Yoghurt products — especially those marketed to children — may contain more sugar than soft drinks, putting kids at risk of obesity and tooth decay, a study warns. Yoghurt and other fermented dairy products are known to aid digestive and overall health. A good source of ‘friendly’ bacteria, they also contain protein, calcium, iodine and vitamin B.
Researchers from University of Leeds and University of Surrey in the UK assessed the nutrient content of almost 900 yoghurts and yoghurt products, which were available from five major UK online supermarket chains in October/November 2016. Between them, these chains account for 75% of the market share. All 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 European Union regulations, currently used for the front of pack food traffic light labelling system used in the UK: 3 grams of fat/100 grams or less or 1.5 grams or less for drinks; and a maximum of 5 grams of total sugars/100 grams. The sugar content varied enormously both within and across the categories, the analysis showed.
However, with the exception of natural/Greek yoghurts, the average sugar content of products in all the categories was well above the low sugar threshold. As much as 55% of the 518 low-fat yogurts contained between 10 and 20 grams of sugar per 100 grammes. By comparison, 100 millilitres of Coca-Cola contains 10.6 grams of sugar.
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, researchers said. “While yoghurt 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 yoghurt, as a perceived ‘healthy food,’ may be an unrecognised source of free/added sugars in the diet,” researchers said.
This is particularly true of the organic yogurts analysed. “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 yoghurts, more favourably,” researchers said. They warn that not all yoghurts are as healthy as consumers perceive them.