Yogurt is a deliciously creamy snack, and people in the health and fitness world and advertisers herald it as a wonderful health food. Yogurt has some very real benefits especially from the beneficial bacteria, but is there a downside?
Have you considered how much added sugar is in your yogurt?
I usually recommend no more than 25 grams (about 6 teaspoons) of added sugar per day as a starting point. If you’re not sure why added sugar intake is a problem for you health, check out this post first. Even the American Heart Association recommends no more than 24 grams (6 teaspoons) of added sugar per day for women and no more than 36 grams (9 teaspoons) of added sugar per day for men.
One of the problems with yogurt is that most of us don’t think of yogurt as our dessert, even though it some cases it has just as much, if not more sugar, than ice cream! We eat yogurt, and then we also eat dessert or drink sugar-sweetened beverages or eat other foods with added sugar. In some cases, one serving of yogurt can use up all of your daily sugar! So then piling on sweet beverages and desserts leaves us way over our daily limit.
The problem is determining how much added sugar is in your yogurt is really confusing! The label only tells you total sugar, which includes the naturally occurring sugar or lactose in the yogurt. Proposed changes to food labels include reporting added sugar, but it remains unclear if and when those changes will go into effect. Until then, if you subtract the naturally occurring sugar from the total sugar listed on the label, you get the added sugar content.
To try to make this a little easier, I analyzed many of the popular yogurt brands for added sugar including: Activia, Dannon, Oikos, Fage, Yoplait, Nancy’s, Wallaby, Siggi’s, Stonyfield, and Chobani. The natural sugar content of yogurt varies considerably depending on whether it’s regular versus Greek yogurt. Greek yogurt usually has significantly less lactose than regular yogurt, because Greek yogurt is strained to remove extra liquid. Removing the extra liquid also removes some of the lactose.
Regular (non-Greek) yogurt has about 15-16 grams of natural sugar (lactose) per 8-oz (1 cup) serving, though there are a few exceptions like Wallaby (9 grams) and Stonyfield (12 grams) that are lower in lactose. For the purpose of this analysis, we are going to assume that most regular yogurt has about 15 grams of natural sugar.
Greek yogurt averages about 6-9 grams of natural sugar per cup, so for simplicity, we’ll say it’s about 8 grams. Chobani, Wallaby, and Yoplait Greek have slightly less with about 6 grams per cup. Siggi’s, an Icelandic yogurt, is similar to Greek yogurt, in that it’s strained and has about 6 grams of natural sugar per cup.
Based on these assumptions (15 grams of natural sugar per cup of regular yogurt and 8 grams of natural sugar per cup of Greek yogurt), I’ve calculated the BEST and WORST yogurts when it comes to added sugar content. The BEST have 10 grams or less of added sugar per cup, and the WORST have over 30 grams of added sugar per cup!
When you look at this data, remember that these numbers are per 8-oz serving. Each specific brand/flavor or yogurt may come in a 4-oz, 5.3-oz, or 6-oz serving, so the sugar content of that serving size will be less than what is listed here. In order to level the playing field, I needed to make the serving size consistent.
Chobani Flip clover honey: 36 grams added sugar
Fage 0% and 2% honey: 36 grams added sugar
Dannon caramel macchiato: 33 grams added sugar
Stonyfield fat free chocolate underground: 32 grams added sugar
Dannon chocolate covered strawberry: 32 grams added sugar
Dannon bananas foster: 32 grams added sugar
You notice that the top two highest sugar yogurts are sweetened with honey. I consider honey a superior sweetener to refined white sugar, but always caution that it still needs to be limited that same way that refined white sugar does. Just because it’s sweetened with honey definitely doesn’t mean you can ignore the amount.
Nancy’s vanilla low-fat: 0 grams added sugar
Nancy’s lemon low-fat: 0 grams added sugar
Nancy’s honey whole milk: 3 grams added sugar
Chobani flip blueberry power: 7 grams added sugar
Siggi’s 0% pomegranate & passion fruit: 8 grams added sugar
Siggi’s 0% orange & ginger: 8 grams added sugar
Siggi’s 0% vanilla: 8 grams added sugar
Siggi’s 2% cococnut: 8 grams added sugar
Wallaby black cherry: 10 grams added sugar
Wallaby lemon: 10 grams added sugar
Wallaby orange passion fruit: 10 grams added sugar
Wallaby peach: 10 grams added sugar
Wallaby raspberry: 10 grams added sugar
Nancy’s strawberry fruit on the bottom low-fat: 10 grams added sugar
Nancy’s blueberry fruit on top organic: 10 grams added sugar
Siggi’s 4% mixed berries: 10 grams added sugar
Siggi’s 4% strawberry & rhubarb: 10 grams added sugar
Siggi’s 4% fig & lemon zest: 10 grams added sugar
Siggi’s 4% vanilla: 10 grams added sugar
The Nancy’s vanilla and lemon low-fat yogurts are actually unsweetened, but they are flavored and are thus great options. Nancy’s honey yogurt is only very lightly sweetened with honey, so that’s a great low sugar option. Chobani flip blueberry power, Siggi’s, and several flavors of Wallaby’s regular yogurt have 10 grams or less of added sugar, and are definitely viable options.
The Bottom Line
There are a handful of yogurts out there that are lower in added sugar, but some of the very commonly eaten yogurts like Activia and Yoplait have around 20 grams of added sugar per 8-oz serving. (If you’re having only 4-oz and taking, then it’s only about 10 grams of added sugar. This can fit in as long as you’re watching your other sources of added sugar.) If you’re taking in 20 grams of added sugar from yogurt in day, you’re 5 grams of away from your daily added sugar limit.
What’s the alternative? Choose from the handful of low sugar yogurts out there, OR eat plain yogurt (which has no added sugar) and add some fruit and a drizzle of honey, maple syrup, or molasses. One teaspoon of any of these sweeteners provides about 4-6 grams of added sugar. These sweeteners still definitely count as added sugar even though they are more natural sweeteners.
You may wonder whether artificially-sweetened yogurts are a better choice? I don’t think so, though I’m sure some people would argue with me on that. New research is showing us hazards of artificial sweeteners including their ability to change the way our body responds to carbohydrates in a negative way. The other factor to consider is that when you are consuming something hundreds of times sweeter than sugar, it often makes naturally sweet food taste less sweet. Thus, we are no longer satisfied by the natural sweetness of fruit.
Do you have a favorite yogurt? Is this information surprising to you? Please leave any questions or comments below!