Tonic water – better for you than other soft drinks, or not?

Written by Catherine Saxelby on Wednesday, 17 March 2021.
Tagged: health, healthy eating, nutrition, soft drinks, sugar, sugary drinks

Tonic water – better for you than other soft drinks, or not?
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I often get asked questions about tonic water. The most common goes something like this… “I like to drink tonic water at night. I thought it wouldn’t have much sugar as it doesn’t taste sweet but my friend said it did. Who’s right?”

The truth about tonic water

Alas tonic water (or Indian tonic water) has between 8 and 9 per cent sugars but the sweetness is masked by the bitter-tasting quinine that’s also present. A 200 mL glass of tonic water will give you around 17 grams of sugar. Which is a lot when the WHO suggests we limit our sugar intake to around 50 grams a day (or 10 per cent of our energy).

 However, that IS lower than most soft drinks which carry anywhere from 10 to 12 per cent added sugar which delivers 22 g sugar per glass.

Alternatively, you can swap to a zero-sugar tonic water. There are plenty around such as Schweppes, Nexba, Coles or Woolworths which are sweetened with acesulphame K (950) and/or aspartame (951), two sweeteners that have been cleared of any health problems.

What actually is tonic water?

Indian tonic water is really a carbonated soft drink , flavoured with natural citrus flavours, and in which quinine is dissolved. Originally used as a prophylactic against malaria, tonic water today usually has a significantly lower quinine content and is consumed for its distinctive bitter flavour.

According to Wikipedia, because of the bitter taste of the anti-malarial quinine tonic, British colonials in India in early 19th century mixed it with gin to make it more palatable, thus creating the gin and tonic cocktail, which is immensely trendy today.


Carbonated water, sugar, food acids (330, 331), natural flavour (orange and lemon peel extracts, citrus oils, botanical extracts), quinine.

Nutritional value of regular tonic water vs zero sugar tonic water

100mL of ordinary Indian Tonic water has 155 kJ (37 Calories), 8.6 g of sugar, no protein, no fat and little salt (sodium). You need to double those figures for a 200mL glass.

Scwheppes Zero Sugar Tonicwater Lspe

In contrast Zero Sugar Tonic water or diet tonic water has no protein, no fat and little (sodium. It has 7 kJ (2 Calories) per 100 mL. So, a 200 mL glass gives you almost nothing - 14 kilojoules (4 Calories). 

The bottom line

Tonic water is NOT mineral water or soda water. Think of it as a soft fizzy drink with added sugar, even though it has a lower sugar count than other soft drinks.

Catherine Saxelby About the author

About the Author


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Catherine Saxelby has the answers! She is an accredited nutritionist, blogger and award-winning author. Her award-winning book My Nutritionary will help you cut through the jargon. Do you know your MCTs from your LCTs? How about sterols from stanols? What’s the difference between glucose and dextrose? Or probiotics and prebiotics? What additive is number 330? How safe is acesulfame K? If you find yourself confused by food labels, grab your copy of Catherine Saxelby’s comprehensive guide My Nutritionary NOW!