The truth about flavoured yo­ghurt

Is it a healthy snack — or more of a dessert? Some flavoured yo­ghurts can be rid­dled with added sugar. Res­i­dent di­eti­tian Orla Walsh takes a closer look at the lat­est re­search

Irish Independent - Health & Living - - NUTRITION -

Yo­ghurts and their sugar con­tent took the spot­light re­cently thanks to a Liver­pool City Coun­cil cam­paign called ‘save kids from sugar’. Although the Bri­tish city coun­cil’s web­site ac­knowl­edges yo­ghurts as a healthy source of cal­cium and pro­tein that are im­por­tant for strong bones and teeth, the site also high­lighted the added sugar con­tent of some yo­ghurts.

It’s im­por­tant to un­der­stand the dif­fer­ent types of sugar in our foods. ‘Free sugars’ are sugars that have been added to food or drinks, as well as those found nat­u­rally in honey, syrups, fruit and veg­etable juices. Nu­tri­tional guidelines sug­gest re­duc­ing our con­sump­tion of these types of sugars, as they have been shown to be detri­men­tal to our teeth and gen­eral health.

The rec­om­men­da­tions do not ap­ply to the sugars that are found nat­u­rally within the whole foods such as yo­ghurt, whole fruits and whole veg­eta­bles. These sugars are pro­tected within the cell walls of the plant and or de­liv­ered to our body along­side fi­bre or pro­tein, re­duc­ing the speed at which they are di­gested. That is why there is no limit placed upon this type of sugar.

Although there is nat­u­rally-oc­cur­ring sugar within a pot of yo­ghurt, when a yo­ghurt is flavoured or sweet­ened, the food pro­ducer will of­ten have added sugar to its prod­uct. The amount of sugar di­rectly added to cer­tain yo­ghurts can be star­tling. It would be com­mon­place for flavoured yo­ghurts to have two tea­spoons of sugar added to each pot. There are some yo­ghurts on the mar­ket with five tea­spoons of sugar within each pot. Is this a big deal?

Whether or not the sugar con­tent of the yo­ghurt is rel­e­vant de­pends on who is eat­ing it. Ideally, most peo­ple would keep their free sugar in­take to less than 5-10pc of their over­all calo­rie con­sump­tion each day. For in­stance, adults eat­ing a 2,000-calo­rie diet would have no more than 25g to 50g of free sugars a day (six to 12 tea­spoons of sugar). Some peo­ple would re­quire more calo­ries each day and there­fore have a higher ‘sugar al­lowance’. With re­gards to chil­dren, it de­pends on their age. A child aged seven to 10 should aim for no more than six tea­spoons of sugar while a child aged four to six should aim for no more than five tea­spoons of sugar. There­fore two tea­spoons of free sugar added to a pot of yo­ghurt pro­vides a big­ger chunk of a child’s over­all sugar al­lowance than a par­ent’s al­lowance.

So why is there so much sugar added to our yo­ghurts? Un­for­tu­nately, for a long time there has been a fo­cus on sin­gle nu­tri­ents rather than par­tic­u­lar foods. For ex­am­ple, there was a pe­riod of time when the fo­cus was on fat and sat­u­rated fat. This re­sulted in food com­pa­nies adapt­ing foods to be low fat. In a bid to keep the foods tasty, sugar was added to the prod­uct.

Low fat food with added sugar is un­for­tu­nately com­mon. A study was con­ducted to as­sess the dif­fer­ences be­tween fat free, low fat and reg­u­lar ver­sions of the same foods, us­ing na­tional data­bases. This study found that the amount of sugar is higher in the low fat, in­clud­ing the re­duced calo­rie, light and non-fat op­tions, than ‘reg­u­lar’ ver­sions. Thereby sup­port­ing the gen­eral be­lief that food that is lower in fat tends to con­tain more sugar.

So how do peo­ple know how much sugar is in their favourite yo­ghurt? Check­ing the back of a packet for the added sugar con­tent may not be straight for­ward. The ‘of which sugars’ on the la­bel in­cludes both the free sugar and the nat­u­ral sugars. One way to see how much sugar is added to your flavoured prod­uct is to com­pare it to the nat­u­ral ver­sion of the same brand. Any dif­fer­ence in the ‘of which sugars’ is likely to be sugar added to the pot. Ev­ery 4 grams ‘of which sugars’ is equal to one tea­spoon of sugar.

The prob­lem is that the ob­ses­sion with sin­gle nu­tri­ents re­mains un­help­fully high. Sugar is now be­ing de­monised, so ar­ti­fi­cial sugars are be­ing added in in­stead of the more nat­u­ral ta­ble sugar. There­fore, some flavoured yo­ghurts have no added sugar but in­stead con­tain ar­ti­fi­cial sweet­en­ers. These sweet­en­ers ap­pear on the in­gre­di­ents list. Com­mon sweet­en­ers in­clude ace­sul­fame K, su­cralose and as­par­tame.

So what do com­pa­nies do? Re­move all the added sugar from their prod­ucts or add in some ar­ti­fi­cial sweet­en­ers?

A study in­ves­ti­gated what level of sugar re­duc­tion in flavoured yo­ghurt is ac­cepted by the con­sumer. For both straw­berry and cof­fee flavours, con­sumers pre­ferred yo­ghurt con­tain­ing 10pc added sugar. How­ever, yo­ghurt con­tain­ing 7pc added sugar was also ac­cept­able and 5pc sugar was deemed too low. It would be an idea for food com­pa­nies to re­duce their sugar con­tent lit­tle by lit­tle over time. For­tu­nately, some Ir­ish yo­ghurt com­pa­nies have al­ready be­gun this process, with many brands achiev­ing less sugar per pot than their com­peti­tors.

Al­ter­na­tively, buy reg­u­lar yo­ghurt in­stead of low fat yo­ghurt, as it tends to be less tart. To sweeten and flavour your yo­ghurt why not use fruit, herbs and spices? For ex­am­ple, ap­ple and mixed spice, peaches and nut­meg, straw­ber­ries and vanilla pod, orange and clove, pineap­ple and cin­na­mon, kiwi and mint or ba­nana and co­coa, are all tasty com­bi­na­tions.

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