Yogurt and worldwide habits

Yogurts vary widely in sugar content, survey shows

Yogurts vary widely in sugar content, survey shows

Sweet-toothed kids love the taste of yogurt that contains sugar. And this may make all the difference in helping them to benefit from the health effects of these dairy foods. But if you’re concerned about the amount of sugar you or your children are eating, it’s time to take a close look at the labels on yogurt pots when you go shopping.

Nowadays our supermarkets display a huge choice of yogurts, with many different formulations. And, while there’s clear evidence that yogurt is good for our health, the different types vary widely in the amount of sugar they contain, say the authors of this UK survey.

Given the rising rate of childhood obesity, the authors call for yogurt products to be re-formulated so that they contain less sugar.

However, the authors’ comments need to be viewed in combination with separate research showing that the contribution of yogurts to children’s total and added sugars are relatively low; most of the added sugar in their diet comes from sugar-sweetened drinks, cakes and sweets.

Yogurt is recommended as a healthy food for children

Yogurt is often recommended for children because of its high calcium content, which is good for growing healthy bones and teeth. Yogurt is also a great source of a host of other nutrients and in countries where it’s a popular food for young children, it provides a valuable part of their nutrient needs, including those for phosphorus, riboflavin, and vitamin B12.

Yogurt consumption is approved in many countries for reducing symptoms caused by lactose intolerance. And it is associated with a lower risk of obesity and healthier metabolic profile in children and adults, say the authors. Increased yogurt consumption has even been associated with a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes in adults.

Efforts to curb children’s sugar intakes

However, some yogurts marketed for children may contain more free sugars (those added to foods by the manufacturer, cook or consumer) or added sugars (syrups or sweeteners added to food) than those for adults, the authors point out. Diets high in free sugars are linked to obesity, and the World Health Organisation advises that the intake of free sugars should be restricted to less than 10% of total energy.

For a clearer picture of what’s in our shops, the authors carried out a survey of yogurt products sold in the UK to identify products marketed at children and to evaluate their content of total sugars – those occurring naturally in the food plus any sugars added during the processing and preparation. Naturally occurring milk sugar is lactose, of which there is 4.5 g per 100 g in plain yogurt. If a dairy product contains less than this amount, it means sugar has been removed; if it contains more than 4.5/100 g, this is an indication that sugar has been added.

The authors collected data from five major online UK supermarkets, putting yogurts into eight categories: children’s, dairy alternatives, dessert, drinks, fruit, flavoured, natural/Greek style, and organic.

Children’s yogurts tend to have less sugar than those for adults

Results revealed that the total sugar content of yogurt is relatively high in all categories of yogurt except natural/Greek yogurts. Organic yogurts include those with some of the highest levels of sugar, while children’s yogurts and fromage frais are generally lower in sugar, but vary hugely.

‘While there is good evidence that yogurt can be beneficial to health, products on the market vary widely in total sugars.’ – Moore JB et al, 2018.

For every 100 g of the yogurt products in the survey, the median total sugar contents were:

  • Natural/Greek yogurts: 5.0 g, ranging from 1.6-9.5 g
  • Children’s yogurts:10.8 g, ranging from 4.8-14.5 g
  • Fruit yogurts: 11.9 g, ranging from 4.6-21.3
  • Flavoured yogurts:12.0 g, ranging from 0.1-18.8
  • Organic yogurts: 13.1 g, ranging from 3.8-16.9

Fewer than 9% of yogurt products and only 2% of children’s yogurts sold in supermarkets were low enough in sugar to qualify them to be described on the front of the label as low in sugar – i.e. having a maximum of 5 g of sugar per 100 g.

Even among low fat yogurts, although having less sugar on average than higher fat products, 55% had 10-20 g sugar/100 g.

How much sugar should yogurt contain?

If people are to gain from the health benefits of yogurt then, of course, it should be tasty enough for them to want to eat it. Previous research has shown that generally we prefer our yogurt to contain 10-13% added sugar and we tend to think yogurts with 5% or less added sugar are too sour – and that’s when we start ladling on the sweeteners, such as sugar or honey. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that plain yogurt – with the sugar you sprinkle on it yourself – is always healthier than the sweetened yogurt you can buy. A French study found that participants added an average of 13.6 g of sugar to their natural (plain) yogurt. They underestimated how much sugar they were adding; in fact, it was more than the total sugar content of many sweetened yogurts sold in our shops.

The authors suggest that unsweetened yogurts should be introduced to infants’ diets during weaning, which is a time when children are developing taste preferences that they carry into adult life.

Find out more: read the original article.
Source: Moore JB, Horti A, Fielding BA. Evaluation of the nutrient content of yogurts: a comprehensive survey of yogurt products in the major UK supermarkets. BMJ Open. 2018 Sep 18;8(8):e021387.

Additional information : What do the labels mean?

From fructose to sucrose, from demerara to malt syrup, or from honey to molasses, sugars come in a confusing array of forms that we may see listed on our foods. Rules regarding food labelling vary between countries.

The authors of this study based their categories on the following definitions:

  • Free sugars are those added to foods by the manufacturer, or by you when you’re cooking or eating the food – if you sprinkle sugar on your breakfast cereal, for example – plus sugars naturally present in honey, syrups and unsweetened fruit juices. This excludes sugars naturally present in whole fruits and lactose that is naturally present in dairy products.
  • Added sugars are syrups and other sweeteners used to sweeten food products. Sugars that occur naturally in fruit and milk aren’t added sugars.
  • Total sugars are those naturally present in food and drinks plus those added during processing and preparation. For yogurt, the total sugars include the lactose found naturally in milk products plus sugars added as sweeteners during processing.

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