Store-bought yogurts contain shocking amounts of added sugar

Average Reading Time: 6 minutes

In a recently published work, researchers checked the nutrient content of yogurts readily available in UK supermarkets. During their work, a few interesting points popped up. There are two aspects which are noteworthy. One was that a (perceived) healthy food doesn’t have to be healthy, like yogurt in this instance. Another one is that something that has only little amount of carbohydrates by nature often gets stuffed with a lot of sugar.

After analysing the market, the researchers covered around 75% of the grocery market share of the 5 major UK supermarkets. I believe it’s fair to say, they covered places and products (total of 921) that people in the UK would actually buy and consume.

One of the next steps was the question of how to classify the different products. The researchers created a neat looking flowchart for this:

Health benefits of dairy products

Before we draw our conclusions, let’s dive into the health benefits of dairy products. Overall the consumption of fermented dairy products, like kefir or yogurt, has been linked to several positive health benefits if people can digest them properly.

That’s mainly because of the different lactic cultures in these products, most commonly Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Bifidobacterium bifidus. These positive effects of yogurt are why they are a recommended food by different official health organisations.

There is also evidence that a regular yogurt consumption may link to a healthier metabolism (read this). Increased yogurt consumption, in particular, has been associated with lower lipid levels, glucose and even seems to decrease blood pressure (read this).

Interesting meta-analyses showed that there’s an inverse relationship between yogurt consumption and type 2 diabetes, meaning that consumption of one serving a day reduced the incidents of type 2 diabetes (this, this, this, this).

In other words, it seems that yogurt is a sign of a healthy diet.

Dietary guidlines

The currently available dietary guidelines setup by official bodies in Western countries suggest that people aim for low-fat and low-sugar diets. As a consequence, these kind of products are popular in the supermarkets. There is evidence that low-fat diets aren’t necessarily a problem of obesity.

Instead, calories are the problem and these are often hidden in products. Especially low-sugar products contain more fat than they need to. Adding fat to a product is cheap (if you use poor quality fat sources) and it enhances the flavour profile greatly.

Fat is essential to the human metabolism and over the last couple of years, I read enough to realize that the source of fat is of utmost importance.

All that said, people buy what they think is right. Public claims from governments to eat low-fat are what people have been conditioned to believe is healthy. There’s evidence to eat high-fat products though, as they seem to be protective against belly fat (the worst place to store fat on your body).

This research gave even more reason to question the current dietary guidelines of low-fat, low-sugar but refined carbohydrate intake in regards of cardiovascular risk.

Ugly marketing practices

Now we have established that yogurt consumption, if you can digest lactose properly, seems to have beneficial effects on your overall health. This is where this yogurt study starts to get interesting.

Many follow above-mentioned recommendations, especially for the diets of children, which makes the findings of the study disturbing.

Yogurts marketed for children tend to be higher in sugar than they need to be. This means the producers add sugar to the yogurts. We know that diets high in sugar are linked to obesity.

Not necessarily because of the sugar itself, but as they tend to add many calories to peoples lifestyles. That said, there seems to be a positive effect on dental health (less caries) when restricting sugar intake.

Sugar content of different yogurt groups

The researchers found in their analysis that dessert yogurts had the most amount of sugar, with an average of 16,4% of a 100g product. Interestingly enough, yogurts labelled as “organic” came with a sugar content of 13% and products targeted for children average on almost 11% sugar.

The fat content averaged on around 5% and was usually hitting the low-fat dietary guidelines.

Now, the important question is “compared to what?”. You want to compare these yogurts to natural yogurt, which is nothing different than fermented milk.

The yogurts in the research material averaged around 5% of sugar. This is the amount you would expect from natural yogurt, as milk contains 5% sugar.

Next time you buy yogurt you know that anything that goes beyond 5g of carbohydrates on the food label means that the company added sugar to it.

Sugar overconsumption and obesity

All this leads to an easy overconsumption of sugar. Easy, as in people don’t even realize how much added sugar they are ultimately consuming. This and other factors, like the consumption of processed foods, soft drinks and lack of movement, lead to a positive caloric balance. Or in more straightforward words, get people overweight.

It, therefore, should be no surprise that more and more adults (men/women 68%/58%) and children (33%) in the UK are either overweight or already obese. This highlights why the UK government felt an urge to react and implemented a sugar tax on different food groups.


As a side note:

If taxing certain foods is the right way to go is something the future will tell. My personal opinion is that we need to make sure people understand nutrition and food better.

In this case, no taxes would be needed. Besides that, many of the now taxed foods, are also subsidized by the government. By means of subsidies, products are cheaper than they would be otherwise (further reading: 1, 2, 3, 4). Taxing products makes them more expensive again.

In this case, the farmers benefits by getting money and produce their products, while the consumer gets taxed for it. Ideally, in my opinion, we would start to decrease subsidies altogether. This would lead to a fairer market price and make products, like sugar, more expensive and less attractive to add as a flavour enhancer in food.


What this means for you

While this study focused on the UK market, I believe it is safe to assume similar results would be available in other Western markets. This makes it all the more relevant.

Learn to read your food labels and get familiar with the food. This is a little daunting at first, and I can see how it’s easy to ignore it. But it’s your body and I believe you ought to take good care of it.

How to spot that something is off?

Before you buy your yogurt, make sure to avoid yogurts marketed for children. They are, to my experience, almost always filled with sweeteners, flavour enhancers and artificial coloring. You need none of that.

If you can afford it, try to go for organically sourced products. It seems to have an overall better nutrient profile and tends to be better for our planet.

The basics

That said, if you buy yogurt with fruit, chocolate or any flavour (like vanilla), read the label. The content list ought to have these things in them. Unfortunately often it isn’t or barely is. You might find 1% of strawberries in the yogurt, but plenty of added sugar, flavour and colouring.

These are simply cheaper and more convenient out of the view of the producer.

Let’s say you found one that looks good. The sugar content of yogurt ought to be around 5 g per 100 g. You might need to add a little if it’s a chocolate yogurt. There is definitely no need to find any form of added sugar in your yogurt, though.

The suffix -ose

Producers know that more and more people try to cut sugar. That’s why they cut refined sugars where they can and substitute it with different forms of sugars.

If you feel like it, check out this website. They list 56 common names for “sugar”.

There’s another easy way to find sugars in your nutrient labels. Just go on a hunt for any word ending in the suffix “ose“. Suffix is Latin and stands for “full of” and sugars, in the world of biochemistry, end with “ose“; like:

  • glucose,
  • saccharose or
  • dextrose,

to name a few common ones.

Make your own yogurt

A very easy to get around all these problems is to make your own yogurt at home. This might sound daunting at first but it is easy and you don’t need much to make it.

I did yogurt myself in the past many times and I shared my different experiences already. You can read more about yogurt here and about my yogurt making experience (with only 2 ingredients and later in life with more experience).

Conclusion

I want to end this article with a strong yes to the consumption of yogurt. That is, if you know that you can digest it properly. Chances are, if you are a white caucasian, that you can.

Ideally, you make it yourself, using organic milk and high-quality yogurt cultures. This will, according to the research I read, benefit your overall health.

If you buy your yogurt, please be very aware that there might be added sugar, colouring, flavouring and preservatives in the product. Aim for natural yogurt with around 5% of carbohydrates and as little a nutrient conten list as possible.

I would be interested in your thoughts on the consumption of yogurt. Do you buy it, make it yourself? Do you even eat it at all? Let me know and share this article with your friends.

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