As a yogurt-loving nation, the UK spends around £1.7 billion a year on all things yogurt and fromage frais. Yogurt aisles up and down the country are stacked with an ever-increasing number of different types of yogurt, catering from health conscious dieters, to kids and those looking for a luxury post-dinner dessert. With so many yogurt varieties to choose from, and with an increasing number of fat-free yogurt options on the market, it can be difficult to know which yogurts are the most healthy, and the extent to which they are actually fat-free.
Generally speaking, research over the years has suggested that eating yogurt has many health benefits, including additional protein, calcium, positive cultures and vitamin D. Many low-fat yogurts have just as much of these benefits as their full-fat versions, helping to deliver strong bones and teeth, and a healthy immune system. Some research has even suggested that eating low-fat yogurt can help suppress the appetite, aiding those wanting to lose weight.
As with many low-fat foods however, you should take a considered approach when purchasing fat-free yogurt and not pay too much attention to marketing claims that can be overly persuasive. Sometimes a low-fat yogurt isn't as healthy as it seems, and some low-fat yogurts, especially those aimed at children, contain lots of 'free sugars', which we should all cut down on. If you look at the label on any yogurt, when looking at the carbohydrate content, 'of which sugars' will give you an amount in grams. This amount includes milk sugars (lactose) that occurs naturally in the yogurt-making process, as well as additional sugars that have been added to the yogurt (known as free sugars). You should also look at extra sugars that may be present in the fruit or fruit puree that is added to the fat-free yogurt.
Generally speaking, per 100g of yogurt, the first 5g of sugar listed in the carbohydrates section is the lactose used to make the yogurt. If sugar is the second ingredient, this is known as 'free sugar', and you should also note that a lot has been added. The quantity of ingredients is always determined by the order in which they are placed on the label. If they are in the top three on the ingredients list, you know they are in high amounts.
Fat-free yogurts sometimes contain more sugars than you might think – always check the label to be sure of what is inside the pot. You may also see other forms of sugar on low-fat yogurt ingredient lists such as dextrose, fructose, glucose syrup or honey.
This is a common misconception associated with fat-free yogurts. While many yogurts can assist gut health, lower blood pressure, help the immune system, increase calcium levels, reduce the risk of heart disease and help speed up weight loss, others can claim health benefits that they can't deliver. Additives and sweeteners are commonly hidden in fat-free yogurts, and can be troublesome for people with conditions such as IBS. Some fat-free yogurts can also contain as much as five teaspoons of sugar in a single pot. To put it into perspective, that's the same amount of sugar that is in three scoops of regular ice cream.
Some fat-free yogurt producers also put pictures of fruit on the carton to entice shoppers into believing there are fresh fruit pieces in the pot. Sometimes, a fruit compote or jam is used instead, which again can be packed with sugars, artificial sweeteners, colours and stabilisers.
If you are looking for a more naturally fat-free yogurt, stick to yogurts that are made from cow's milk such as those from Ann Forshaw's Alston Dairy (natural and farmhouse yogurts). Greek style or natural yogurt are other options, as they shouldn't have added sugars, sweeteners or flavourings. With a plain or natural yogurt, you can add fruit or honey to sweeten the yogurt to your taste. Be very wary of fat-free yogurt that is sweetened artificially using naturally-derived stevia, sucralose, acesulfame potassium and aspartame. Too many sweeteners can also cause an upset stomach, which is worth bearing in mind if you suffer from digestive conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
Some people who want a fat-free yogurt do not see Greek yogurt as a healthy option. Greek yogurt has a reputation for being thick, luxurious and creamy, therefore many consumers make the assumption that it is high in saturated fat. This isn't the case, and Greek yogurt can actually be a great fat-free yogurt option. Greek yogurt is strained well so that much of the lactose (milk sugar), other sugar and whey (the liquid after the milk has curdled), is removed. The result is a thicker yogurt that contains much more protein and less fat. Greek yogurt can also help suppress the appetite, helping those wanting to lose weight to stay fuller for longer. Be warned that only yogurt made in Greece can be called 'Greek yogurt' in the UK. Anything else has to be called 'Greek-style' in law – a term which some retailers exploit and use for marketing anything that is supposedly 'fat-free' – from yogurts thickened with starch, to various forms of bio and sweetened yogurt.
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