The natural sugar in milk and yogurt isn't bad for you, but fruit-flavored yogurts can be full of added sugar. Added sugars can contribute to weight gain, Type 2 diabetes and even cancer. When choosing yogurt, go for plain varieties and add your own fruit to curb your sugar intake.
Naturally occurring sugars in milk and yogurt aren't bad for you, but the added sugar in flavored yogurts is.
Natural vs. Added Sugar in Yogurt
Milk, which is used to make yogurt, contains the natural sugar lactose. Fruit also contains naturally occurring sugars. In addition to natural sugars, these foods contain plenty of protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that are beneficial to your health. Therefore, you do not have to avoid these foods in your diet, although you should consume them in moderation.
Added sugars are those that are not naturally occurring, but added during processing. These can occur under more than 60 names on ingredient labels, according to the University of California, San Francisco, including sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, barley malt, dextrose, maltose and rice syrup.
Most flavored yogurt, unless otherwise specified on the label, contains added sugars. That's how it gets its sweet flavor, which makes it taste more like a creamy dessert than the healthy food yogurt should be.
Ingredients are organized on food labels according to the amount in the product. One brand of blueberry yogurt has sugar listed as the second ingredient, after milk. According to the USDA's ChooseMyPlate, one standard serving of yogurt is three-quarters of a cup. Per serving, the blueberry yogurt contains 12 grams of sugar, 6.75 grams of which is added sugar, per USDA data.
Read more: The 6 Best Yogurts and 4 to Avoid
Risks of Added Sugar in Yogurt
Limiting your intake of added sugar is critical to your health. Eating too much sugar is a major contributor to weight gain and obesity, and it can also increase your risk of tooth decay, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high triglyceride levels, increased LDL ("bad) cholesterol and decreased HDL ("good") cholesterol, reports the American Academy of Family Physicians.
According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, added sugar has an indirect yet important role in the development of certain cancers because it contributes to weight gain. Excess body fat is directly linked to 12 types of cancer, including breast, kidney and stomach cancers.
The medical community staunchly advocates lowering your added sugar intake from all foods and beverages. Per the American Heart Association, women should consume no more than 100 calories, or 25 grams, of added sugar each day and men should limit their daily intake to 150 calories, or 31 grams. Even less is better.
Although flavored yogurts may not contain as much sugar as sodas, candy and desserts, they still contribute to the total.
Low-Sugar Yogurt Options
Yogurt offers many nutritional benefits, from its protein and calcium content to its live and active probiotic cultures that can aid digestive health, so don't cut it out completely. Just make healthier decisions.
Skip the flavored yogurts and opt for plain, low- or non-fat varieties, including Greek yogurt. Add fresh, nutritious ingredients to spice things up. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Add fresh or frozen berries, a few drops of vanilla extract and a sprinkle of cinnamon.
- Make a pina colada yogurt with a small amount of fresh or frozen crushed pineapple and a little coconut extract.
- Mix yogurt with half a mashed banana and top with sliced strawberries.
- Mash a little baked sweet potato and mix into yogurt with a generous sprinkle of cinnamon.
- American Heart Association: "Sugar 101"
- University of California, San Francisco: "Hidden in Plain Sight"
- USDA's ChooseMyPlate: "All About the Dairy Group"
- USDA: "Blueberry Yogurt"
- American Academy of Family Physicians: "Added Sugar: What You Need to Know"
- American Institute for Cancer Research: "The Sugar and Cancer Connection"