Nutritionists have raised concerns over the launch of a new ‘cheesecake’ drink that contains almost double an adult’s recommended sugar intake in a single serving.
Starbucks cheesecake frappuccinos, which are being rolled out in the Middle East for the first time, come in caramel and blueberry flavours and are being promoted prominently in hundreds of the coffee chain’s stores.
In an announcement on Tuesday, the Seattle-based company claimed the “delicious” drinks “make the perfect summer sips”.
However, one expert branded them “a fire ball of fat and sugar” and warned that products such as the cheesecake frappuccino, topped with whipped cream and biscuit crumble, are luring in young consumers and fueling an obesity and diabetes epidemic.
A grande, or regular, sized version of the caramel drink contains just over 55 grams of sugar, compared to the 30g daily maximum. recommended by experts, according to nutritional information published in the UK where the drink launched last summer.
While figures for a venti, or large version, were not provided, these on sale in the UAE and will contain considerably more.
“The first problem with such products is that they are visually super attractive and very tempting for the younger generations,” Natacha Ajaka, senior clinical dietician at Al Jalila Children’s Speciality Hospital in Dubai, said. “They are a fire ball of fat and sugar that can satisfy their cravings, but which also makes them put on weight in a short period of time, and consumption tends to become a habit.
“Temptations are sometimes stronger than many teenagers’ willpower, and that is why we have to understand the need for them to have such a treat every once in a while.
“However, we strongly encourage amending it into a lighter version when using low fat milk, having a smaller size or even adding a bit less or no whip cream, which would cause less harm in general.”
A regular sized version of the caramel cheesecake drink contains 452 calories and 19.4 grams of fat, 13.7g of which is saturated fat, according to nutritional information published by Starbucks.
The calorie content of one regular drink is equivalent to almost two McDonald’s hamburgers, which are 250 calories each, while the frappuccino has more than three times more saturated fat than the 3g found in one hamburger.
Customers do have the option of asking for the drinks without cream or toppings or with low fat milk, although this does not reduce cost. At a Starbucks branch in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, a large cheesecake frappuccino cost Dh27, with cream and toppings included as standard.
While obesity is a growing problem throughout the world, there is plenty of evidence that there is a particular problem in the UAE. In one recent study, 50 per cent of Emirati men aged 18 were found to be overweight or obese, with 41 per cent showing early signs of diabetes.
The UAE government has introduced new policies aimed at encouraging healthy diet, including a tax on drinks high in sugar. However, the cheesecake frappuccinos would slip through a loophole in the drinks tax, as they are not carbonated or classed as an energy drink, meaning extra charges would not apply.
Starbucks said the cheesecake frappuccinos would be available for a limited time in the Middle East and North Africa, where it runs around 400 coffee shops.
A company spokesman declined to comment when asked about the cheesecake frappuccinos' nutritional value.