BMJ survey targets sugar in UK yogurts

Many yogurts sold in UK supermarkets contain high levels of sugar, a survey published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) has highlighted.

Researchers from the Universities of Leeds and Surrey analysed the product information of 921 yogurts from UK supermarkets and found that organic yogurts and those marketed towards children in particular, had high levels of sugar. Fewer than 9% of all yogurts, and only 2% of the children’s products surveyed contained less than the 5g of sugar per 100g threshold required to be classed “low sugar” and carry a green “traffic light” nutritional label in the UK. The researchers say this warrants reformulation for the reduction of free sugars in yogurts.

Natural, ‘plain’ and Greek-style yogurts were found to have much higher levels of protein, lower carbohydrate levels and the least amount of sugar, with the average of 5g per 100g – this was largely naturally-occurring lactose.

Desserts contained the most total sugar, at an average 16.4g/100g, which is more than 45% of recommended daily intake, while organic yogurts were found to have the highest average sugar content at 13.1g per 100g. Products in the children’s categories also scored high in sugar content at an average 10.8g/100g.

“Items labeled ‘organic’ are often thought of as the ‘healthiest’ option, but they may be an unrecognised source of added sugars in many people’s diet,” said lead author Dr. Bernadette Moore, from the School of Food Science and Nutrition at Leeds.

Study co-author Annabelle Horti explained that sugar is added to counteract the natural sourness from the lactic acid produced by live cultures in yogurt. These cultures are higher in organic yogurts which, she says, may explain the higher sugar content to offset the sour taste.

“In the UK, on average, children eat more yogurt than adults, with children under three years old eating the most. It can be a great source of protein, calcium and vitamin B12. However, we found that in many of the children’s yogurts, a single serving could contain close to half of a child’s recommended daily sugar intake, and the portions were the same size as an adult’s,” said study co-author Dr. Barbara Fielding, from the University of Surrey.

“Retailers could play a positive role in promoting health by establishing boundaries for lunchbox recommendations and clearly labeling the amount of added sugar,” she added.

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