Some energy drinks contain as much as 17 teaspoons of sugar and the same amount of caffeine as two espressos.
New research by Safefood has found there has been an overall reduction in sugar content in energy drinks since the introduction of the sugar tax but that there has been a significant increase in the proportion of energy drinks sold in larger cans.
The survey found the average sugar content per serving of energy drinks has fallen by approximately two teaspoons of sugar from 31g in 2015 to 23g in 2019.
Of the products surveyed, Rockstar Xdurance has the highest sugar content, with 17 teaspoons (69g) in a 500ml can. It also has the same amount of caffeine as two espresso coffees; 160mg.
Monster Energy has 14 teaspoons (55g) of sugar and 160mg of caffeine in a 500ml can, and Tiger and Red Bull both have seven teaspoons (28g) of sugar and 80mg caffeine in a 250ml can.
A 380ml bottle of Lucozade Energy Original has four teaspoons (17g) of sugar and 46mg caffeine.
Before the introduction of the sugar tax, three-quarters of energy drinks contained at least 5g of sugar per 100ml and were liable for taxation. The 2019 survey shows that just 41% are now eligible for taxation.
The survey identified an increase in the number of energy drinks for sale in Irish supermarkets, up from 39 to 42, and a large increase in drinks sold in 500ml servings, up from eight in 2015 to 16 in 2019.
Responding to the survey, Health Minister Simon Harris criticised drinks companies for their response to the tax.
“It is disappointing that some of these manufacturers have not responded appropriately,” he said.
“Many of these products are still high in sugar. I am also very concerned at the trend in increasing container sizes.”
The latest market research shows that between 2015 and 2018, there was a 3.4% increase in the volume of energy drinks sold in Ireland. Some 26.7m litres of drinks were sold last year.
This is the equivalent of every man, woman and child drinking 5.5 litres of energy drinks every year and puts Ireland near the very top of energy drink consumption relative to other countries in the EU.
Dr Marian O’Reilly, chief specialist in nutrition, Safefood said energy drinks can lead to health issues.
“Regular energy drinks are basically sugary drinks with added caffeine and we know that sugary drinks are linked with poor dental health and excess weight,” she said.