So you’re standing in the supermarket, it’s a bit cold because you’re in the fridge section and you’re feeling COMPLETELY bamboozled the by yoghurt choice. Oh trust me, I’ve been there.
Greek, natural, pro-biotic, ‘natural’ fruit ones, low calorie, half a dozen fat %s etc. There’s just so much choice and apart from the Rolo variety, most are claiming that they’re the healthiest thing going. It’s confusing to say the least.
If yoghurt is a staple in your diet; you’ve formally been (or still are) a low fat fruity fan; and you’re looking for a yoghurt life less some sugar, with a handle on your cravings, then this is the article for you!
Should we be eating dairy?
I first wrote this article back in 2012 but I’m now updating it because the yoghurt scene is moving mighty fast. Dairy is getting a bad rep and many people are opting to avoid it. I could spend the whole of this post discussing dairy in itself but I want to keep it simple:
1. If you already know you’re lactose intolerant or actively avoid dairy because it makes you feel better not eating it, then of course continue to do so. Options for you will be more limited but they are there. I haven’t catered as much for you in this article but the information may still be helpful.
Note: If you’re dairy free but chucking down sweetened almond milk or dairy free chocolate like no tomorrow, you’re still potentially a bit hooked on sugar (fructose). For you, ask yourself to what extent avoiding the dairy is worth it in terms of how much control you feel over sweet stuff?
2. If you have an unhealthy relationship with sugar and you are eating sugary yoghurts, forget about experimenting around dairy-free and just focus on lower sugar to start with. This article should really help you do that.
A note: I still eat quite a lot of (quality) dairy these days. I am considering a trial period without it but I’m not going to deny the fact it really really helped me overcome my sweet tooth and I’m not sure I would have beaten my fructose addiction without it. I (& many of my clients) have used yoghurt and milky drinks a lot to help with some of the worst cravings and sugary habits. So as much as people will argue against dairy, it very much depends on you and where you’re at.
The benefits of yoghurt on a lower sugar diet
Yoghurt can be a delicious source of protein, fat and other nutrients that is satisfying and can feel indulgent. It can fill you up at breakfast, serve as a snack or add a tasty dimension and natural sweetness to main meals. It can even be a healthy dessert or bust a particularly tough craving.
However, it’s also one of the food areas which is the most shocking when it comes to sugar and mixed marketing messages, so it really needs some awareness.
How much sugar?!
I’ll never forget the moment I realised my daily Activia Snackpot contained 16g of sugar. I nearly fell through the floor and actually felt some deep down sadness inside – this was the sweet pleasure in my day and had been for about 10 years. I do really feel your yoghurt pain if you’re going through it.
However, to give you an idea of sugar in some yoghurts check these out:
Weight Watchers Summer Fruit Strawberry 120g pot = 6.6g sugar plus aspartame
Tesco Low Fat Strawberry 125g pot = 16.1g sugar, no aspartame
Yeo Valley Greek Style Honey 100g pot = 14.3g sugar, no aspartame
As you can see, some contain quite a lot of sugar, especially when you visually remember that 4g is the equivalent of a teaspoon. That small Tesco strawberry number is packing in a hefty 4 teaspoons of sugar.
Evident from the first two, it’s also not unusual to find sugar (usually in the form of a syrup) AND artificial sweeteners. In some cases you may find just artificial sweeteners and in others just a form of sugar (even organic honey is still sugar – especially when its so processed).
Natural vs. Fruit
I’ll be frank and get to the point here. Anything fruity flavoured or that tastes fruity, has something in it to make it taste like that. Even a seemingly ‘natural’ fruit compote is a concentrated source of sugar, usually with extra sugar or artificial sweeteners added to it. I won’t even go into artificial colourings or other stabilisers which are usually also packed into these yoghurts. Remember the fewer ingredients on the list, the better.
The best way to go to avoid added sugar is to steer away from fruity flavours and opt for natural or plain Greek yoghurts. Learn more by watching my video on Natural vs. Greek yoghurts and reading this article on the three things you probably don’t know about Greek yoghurt.
So remember the differences here:
- Fruit flavour yoghurt: between 6-14g sugar per 100g (plus potential stabilisers and artificial sweeteners)
- Natural or Greek yoghurt: between 4-9g sugar per 100g
The best of the fruity situation
Whilst natural is preferable, lets say a fruit flavoured yoghurt slips into the trolley… I’ll turn a blind eye with the hope you’ll change this habit eventually as I know I struggled to pull myself off this one.
My advice if you really want a low sugar healthy(ish) fruit flavoured yoghurt is aim for 6-7g per 100g or around 8-9g a pot serving NOT a whopping 16g like the above Tesco number. You’ll also need to decide how OK you are with various 0g sugar substitutes like aspartame or stevia, as you’re likely to come across lower sugar products that contain these to keep the sweet taste.
Personally, I’d say really try to move away from fruity yoghurts. Buy plain, natural or Greek and add your own fruit or even a little brown rice syrup/raw honey if you really need. At least you have control of the amount if you’re adding it yourself. Whole fruit with the skin helps naturally slow down the release of sugar and helps your body process it much better than some sort of processed fruit compote.
Be conscious of portion size
Smaller snack size pots are easy to calculate but the killer comes with those large and so-easy-to-dip-your-spoon-into big tubs.
You’re likely to have about a 150g portion of these and if your spoon is dipping into something like the Onken Vanilla 0% ‘fat free’, you’re racking up an impressive 21.2g of sugar (5.3 teaspoons) for that portion size. All of that under the perception that you’re being healthy with 0% fat. Crazy town!
Not to mention with those large tubs of addictive fructose laden yoghurt, portion control is even harder (just one more spoonful…). Eat a double portion by accident an your up to 44.4g of sugar! Ouch.
Natural lactose sugar
You’ll notice that even the natural and Greek yoghurts contain sugar under the carbohydrates listing on the label. If the ingredients do not list anything sweet or sugar like, you can assume that this is natural lactose which is OK.
This is absolutely fine from a sugar craving standpoint – it’s not the addictive fructose that makes you want more sugar and is harmful in large quantities.
Generally yoghurts can contain between 4-9g of natural lactose like this but always double check the ingredients. Ideally you want just the yoghurt and maybe some friendly yoghurt cultures to be listed. Below is the ingredients list for FAGE Total Greek Classic (4% fat) yoghurt which is a quality brand I highly recommend.
What about fat?
We are currently emerging from a low fat era and attitudes are shifting. Recent reports are claiming that the low fat advice we were previously given a few decades ago was based on weak evidence. All saturated fat is no longer the dietary villain it was made out to be.
When it comes to yoghurts, full fat has two main benefits:
- It fills you up and satiates you more, thus reducing your need for other food or snacking between meals
- It’s less processed than low fat varieties
Saying this I know personally and through my coaching that ‘fat fear’ is a real issue. I found it hard to start eating full fat dairy and had to work my way up. You usually get yoghurt in 0%, 1.5-2%, 4% and 9.5-10% fat varieties so maybe just opt for the higher %’s or the one up from the one that you’re used to.
Even if you’re trying to slim down, experiment with full fat yoghurt (or at least 4%) because where you might be eating a few extra calories with it, chances are it’s going to satiate you to eat less over the rest of the day and so it kind of balances itself out if you know what I mean.
At the end of the day it may also come down to taste preference. I personally go for either 4% or 9.5% depending on what I’m using it for e.g. 4% for breakfast, 9.5% if it’s a dessert.
Look for Protein
Another healthy thing to look for in yoghurt is protein content, because this ultimately the macronutrient that will keep you feeling fuller for longer and release energy more steadily into the bloodstream. FAGE Total Greek really comes out on top here with at least 9g per 100g. Reviewing other varieties for protein, they seem to average around 4-8g.
I like these ones…
FAGE Total Greek Classic, 4% fat, 9g protein
FAGE Total Greek 2%, 2% fat, 9.9g protein
Yeo Valley Natural (the green one!), 4.2% fat, 4.6g protein
Yeo Vally Greek Style Natural, 9.5% fat, 4.5g protein
Tesco Natural Greek Yoghurt, 9.5% fat, 4.2g protein (probably the cheapest here)
Even Lidl has a full fat creamy massive tub one that is suitable for a low sugar diet, so cost should not be a barrier!
In summary, the morals of the yoghurt story are:
1) keep your eye firmly on sugar content – the ingredients particularly so you can spot for artificial sweeteners and other sugar forms.
2) move away from fruity flavoured where you can
3) consider the protein
4) don’t be scared off by fat.
I’ll also quickly add to watch out for stevia, agave, honey etc. which are also all bound to start making more of an appearance as the market starts to shift to ‘low sugar’ over ‘low fat’.
What do you think about yoghurts? Do you have any questions? Please comment below and I’ll answer them for you and everyone else reading this.