Study finds high levels of sugar in some yogurts

By June Shannon Nutrition News   |   19th Sep 2018

Children’s yogurts contained high level of sugar

A new UK study has found that most supermarket yogurts contain too much sugar and almost none of the yogurts aimed at young children qualified as being low in sugar.

According to the researchers, yogurt and other similar dairy products are good for your health as they contain good bacteria and much needed protein, calcium, iodine and vitamin B. However, they also warned that yogurt may be an “unrecognised” source of dietary sugar, particularly for young children, who eat a lot of it.

UK and US dietary guidelines recommend low fat and low sugar dairy products, and the researchers wanted to assess how far yogurt products, particularly those marketed to children, meet these guidelines. Children up to the age of 3 in the UK eat more yogurt than any other age group.

For the study the researchers tested the nutrient content of almost 900 yogurts and yogurt products from five major UK online supermarket chains in October/November 2016. Between them, these chains account for 75 per cent of the market share.

The products were grouped into eight categories: children’s, which included fromage frais; dairy alternatives, such as soy; desserts; drinks; flavoured; fruit; natural/Greek; and organic.

Low fat and low sugar were classified according to EU regulations, currently used for the front of pack food traffic light labelling system in the UK: 3 g of fat/100g or less or 1.5 g or less for drinks; and a maximum of 5 g of total sugars/100 g.

Fewer than one in 10 (9%) qualified as low sugar, almost none of which were in the children's category.

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The study revealed that the sugar content varied enormously both within and across the categories, except for natural or Greek yogurts, the average sugar content of products in all the categories was well above the low sugar threshold.

Fewer than one in 10 (9%) qualified as low sugar, almost none of which were in the children’s category. This is “concerning,” given the rise in childhood obesity and the prevalence of tooth decay among young children, the researchers stated.

Unsurprisingly, desserts contained the most total sugar, at an average 16.4 g/100 g, an amount that represents more than 45 per cent of energy intake. These were followed by products in the children’s, flavoured, fruit, and organic categories.

Total average sugars ranged from 10.8 g/100 g in children’s products to 13.1 g/100 g in organic products. This compares with an average of 5g /100 g for natural/Greek yogurts.

By and large, average fat content was either below or just above the low-fat threshold. Desserts had the highest fat content and the broadest range, averaging 5.2 g/100 g.

This is an observational study, and as such, can’t establish cause, added to which it covered only products sold in five supermarket chains.

However, the researchers stated, “While yogurt may be less of a concern than soft drinks and fruit juices, the chief sources of free sugars in both children and adults’ diets, what is worrisome is that yogurt, as a perceived ‘healthy food,’ may be an unrecognised source of free/added sugars in the diet.”

This is particularly true of the organic yogurts analysed, they said.

“While the organic label refers to production, the well documented ‘health-halo effect’ means that consumers most often underestimate the caloric content and perceive the nutritional contents of organic products, including yogurts, more favourably.”

“Not all yogurts are as healthy as perhaps consumers perceive them, and reformulation for the reduction of free sugars is warranted,” they concluded.

“A yoghurt might be low-fat or even fat free, but if it's flavoured, the chances are it will contain added sugar,"

Sarah Noone, Dietitian , Irish Heart Foundation

Commenting on the study Sarah Noone, dietitian with the Irish Heart Foundation said in Ireland, most of us and our kids eat too much sugar without even realising as it is hidden in many of the foods we eat daily.

Sarah explained that foods such as fruit, vegetables and milk all contained natural sugar within their structure, but as these foods also contain a lot of useful nutrients such as calcium, which most Irish children are not getting enough of, it is not necessary to cut down on these sugars.

What we need to be aware of is added or free sugars, she said.

“Added sugar so your table sugar and sugar found in sugar sweetened drinks, cakes, sweets and biscuits provide empty calories which can contribute to weight gain. We know being overweight or obese increases your risk of heart disease. So, to keep your heart healthy, it’s important to watch the sugar in the diet.”

“A yoghurt might be low-fat or even fat free, but if it’s flavoured, the chances are it will contain added sugar. Plain or natural yoghurt still contains some sugar, but these are milk sugars found naturally in the milk and comes with nutrients such as calcium. It can be difficult for parents to know what to choose particularly with marketing practices such as the emergence of ‘special’ children’s yogurts in recent years which imply they are ‘healthier’ than yogurts targeted at adults which is often not the case.”

Sarah suggested paying attention to the labels and ingredients list as different brands will vary.

“Our handy Irish Heart Foundation food shopping card is a very useful tool when choosing yogurts. Alternatively, go for plain, low-fat natural yoghurt and add fresh fruit for a natural sweetness,” she said.

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childhood obesity children dietitian milk nutrition sugar yogurts

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