monster freakshake.

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