Many yoghurts contain well above the healthy amount of sugar, according to new research.
Scientists from the University of Leeds and University of Surrey examined the ingredients of 921 of the most popular yoghurts on sale in major UK supermarkets – and found organic types and those marketed at children to be among the worst culprits.
Unhealthy sugar levels
The study, published in BMJ Open, found fewer than one in 10 of all products (9%), and only 2% of children’s yoghurts, were classed as low in sugar.
The average sugar levels were well above the 5g of sugar per 100g threshold required for food products to be classed as a healthy choice, and carry a green ‘traffic light’ nutritional label in the UK.
Products with 22.5g per 100g are considered as high in sugar.
Organic yoghurts typically contained 13.1g of sugar per 100g and boasted the highest sugar content of all the products studied.
Yoghurts marketed towards children were also very sugary, containing 10.8g per 100g, the equivalent of more than two sugar cubes.
The NHS recommends that children aged between four and six consume no more than 19g of sugar (five sugar cubes) per day, and those aged between seven and ten should have less than 24g daily.
Greek varieties were identified as the healthiest, containing the lowest sugar content at around 5g.
Researchers divided the products into eight different categories, with organic yoghurts topping the list as the most sugary, with the exception of the dessert products:
- Desserts – 16.4g per 100g
- Organic – 13.1g per 100g
- Flavoured – 12g per 100g
- Fruit – 11.9g per 100g
- Children’s – 10.8g per 100g
- Dairy alternatives – 9.2g per 100g
- Drinks – 9.1g per 100g
- Natural and Greek – 5g per 100g
Only 9% of the products surveyed were below the low sugar threshold of 5g per 100g.
Commenting on the findings, lead author Dr Bernadette Moore, from the School of Food Science and Nutrition at Leeds, said: “While there is good evidence that yoghurt can be beneficial to health, products on the market vary widely in nutrient content.
“Items labelled ‘organic’ are often thought of as the ‘healthiest’ options, but they may be an unrecognised source of added sugars in many people’s diet.
“Our study highlights the challenges and mixed messages that come from the marketing and packaging of yoghurt products.
Calls for change
The research comes amid a government drive to encourage manufacturers to reduce sugar content in their products, including yoghurts and fromage frais, by 20% by 2020.
A report published by Public Health England in May showed sugar content in yoghurts had been reduced by 6% in the first year, making it the only food category to exceed the initial 5% target and indicating positive progress is being made.
Dr Moore explains that while yoghurts do contain their own naturally occurring sugar (called lactose, or milk sugar), current UK labelling laws do not require the declaration of added sugars on nutrition labels, which can be misleading to consumers.
She said: “Even if we take the reduction into account, most of these yoghurts will still not be low in sugar.
“I think people, including parents, will be surprised to know just how much sugar there is in yoghurt.
“My advice would be to buy natural yoghurt and mix in your own fruit.”