Many Organic Yoghurts Have High Sugar Content, Shows UK Survey 

Becky McCall

September 20, 2018

The sugar content of the vast majority of children's yoghurts fails to meet low-sugar labelling requirements, with many organic yoghurts the worst of all, dispelling some of the 'health halo' perception associated with these products, finds an extensive survey of UK products.

The research covered five major supermarkets which represented 75% of market share and included fruit, flavoured, and organic yoghurts, and was led by Dr Bernadette Moore, PhD, associate professor of obesity from the University of Leeds, and conducted together with research student, Annabelle Horti. The paper is published in the September 19 edition of BMJ Open.

"The 'health halo' effect of yoghurt means we've been blind to added sugars in these products," remarked Dr Moore. "I'm a nutritional scientist and I fed my children yoghurt that was full of sugar and I didn't realise the sugar levels. Now I've switched to natural yoghurt."

Traffic-light Labelling

On average, children consume more yoghurts than adults in the UK, with under-3s consuming most of all, note the researchers. Of particular concern, only 2% of children's yoghurts were found to be low enough in sugar to earn the EU classification 'green' signifying low sugar (≤5 g sugar/100g), as seen on packaging with the traffic-light labelling system. Overall, only 9% qualified for the 'green' classification. 

"We were surprised at what we found," said Dr Moore. "The perception is that yoghurt is a healthy food, and this is true if comparing to giving a child a fizzy drink or an iced biscuit say, but most yoghurts have 5g of lactose [milk sugar] plus added sugar on top," she added in an interview with Medscape News UK. 

The survey revealed that total sugar content was relatively high in all yoghurts, but of note, organic yoghurts had some of the highest median sugar content (13.1 g/100 g). Natural and Greek yoghurts had a dramatically different nutrient profile from all other categories, containing much higher protein and much lower carbohydrate (lactose and galactose) contents than all other categories. Natural yoghurt contains no added sweeteners. "With natural yoghurt that is higher in protein, fat, and carbohydrate, the consumer gets a more satiating food that will carry them through the day in contrast to a high in added sugar yoghurt that delivers a sugar lift and subsequent crash," Dr Moore pointed out.  

Shocked by the finding that organic yoghurts (fruit or flavoured) had some of the highest sugar levels, Dr Moore said that:  "The level in organic yoghurt was less than in dessert products but the organic result was a surprise to me, and I wonder whether it is because organic products may have more healthy bacteria and the added sugar covers the lactic acid taste they produce."

Extensive Review

Dr Moore and her colleagues surveyed nutrient data on 75% of UK market share and categorised the products as children's, dairy alternatives, dessert e.g. chocolate mousse or crème caramels, drinks, fruit, flavoured, natural/Greek style, and organic. In total, information on total sugar, fat, protein, calcium and energy contents for 921 unique products was analysed.

Children's yoghurts overall contained 10.8g/100g sugar (4.8–14.5); and by category - fruit yoghurt contained 11.9g/100g (4.6–21.3); flavoured yoghurt contained 12.0g/100 g (0.1–18.8); and organic yoghurt contained 13.1g/100 g (3.8–16.9).  Only two out of 101 children's yoghurts and fromage frais products surveyed qualified as low sugar (≤5g/100g).

'This is concerning given both the continued increase in childhood obesity and prevalence of tooth decay among children starting school (28%)," write the researchers. 

Also, contrary to common perceptions that low-fat yoghurts might have higher sugar content, low-fat products had less sugar and energy than higher fat yoghurts, but nonetheless 55% of low-fat products contained 10–20g sugar/100g.

Sugar Reduction Programme – Start with Young Children

Public Health England (PHE) is running a programme to reduce sugar and calorific content in food products. Industry is encouraged to participate voluntarily. With a nod to industry efforts, Dr Moore pointed out that food manufacturers had started lowering sugar levels but as yet, this was by too small an amount. "We would like to see industry continue to take more sugar out."

She is particularly keen to get the message about consuming low sugar yoghurt across to the parents of infants and young children. "If you have a baby, then now is the time to put some fruit into a natural yoghurt rather than give your child a fruit, flavoured, or dessert-style one," she said.

"We'd also like to see a reduction in the marketing of high sugar desserts as a healthy school lunchbox option," she said, stressing that, "young children are developing their taste buds so it's far better to mash fruit and add it to natural yoghurt [which is lower sugar]."

Evaluation of the nutrient content of yogurts: a comprehensive survey of yogurt products in the major UK supermarkets doi 10.1136/bmjopen-2017-021387. Published in the September 19 edition of BMJ Open.

COI: None declared


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