Last week in Washington DC, Dannon pledged to improve the nutrition profile of its yogurts. At the annual meeting of the Partnership for a Healthier America, the yogurt behemoth promised the following changes by 2016:
- Improve the nutrient density by 10% of the Dannon product portfolio overall by increasing nutrients that are encouraged in the diet, like Vitamin D, and decreasing total sugar and fat.
- Reduce the amount of total sugar in Dannon products to 23 grams or less (per 6 ounce serving) in 100% of products for children and 70% of the company’s products overall.
- Reduce the amount of fat in Dannon products, so that 75% of products will be low-fat or fat-free.
- Invest $3 million in nutrition education and research focused on healthy eating habits.
The Partnership for a Healthier America, a public / private partnership, backed by First Lady Michelle Obama, works with the private sector to reduce childhood obesity. Every year at its annual summit, PHA likes to showcase another private sector partner that has committed to improving its product offering. But sometimes one wonders if this is just smoke and mirrors.
Let’s take a close look at Dannon’s sugar content today, to better gauge the change planned for 2016.
Before we begin, bear in mind that yogurt contains a naturally occurring sugar called lactose. In each ounce of yogurt, there are 2 grams of lactose, or half a teaspoon. A standard serving of yogurt is 6 ounces, which means it has 12 grams of lactose, the equivalent of 3 teaspoons of naturally occurring sugars.
With such a high level of natural sugars, one may wonder why yogurt companies add so much sugar to their products. If you eat plain yogurt, you know the answer – plain yogurt does not taste sweet at all. In fact, it is tart.
That’s why adding fruit to yogurt makes sense. Most people find it inconvenient to add their own fruit to yogurt, thus flavored yogurts sell much more than plain. Unfortunately, even with added fruit, yogurt companies add sugar to make the yogurt more palatable.
Dannon’s Fruit at the Bottom yogurts have 24 grams of sugars per 6 ounce serving. Recall that 12 are naturally occurring in the yogurt. The other 12 are split between added sugar and fruit. Peeking at the ingredients information reveals that sugar is listed before the fruit, which means by weight, more sugar is added than fruit. Let’s say 8 grams of sugar, 4 grams of fruit. That works out to:
- 3 tsp of naturally occurring lactose (12 grams)
- 2 tsp of added sugar (8 grams)
- 1 tsp of naturally occurring sugars in the fruit (4 grams)
Reducing the sugar from 24 grams to 23 grams, per Dannon’s promise, will not be too much of a challenge. Let’s hope the reduction will be from added sugars, not fruit.
Now, let’s take a look at Danimals, Dannon’s branded children’s yogurt. There is no plain flavor, unfortunately. The flavored yogurts come in smaller 4 ounce servings. They have 14 grams of sugars (3.5 teaspoons). Had the serving size been been 6 ounces, the total sugar would amount to 21 grams.
This is already lower than the 23 grams Dannon is aiming for!
Doing the math for naturally occurring sugars, 8 of the 14 grams are from lactose. The rest, 6 grams, is added sugar. That’s because the fruit flavors come not from fruit, but from “natural flavors”. One and a half teaspoons of sugar for a 4 ounce serving of yogurt.
Here’s what we would like to see Dannon (and other yogurt companies) do:
- Educate consumers to enjoy plain yogurt and add their own fruit
- Focus on ingredients, not nutrients. Why don’t kids’ yogurts have any real fruit in them?
- Get rid of artificial sweeteners and other unnecessary ingredients such as inulin