As some states rightfully start to look at reducing sugar consumption from soft drinks, scientists underline another potential source of unneeded sugar: yogurt.
There's a good reason to believe that yogurt is generally good for you: it aids digestive health and improves gut bacteria, while also containing protein, calcium, iodine and vitamin B. But yogurt might also be a source of unrecognized sugar, researchers caution, especially as children under the age of 3 eat more yogurt than any other age group (proportionally).
In order to see how much sugar yogurts have, a team of scientists analyzed the nutritional content of 900 yogurts and yogurt products, which were available from five major UK online supermarket chains in October/November 2016. These five chains hold the lion's share of the market (over 70%).
All the products were grouped into eight categories:
- children's, which included fromage frais;
- dairy alternatives, such as soy;
- and organic.
Both within and across these categories, sugar content varied enormously. But, with the exception of natural/Greek yogurts, the average sugar content of products in all the categories was well above the recommended sugar threshold. Fewer than 10% of all yogurt fell into the low-sugar category and almost none of the yogurts in the children's category were low-sugar.
Unsurprisingly, desserts contained the most sugars, but they were followed by children's yogurts. Considering the rising epidemic of childhood obesity, this is particularly worrisome.
"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," researchers write.
This is especially true of the yogurts in the organic category, which are generally regarded as a healthier alternative. However, researchers add, 'organic' only refers to the production mechanism, not to the overall quality of the product. So organic yogurts can trick consumers into thinking they're a healthy option, while having more sugar than recommended.
"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 products are as healthy as consumers perceive them to be, researchers say. They end with a call to reduce the amount of sugar in yogurts, or at the very least, signal it through labeling.
The study has been published in the British Medical Journal.