Yogurt has long been touted as a healthy alternative to candy or other sweets.
Studies have found yogurt is a good source of probiotics, protein, calcium, iodine and vitamin B.
A new study in BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal), however, has determined most supermarket yogurt is not as healthy as people think, because of its sugar content.
Dietary guidelines in the United States and United Kingdom recommend low-fat, low-sugar dairy products, and researchers wanted to test how well yogurt products adhered to those standards. BMJ especially wanted to look at yogurts marketed to children, because children under age 3 in the U.K. consume more yogurt than any other age group.
To determine “low fat” and “low sugar,” BMJ researchers used European Union regulations: 3 g of fat per 100g or less of yogurt; 1.5 g or less for drinks; and a maximum of 5 g of total sugars per 100 g.
For this study, researchers looked at the nutritional content of 921 supermarket yogurts and yogurt products. The products were then divided in to eight categories: children's; dairy alternatives, such as soy; desserts; drinks; flavored; fruit; natural/Greek; and organic.
The worst offenders were products in the flavored, fruit, organic and children’s categories, which had a median sugar content between 10.8 and 13.1 grams per 100 grams. As Popular Science pointed out, “100 grams is about 3.5 ounces, and a standard yogurt cup in the U.S. is 5 or 5.3 ounces.”
That means one of those tiny yogurt cups is giving you about half your recommended sugar intake for the day. The recommended daily sugar intake is 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men.
The unsweetened, plain yogurts — Greek and natural — contained only 5 grams of sugar per 100 grams of product, which is healthy.
BMJ researchers found that, "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."
They concluded that "not all yogurts are as healthy as perhaps consumers perceive them, and reformulation for the reduction of free sugars is warranted."
Popular Science compiled data from U.S. markets as a comparison. The healthiest yogurts in its study were Chobani whole milk plain and Chobani nonfat strawberry, with 5.0 and 5.3 grams of sugar, respectively.
The worst offenders were Brown Cow whole milk strawberry and Dannon lowfat strawberry on the bottom yogurts. Each contained 22 grams of sugar, or nearly an entire day’s recommended intake.