The Yogurt That has More Sugar Than You Might Think

I did a sugar workshop yesterday at a convention. We talked about hidden sugar, how much is too much, and what to do with sugar cravings. The biggest surprise to participants? The amount of sugar in vanilla yogurt.

Manufacturers generally add sugar to all flavoured yogurts (unless they’re artificially sweetened). Try hunting for one that has less sugar than the others, and you’ll go cross-eyed, thanks to inconsistent serving sizes. I’ve done the math, and the differences are insignificant. Unless it’s plain or artificially sweetened, with rare exceptions, all flavoured yogurts, from raspberry to lemon to vanilla, contain a similar amount of sugar.

People seem to expect fruit yogurt to contain sugar, but not vanilla, which gets confused with plain. Taste-wise, you won’t mistake one for the other. Vanilla yogurt is creamy and sweet, reminiscent of ice cream. Plain yogurt is tart – an acquired taste for most people.

So how much sugar is in the vanilla yogurt? Do you need to ban it from your kitchen?

Health guidelines recommend limiting your “free sugar,” which includes juice, honey, syrup, and all other forms of sugar added to foods, to 5-10% of your calories. (They don’t say to limit naturally-occurring sugar in milk, plain yogurt, or fruit.) Ideally, that means someone eating 2000 calories a day will have no more than about 25g of free sugar a day, and certainly no more than 50g. (Note: There are 4g of sugar in a teaspoon, so that works out to 6-12 teaspoons.)

So how does that compare to vanilla, or other flavoured yogurts?

Here’s a snack-sized vanilla Greek yogurt, containing 15g of sugar. A plain yogurt this size would have about 4g of sugar, so they’ve added about 11g (or 3 teaspoons) of sugar.

Greek vanilla yogurtNutrition for Greek vanilla yogurtIs that too much? The answer depends on what else you eat all day. If it’s your one sweet treat, and your total free sugar is still in the neighbourhood of 25g (6 teaspoons), don’t sweat it. It’s a convenient, nutrient-dense snack.Yogurt with cherries

Not sure if you can confidently say that? Try jotting down everything you eat for a day, making a note of the sugar number from the label. If there’s no label, you can Google it or use a website like Calorie King. If you went to a chain restaurant, check their website. And look at everything —  you’ll be surprised where sugar hides. Subway’s 6-inch Meatball Marinara sandwich has 12g (3 teaspoons) of sugar! Count all the sugar, unless you’re absolutely sure it comes from plain, unsweetened milk, yogurt, or fruit. Count juice.

If it’s higher than you’d like it to be, perhaps a switch to plain yogurt would help. Try sweetening it with fruit – my favourites are frozen mango or cherries. If you let them thaw in the yogurt overnight, you’ll wake up to a mildly sweet and more nutritious breakfast.

Still too tart? If you add just a teaspoon of honey or maple syrup (measure it), you’ll be having about half of what’s in store-bought flavoured yogurt. Add a few almonds, close your eyes, and pretend you’re on a Greek island. Mmmmm…

Sorry, I’m back.

Before long, you’ll find vanilla or other flavoured yogurt too sweet. And there’ll be more room in your day for chocolate. Priorities, people.

Do you eat plain yogurt? What’s your favourite way to dress it up? Share your comments on the Sweet Spot Nutrition Facebook page.

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