sugar

Some yogurts have as much sugar as a Twinkie

May 28, 2014 at 1:43 PM ET

Video: If you’re not reading yogurt nutritional labels closely, you could end up consuming more than your daily allowance of sugar. NBC’s Katy Tur reports.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, right? And if you're time-pressed in the morning, you might reach for a yogurt. But with that little cup, you might end up consuming more than a full-day's worth of sugar. 

"Yogurt is loaded with protein and calcium," says TODAY diet expert Joy Bauer. "it has probiotics which are good for your stomach, but unfortunately if you pick up the wrong yogurt it can go south." 

Nutrition labels don't differentiate between natural and added sugars, with some yogurts containing more sugar than a Twinkie. A single Twinkie cake has 18 grams of sugar, or the equivalent of 4 1/2 teaspoons. Some flavored yogurts have as much or more than 24 grams of sugars, or about 6 teaspoons. In other words, that one cup of yogurt contains as much sugar as the recommended daily intake of 6 teaspoons for women, according to the American Heart Association, and close to the recommended 9 teaspoons a day for adult men.  

Why does it matter? A diet full of added sugar from processed and prepared foods can increase your risk of dying of cardiovascular disease, according to researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Too much sugar is also linked to tooth decay and weight gain, which can increase risk of diabetes. 

TODAY reached out to leading yogurt producers Dannon, Stonyfield Farm and Yoplait; they all point out that sugars occur naturally in the milk used to make yogurt, as well as in fruit. They also direct consumers concerned about high-sugar content to the plain and Greek versions of their products. 

"Lactose is natural sugar, that's not the sugar you need to worry about," says Bauer. "You need to worry about the added sugar that companies are putting into the yogurts ... Sugary fruits, sugary nuts, sugary mix-ins."

To check how much added sugar a yogurt contains, versus the milk or fruit sugar, is to check with the company. Do a side-by-side comparison of a plain, unsweetened low-fat version to a flavored, low-fat one of the same size, says New York nutritionist Elisa Zied, author of "Younger Next Week." It's worth checking "if sugar is among the first few ingredients on a nutrition list." 

Don't just check the front label for whether it's low-fat or non-fat, says Bauer. "You have to flip it around, look at the nutrition facts panel and check the sugar grams." 

Both Zied and Bauer advise a do-it-yourself approach to yogurt. Start with plain Greek yogurt and add your own honey, maple syrup, chopped fruits and nuts, suggests Bauer. 

Or, "If you only like yogurt that's been sweetened, have it —just make sure to take away those extra sugar calories elsewhere that day," says Zied. 

Because, either way, yogurt is still a healthier option than a Twinkie. 


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