​Alarming levels of sugar and calories are hidden in milkshakes sold across high street restaurants and fast food chains.

That's according to a new survey by Action on Sugar, based at Queen Mary University of London.

Family restaurant Toby Carvery is ranked as the most ‘shocking shake’ with its ‘Unicorn Freakshake’ containing an alarming 39 teaspoons of sugar – that’s over six times the recommended daily amount of sugar for a 7- to 10-year-old.[ii]The next worst offender is Five Guys Banana and Chocolate Shake with an excessive 37 teaspoons of sugar - the equivalent of drinking over four cans of cola.[iii]

When it comes to hidden calories, Public Health England’s sugar reduction targets include a cap on milkshake products likely to be consumed in a single occasion to 300 calories.

However, a milkshake such as Toby Carvery Unicorn Freakshake at 1280 kcal per serving is more than half the daily-recommended amount of calories for an adult and four times PHE’s proposed calorie limit. An average 25-year-old would need to jog for nearly three hours or vacuum the house for five hours to burn off the calories!

This new research concludes that ALL products sold in high street restaurants and fast food chains, with nutrition labelling available online, would receive a ‘red’ (high) label for excessive levels of sugar per serving.

To mark its 3rd National Sugar Awareness Week (12-18 November 2018) supported by many charities and high profile advocates including Tom Watson MP, Davina McCall, Fiona Philips and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Action on Sugar is now calling for mandatory traffic light coloured nutrition labelling across ALL menus, while the UK government is consulting on menu calorie labelling.

Furthermore, the group of leading experts is calling for a ban on the sale of milkshakes that exceed a calorie limit of 300 kcal per serving. This contrasts with Public Health England’s ambition to achieve only a 10% reduction in sugar by mid-2019 and a further 10% by mid-2021 to meet the 20% overall target, which will still leave these milkshakes with vast and unnecessary amounts of sugar.

Worst offending shakes based on sugars content per serving sold in high street restaurants and fast food chains:

Product name

Sugars per serving (g)*

Teaspoons of sugar per serving

Calories per serving (kcal)

Toby Carvery Unicorn Freakshake




Five Guys Milk Shake Base + Banana + Chocolate**




Five Guys Milk Shake Base + Cherry**




Pizza Hut Salted Caramel Ice Cream Shake




Harvester Cookie Monster Freakshake




Toby Carvery Cookie & Chocolate Freakshake




Action on Sugar also investigated the sugar and calorie levels in milkshakes sold by supermarkets and found that 90% of the 41 products surveyed would receive a ‘red’ (high) label for excessive levels of sugars per serving as sold. Of note, two contain no added sugars and all the sugars in those products are from milk.

Worst offending shakes based on sugars content per serving sold in supermarkets:

Product name

Sugars per serving (g)

Teaspoons of sugar per serving

Calories per serving (kcal)

Muller Milk Frijj Chocolate Flavour 400ml




Muller Milk Frijj Fudge Brownie Flavour 400ml




Muller Milk Frijj Cookie Dough Flavour 400ml




Overall, supermarket milkshakes are much lower in sugar and calories per serving. Toby Carvery Unicorn Freakshake has 17 times the amount of sugar as a Yazoo No Added Sugar Strawberry 200ml which contains 9.2g of sugars per serving.

Lowest sugars content milkshakes per serving sold in supermarkets:

Product Name

Sugars per Serving (g)

Calories per serving (kcal)

Yazoo No Added Sugar Strawberry 200ml



Yazoo No Added Sugar Chocolate 200ml



Co-op Chocolate Milk 189ml



Irresponsibly, many out-of-home companies do not publish their nutrition information online or in their outlets such as: Byron, Creams, Ed’s Diner, Frankie & Benny’s, Handmade Burger Company and TGI Fridays. What’s more, some of these organisations even engage in more unacceptable marketing, such as Creams, who champion the following statement on their website:

'We want every visit to Creams to be an indulgent adventure for the senses and we see our desserts as ‘every day celebrations’. Once you’ve experienced Creams desserts we reckon you’ll be looking to celebrate something – anything! – every day.'

Dr Linda Greenwall and charity founder of the Dental Wellness Trust said: '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.

'As the number of youngsters admitted to hospital to have their teeth extracted continues to escalate at a cost of more than £36million to the NHS, manufacturers, the out of home sector and parents must take immediate responsibility by significantly reducing the amount of sugar given to children, as well as enforcing daily brushing to reduce the likelihood of tooth decay'

* Some of the sugars will be from the milk but current nutrition labelling does not differentiate between the amount of naturally occurring sugars (lactose) from milk and free sugars added in the form of table sugar, syrups and blended fruits.

**Five Guys ‘Create your own’: for the purpose of the survey, the following mix-ins were chosen. However, nutrient content significantly differs depending on the combination chosen.