Sugars Content in Yogurt Could Vary By Nearly 5 Times Be Wary of Health Hazards from High Free Sugars Content

18 April 2017
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Sugars Content in Yogurt Could Vary By Nearly 5 Times Be Wary of Health Hazards from High Free Sugars Content

Yogurt is a rich source of calcium, proteins and probiotics that many health-conscious consumers eat regularly.  But many yogurts available in the market have added various kinds of sugars, health risks of over-weight, obesity and dental caries will be increased as a result, if consumers overlook the sugars content in the nutrition labels.  The Consumer Council reviewed 45 samples of 3 types of pre-packaged yogurt and found their sugars content ranged from 3.3 grams to the highest 18.8 grams per 100 grams, a difference of almost 5 times!

The Council is concerned that currently most products do not list the amount of added sugars and suggests manufacturers or agents strengthen information disclosure on product labels and indicate the percentage of added sugars, so that consumers can avoid taking in too much sugars.  The World Health Organization recommends that a healthy adult with a daily energy intake requirement of 2000 kcal should limit intake of no more than 50 grams of free sugars, representing about 10 sugar cubes, per day.  Free sugars refer to added sugars, such as syrups, honey, cane sugars or glucose-fructose syrup etc., added to foods and beverages by the manufacturer or cook.  Fructose which is naturally present in some of the added fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates also belongs to free sugars but naturally occurring lactose in yogurt is not considered as free sugars.

The Council reviewed the nutrition labels of 45 samples of pre-packaged yogurt, including 11 samples of plain/natural, 12 samples of plain/natural with added sugars, and 22 samples of strawberry flavour.  Of the 3 types, the average sugars content in samples of plain/natural with added sugars was the highest, followed by strawberry flavour samples, and plain/natural samples without added sugars were the lowest.

Among the samples, the highest sugars content was from a plain/natural with added sugars sample, containing 18.8 grams of sugars per 100 grams.  Consuming 1 cup (170 grams) would absorb as much as 32 grams of sugars.  The sample with the lowest sugars content was strawberry flavour, having 3.3 grams of sugars per 100 grams.  A cup (125 grams) only contained 4.1 grams of sugars.  This product used sugars substitutes which, same as lactose, do not belong to free sugars.

This market survey also discovered that even among the same type of yogurt samples, sugars content could vary considerably.  Take strawberry flavour samples as an example, the one having the highest sugars content was found to have 17 grams of sugars per 100 grams.  According to their ingredient lists, most of the samples had added free sugars such as syrups, cane sugars or fructose to enhance sweetness.  But in the same type, there was a sample having sugars content as low as 3.3 grams, the lowest sugars content found in this survey.  The manufacturer used sugar substitutes to reduce the sugars content, resulting in 4 times lower than the sample having the highest sugars content in the same type.

Yogurt products generally have high sugars content as it is produced by fermentation of milk.  In the process, some lactose is turned into lactic acid.  Sugars are therefore added to balance sourness.  Consumers are advised to read and compare ingredient and nutrition information for selecting low-sugars and low-fat yogurts.

Consumers should also note that nutrition content shown on the nutrition labels could be indicated as amounts per 100 grams, but due to different package volume of each yogurt product, consumers would need to convert the figure to find out the nutrients per serving.

On the other hand, even though yogurt drinks sold in the market contain probiotics, as does yogurt, many of those products have much lower calcium and proteins than regular yogurts.  Furthermore, substantial amount of sugars are added to yogurt drinks, so they are generally regarded as high-sugars beverage.

When choosing yogurts, consumers may take the following suggestions into consideration:

  • Read the nutrition label carefully.  Choose the ones that are low in fat and sugars content, higher in calcium and proteins, and whose ingredient list shows milk content ranking higher and sugars content lower;
  • Although yogurts using sugar substitutes have a lower sugars content, people who have issues or medical concerns about sugar substitutes, should note whether the product is free of added sugars, or whether they contain sugar substitutes or artificial sweeteners.  Seek advice from medical professionals before eating;
  • People suffering from gastroesophageal reflux disease or whose gastro functions are weaker should avoid eating yogurts on an empty-stomach, to reduce gastro discomfort;
  • Store yogurt properly according to instructions on the product package, check whether the package is intact before eating and finish all before the expiry date;
  • When eating yogurt from a large volume container, use a clean spoon to scoop out the desired portion and store the rest properly according to instructions on the product package.

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