Low-fat yoghurt

Some low-fat yoghurts have so much sugar they can be more fattening than full-fat.
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  • Updated:15 May 2007

01 .Introduction yoghurt


Less fat (just) but more kilojoules

Trying to lose weight? Yoghurt’s got a healthy image, so combined with a lower-fat claim you might think it’s a good way to help you keep off the kilos. Think again!

Some healthy-sounding yoghurts can be more fattening than regular full-fat brands. Why?

  • ‘Low fat’ doesn’t always mean as much as you might think. According to our food regulator’s code of practice, the term can only be used if the food contains no more than 3% fat. And on average, regular full-fat yoghurt contains about 3.4% fat. That’s only marginally more fat to start with — hardly worth worrying about as long as you check the nutrition panel to avoid the ‘Greek’ and ‘European-style’ yoghurts that often have a lot more.
  • Quite a lot of the flavoured yoghurts we bought from major supermarkets make healthy-sounding claims of one sort or another, including ‘low fat’, ‘lite’ and so on. Most of these yoghurts in fact give you more kilojoules per serve than plain full-fat yoghurt, and some of them evenn more than YOPLAIT Original Strawberry, the top-selling full-fat flavoured yoghurt. These unexpected and unwanted kilojoules come from sugar.

Even a serve of unsweetened plain full-fat yoghurt has about two teaspoons of sugar (lactose) from the milk, but many of the flavoured yoghurts have another five or more teaspoons of table sugar (sucrose) added by the manufacturer.

Gram for gram, sugar gives you less than half the kilojoules you’d get from fat. But whether they’re from sugar or fat, if your food gives you more kilojoules than your body uses you’ll put on weight. And packing in the sugar packs in the kilojoules.

Please note: this information was current as of May 2007 but is still a useful guide today.

High sugar brands

Brands with healthy-sounding claims or names but so much sugar (more than 28 g or seven teaspoons, the equivalent of 476 kJ per 200 g serve) as to push them way up for kilojoules are:

  • BROOKLEA Lite Strawberry.
  • HOME BRAND Low Fat Strawberry.
  • YOPLAIT Lite Strawberry.
  • NESTLÉ All Natural 99% Fat Free Strawberry.
  • SKI D’LITE Wild Strawberry.
  • ALIVE Soygurt Strawberry.
  • BULLA Greek Gourmet Tropical.
  • TAMAR VALLEY Greek Style with Strawberry.

Cut through the spin

Manufacturers have no trouble with creative labelling spin despite the minor difference between low-fat and many full-fat yoghurts, the amount of sugar/kilojoules some of the yoghurts claiming ‘lite’ or ‘low fat’ contain and, it seems, the code of practice. The two highest-kilojoule yoghurts we found make fat claims:

  • ATTIKI ATTITUDE Wild Strawberry (1722 kJ/serve) boasts that it’s ‘96% fat free’
  • GIPPSLAND DAIRY Berry Twist (1346 kJ/serve) even thinks it’s worth claiming ‘94% fat free’.

So much for the code of practice, which says claims of ‘x% fat-free’ shouldn’t be used for products with more than 3% fat.

Check the nutrition information panel to see how much fat and kilojoules your yoghurt really contains. It’s not hard to find brands with less than 20 kJ of fat per 200 g serve, and with comparatively few kilojoules. The ones in our What to buy list manage it and there are others in the results table.

woman with yoghurtA hearty serve?

YOPLAIT Heart Active claims it “lowers cholesterol by up to 15%”.

We’re not convinced.

There’s good evidence that the plant sterols in this product can lower your blood cholesterol levels, but only by about 10% and only if you eat 2–3 g of sterols daily. One serve of YOPLAIT Heart Active contains only 0.8 g of plant sterols, so to get 2–3 g you’d have to eat at least three 200 g tubs of yoghurt. And three tubs would give you 1930 kJ — that’s nearly a quarter of a day’s energy needs for an adult.

YOPLAIT’s manufacturer, National Foods, told us it has evidence for the claim but refused to let us see it.


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  • NESTLÉ Diet Strawberry $1.30
  • YOPLAIT No Fat Strawberry $1.10
  • YOU'LL LOVE COLES Extra Lite Strawberry & Vanilla $1.00
  • ATTIKI Acidophilus Skim Milk Strawberry $1.25
  • BROWNES Friendly aB+ Strawberry Sundae $0.90

All these fruit yoghurts combine low fat with low kilojoules.
The first three are artificially sweetened, see Artificial sweeteners (below) for more.
The prices are for 200g and are based on those we paid in Sydney in February 2007.

Artificial sweetners

Less sugar can come at a price you might not want to pay. The three yoghurts with fewest kilojoules — NESTLÉ Diet Strawberry, YOPLAIT No Fat Strawberry and YOU’LL LOVE COLES Extra Lite Strawberry and Vanilla — are artificially sweetened with acesulphame potassium (950) and aspartame (951).

Apart from it taking a while to get used to the different taste, there have been reports linking artificial sweeteners to increased risk of cancer. Experts, though, are generally convinced that any risks are extremely small, and you have to balance these small risks against the very substantial risks to your health from being overweight. But at the same time it’s a good idea to limit your intake of artificially sweetened foods and drinks.


bowl of yoghurtLively company

Yoghurt’s made by fermenting warm milk with a starter culture — a combination of harmless bacteria that feed on lactose, a naturally occurring sugar in milk. This produces lactic acid, which curdles the milk and gives it its distinctive tangy taste. Set yoghurt is fermented in the tub it’s sold in and has a jelly-like consistency; stirred yoghurt is fermented in large vats before being poured into the tubs.

Some brands claim their yoghurt contains ‘friendly’ bacteria — usually lactobacilli and bifidobacteria — that are good for your health. While experts are convinced that eating live ‘friendly’ bacteria can be beneficial in principle, the scientific evidence is limited to a few specific strains of bacteria that are tough enough to survive passing through your gut. There’s no guarantee that any of the yoghurts on the market contain enough of the right bacteria to do you any good.

Sugar in disguise

Mostly the sugar that’s added to flavoured yoghurts is sucrose, the same sugar you might put in your coffee, but some manufacturers can be tricky. Sugar also comes disguised as fructose, fruit juice concentrate or honey. Honey is about 80% sugar (glucose and fructose). Fructose (or fruit sugar) is no healthier than sucrose — and it’s just as fattening.

Hidden extras

Not surprisingly, a ‘Greek’ or ‘European’ style yoghurt with 8–10% fat tastes deliciously creamy. A low-fat yoghurt, on the other hand, can have a thin and watery texture that’s not so attractive, and when you open it there might be a watery layer on the top. There are thickeners that manufacturers can add to low-fat yoghurts that make them taste quite creamy and prevent separation. You’ll see them listed (usually as a number) in the ingredients list. Gelatine (441) and pectin (440) are familiar to most people; you’ll also see various forms of starch (1442, 1422) and gums extracted from land plants or seaweed (406, 410, 412, 414).

They’re only used in small amounts and there are no safety issues, but combining them in the right proportions to get a really creamy texture is quite an art. It’s worth trying different brands of low-fat yoghurt to see which you like best — some manufacturers have better R&D labs than others.

Fruit … or jam?

Don’t necessarily expect the fruit in your yoghurt to be much like the pictures on the label. PAULS Family Pack Strawberry and DAIRY FARMERS Daily Strawberry are only strawberry-flavoured, with no real fruit at all. And we found other products in which the ‘fruit’ was a kind of jam made from strawberry purée, water and sugar with thickeners, colours and food acids. You can only tell by looking closely at the ingredients list: if it’s not real fruit you’ll see something like ‘fruit’ followed by sugar and other ingredients, all enclosed within square brackets.

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