Leeds researchers found sugar levels drop in UK yogurts

A survey of yogurt ingredients show that sugar levels have significantly decreased over the most recent two years, yet concerns about overall nutritional content remain.

In addition, it was found that the number of dairy alternative products has almost doubled, compared to 2016, and the products surveyed were quite variable in their total sugar contents.

Our researchers have analysed product and nutrient data from 893 yogurts available in the UK supermarkets and compared all products to a 2016 baseline survey. The Sugar Reduction in Yogurt Products Sold in the UK between 2016 and 2019 study published in the journal Nutrients, found there was an overall 13% decrease in total sugar content.

Most reduction in sugar was found in the products for children, drinks and fruit yogurts. At the same time, the number of different children’s and organic products has also decreased since 2016 – 23% and 27% respectively.

The available products classed as “low sugar”– containing less than five grams of sugar per 100 grams – increased from 9% in 2016 to 15% in 2019. 

The data highlights the potential positive effect public policy measures and recommendations such as the SACN Carbohydrates and Health Report – a Public Health England report which included input from University of Leeds researchers – are having on improving the nutrient profile of commonly consumed foods.

Even though the results might seem favourable to the UK’s efforts to tackle obesity and hit sugar reduction targets, the authors of the study also warn that yogurt is still not a straightforward choice for consumers looking for healthy foods.

Lead author Dr Bernadette Moore said: “Simply put, lowering sugar intake is the best way to prevent obesity and protect our teeth – particularly for small children – so these are encouraging findings and a good insight into current market trends.”

But recent research has shown a common lack of awareness about how much sugar is in our food. Yogurt, in particular, has something we refer to as a ‘health halo’, where sugar contents of what are considered ‘healthy foods’ are underestimated.

Yogurt definitely can have health benefits but ultimately the final nutrient composition depends on the type of milk used and the ingredients added during production, which often include additional sugars and other sweeteners.

Some yogurts can contribute a lot of sugar to children’s diets, so it’s promising that we’ve seen some progress from the sector – but there is still a long way to go.

Dr Alison Tedstone, Chief Nutritionist at Public Health England

“The food industry has a responsibility to ensure healthier options are available and that our children aren’t flooded by products full of hidden sugars. We hope to see them step up even more to this challenge”, said Dr Alison Tedstone.

The study also found there has been significant product turnover between the 2016 and 2019 surveys. When pairing matched products by brand and name 40% were considered “new products” as they had not been available in 2016. At the same time, compared to 2016, the number of dairy alternative products has almost doubled and the products surveyed were quite variable in their total sugar contents.

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For additional information please contact University of Leeds press officer Anna Harrison via a.harrison@leeds.ac.uk or +44 (0)113 34 34196.