Q. How much sugar is OK in flavoured yoghurt?

Written by Catherine Saxelby on Wednesday, 25 November 2015.
Tagged: carbohydrates, carbs, guides, health, healthy eating, healthy lifestyle, nutrition, sugar

Q. How much sugar is OK in flavoured yoghurt?
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The question in full:

Q. Aside from plain yoghurt, which of the non-plain types would you suggest? All the ones I have looked at seem way too high in sugar. They claim to be low fat / no fat/ diet / no added sugar but they are still so high in sugar? I am confused with all the brands in the supermarket.

A. First you need to check that you are not confusing the natural lactose content of yoghurt which comes from the milk. Lactose is the natural sugar found in the milk of all mammals (goats, sheep, buffalo and humans) and is an important component of yoghurt. There’s nothing wrong with it but you will find it accounted for in the “sugars” listed on the label.

So we need to differentiate between lactose and added sugars.

On the Nutrition Panel of the back of any yoghurt, lactose gets listed under the blanket term of “sugars” and so is often confused with added cane sugar or honey. Note the plural form sugars is a total figure which includes added sugar (sucrose) as well as glucose, fructose (from fruit) and lactose (from dairy). See my post on Sugars vs sugar

To get clarity, I headed for the supermarket and compared the sugars in the SAME brand of unsweetened and sweetened yoghurt. Here you can read my 3 conclusions:

  1. A plain unsweetened or natural yoghurt has anywhere from 4 to 7 per cent sugars i.e. 4 to 7 g in 100 grams. Let’s round this up to 5 grams for ease of understanding. You can’t avoid these 5 grams. This is the base line figure for the natural lactose sugars in any yoghurt. The only people who need to avoid lactose are those with lactose intolerance. This is a conditon where they are unable to digest (break down) the lactose which then causes pain, bloating, flatulence and diarrhoea. However, even with lactose intolerance, small amounts of lactose are fine. See my post on Eat to beat lactose intolerance .
  2. A yoghurt sweetened with sugar (without any fruit) has around 14 to 15 per cent sugars. So by comparison with the unsweetened version, you can estimate that some 7 to 10 per cent has been added sugar (i.e. is 7-10 per cent sucrose).
  3. In contrast, a fruit-sweetened yoghurt has around 10 to 12 per cent sugars, so you can work out that some 5 g are added sugar (plus fructose from the fruit too – it’s a hard one!).

What is refined sugar?

Remember that honey, agave and brown rice malt syrup are all forms of refined sugar. While they have a few vitamins and minerals, they still contribute ‘sugars’ as sucrose.

Yoghurt comparisons

Here’s a comparison of plain yoghurt with a honey and then a strawberry with my calculations for fructose, sucrose and total.

 Yoghurt type                                      
 Natural sugars Added sugar                    
Total sugars
Tamar Valley, Natural  5% lactose  0   5%
Tamar Valley, Sweet & Creamy  5% lactose  Est 10% sucrose  15%
Vaalia, Natural 7% lactose 0  7%
Vaalia, French Vanilla 7% lactose Est 8% sucrose 15%
5AM, Natural No Added Sugar 6% lactose 0  6%
5AM, Vanilla bean 6% lactose Est 5% sucrose 11%
Chobani, Natural 4% lactose  0  4%
Chobani, Strawberry 4% lactose + 3% fructose Est 4% sucrose 11%

   Note: figures taken from the nutrition figures on the back of the product.

The bottom line

Look for sweet yoghurts with less than 12 g per 100 grams (use the Nutrition Information Panel) to find the less sweetened types. I find the brands Black Swan, Chobani and Barambah are good.

Alternatively buy a natural yoghurt and stir in your own diced fresh rockmelon or other fruit, half a passionfruit, sliced banana or grated apple. Or a handful of sultanas or chopped dried fruit.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.com 

Catherine Saxelby About the author

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Catherine Saxelby has the answers! She is an accredited nutritionist, blogger and award-winning author. Her award-winning book My Nutritionary will help you cut through the jargon. Do you know your MCTs from your LCTs? How about sterols from stanols? What’s the difference between glucose and dextrose? Or probiotics and prebiotics? What additive is number 330? How safe is acesulfame K? If you find yourself confused by food labels, grab your copy of Catherine Saxelby’s comprehensive guide My Nutritionary NOW!