Sugar in 2 milk

Why does milk contain sugar?

One cup of white milk (250 ml) contains 12 grams of naturally-occurring sugar called lactose. It gives milk a slightly sweet taste. The body breaks lactose down into glucose and galactose (most of which is later converted to glucose). This process is important because glucose is the primary source of energy in the body and the sole energy source for the brain.

Determining if a food has naturally-occurring sugars or added sugars is important. As part of their nutrient-rich package, foods such as fruit, white milk and plain yogurt contain naturally-occurring sugars. These are all healthy foods to include in your diet. In contrast, added sugars are concentrated sources of calories with no nutritional benefit. Thus, limiting added sugars is wise since extra calories can lead to weight gain and increased risk for health problems.

Lactose, also known as milk sugar, makes up around 0-8 per cent of milk, by weight. Extracted from sweet or sour whey, lactose can be separated from milk, to create lactose free dairy products, and can be marketed and sold separately. Pure lactose is about 20 per cent the sweetness of cane sugar and is used in unique food applications and as a sweet addition to flavoured milk. Lactose is also a good way to support the growth of beneficial gut bacteria such as acidophilus.

Learn more about sugar in your diet here.

Does skim milk have more sugar than full-fat milk?

A Foodwatch investigation

Maybe my friend was mixing up the natural sugar of milk, known as lactose, with added sugar, known as sucrose?

Lactose is a disaccharide (double-sugar) but is analysed under the blanket term “sugars” on the food label. So is ordinary sugar. What’s more, all sugars ARE in fact carbohydrates.

I decided to investigate. I compared two milks from the same company – one a skim milk at almost no fat and one a regular full-fat milk at 3.4 per cent fat. Here’s what I found.

Comparison of milks – full-fat vs skim

Source: Dairy Farmers website

What the table shows

Row 2 for Energy: Skim milk has had almost all its fat skimmed off, so it has fewer kilojoules or Calories. Fat contributes the most kilojoules – double that of protein or lactose. Its energy has dropped from 266 to only 147.

Row 7 for Sugars: When you remove the fat from whole milk, you concentrate what remains. So the sugars go from 4.8 to 4.9 per cent, plus the protein, sodium and calcium go up.

In other words, if you start with 100 mLs of full-fat milk, then remove the 5 per cent fat to create a fat-free skim milk, you end up with only 95 mLs of final skim milk. That 95 mLs turned into a percentage magnifies what was there. Take a look at my diagram in order to see this at a glance.

The yellow section is the Fat content which drops from 3.4 per cent to almost zero in skim milk. The dark blue (lactose) and red (protein) increase slightly. There is more pale blue (water) in skim milk.

Lactose and sweetness

  • Skim milk sometimes tastes slightly sweeter, thanks to this higher content of natural lactose and because the fat isn’t there any more to round out the flavour. However, this doesn’t mean you’re consuming any added sugar (which is extracted and purified from cane sugar).
  • This natural sugar is the problem in lactose intolerance, which is caused by an inability to digest the lactose in milk. Most people can tolerate small amounts of milk, say in tea or coffee and over cereal. But not a large milk shake on an empty stomach.
  • Lactose is better managed if eaten with other foods (say milk in porridge) or spread out over the day, rather than being eaten in large amounts at once. In fact, people with lactose intolerance are better off drinking full-fat milk with its natural fat – which helps slow down the digestion of the milk.

The bottom line

Plain skim milk (or low-fat or light milk) doesn’t have any sugar added to it. Drink full-fat milk if you like the taste or seek a ‘less processed’ milk, but not because you take in LESS sugar – you don’t.

As Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack testified before the House Agriculture Committee this week on the upcoming 2015 Dietary Guidelines, a debate inside and outside the Capitol continues about whether the dietary benefits of low-fat milk are as significant as they have been portrayed by both major health organizations and the dairy industry. The guidelines, which are updated every five years and will be released later this calendar year by the Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Agriculture (USDA), are expected to tout vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seafood and “low- or non-fat dairy” as part of a “healthy dietary pattern”, according to an advisory report released in advance of this year’s full guidelines.

But there is little evidence that low-fat milk is a healthier dietary choice. In fact, an increasing body of evidence seems to indicate that whole fat milk could be a better choice.

Skim, low-fat and whole milks are all processed similarly in the US. The cream is separated from the whey and then added back in – or not in the case of skim milk. Low-fat milks may contain 1% or 2% fat, while whole milk contains 3.25% fat. Cup for cup, whole fat milk contains fewer carbohydrates than low-fat or skim because more of its volume is made up of fat, which does not contain lactose. It also has slightly less protein.

Several prominent nutrition researchers, including Walter Willett, who is known for his ongoing, long term health studies, and David Ludwig, who like Willett teaches at the Harvard School of Public Health, have been questioning dietary guidelines that promote low-fat and skim milk over whole milk. Often, flavorings such as chocolate and strawberry and sugars are added to low-fat and skim milk to make up for the loss of taste when the fat is removed. In those cases, the sugar content can increase by as much as 14g per cup. Studies are increasingly indicating that sugar can lead to heart disease and other health problems, even in individuals who are not overweight.

Other nutrition experts see skim milk as a less attractive option because it does not have as desirable a balance of fat to sugar to protein. “I don’t know anyone who would recommend skim,” said Suzanne Rostler, a registered dietician and co-author with Ludwig of Ending the Food Fight.

Lower fat milks gained in popularity beginning in the 1960s because of the move against saturated fats, which were believed to lead to weight gain and because saturated fat raised LDL, and LDL was tied to heart disease, according to Robert Lustig, Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology at the University of California, San Francisco and author of Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Foods, Obesity, and Disease. “These two facts started the skim milk craze,” he said in an email.

Between 1975 and 2014, sales of whole fat milk have decreased by nearly 61%, while sales of 2% milk have increased nearly 106%. Sales of 1% and skim milk have increased by around 170% and 156%, respectively, according to data from the USDA.

But subsequent research has shown that because fat is more satiating, or filling, eating some higher fat foods can lead to lower calorie intake overall. Cow’s milk, including whole milk, also does not cause a significant insulin response, which is what leads to weight gain, according to Lustig. It also turns out that saturated fats in dairy can protect against certain diseases and are not associated with heart disease, as previously thought. “In any case, the entire dairy/saturated fat hypothesis has been completely debunked,” Lustig said. (See: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and Annals of Internal Medicine.)

Lorrene Ritchie, Director of the Nutrition Policy Institute, a research organization, said by email that she believes low-fat or skim milk is still preferable to whole milk because liquid calories are not as filling as equivalent calories from solid foods and nationwide, the goal for most people should be to reduce calorie intake. “Until we decrease calorie intake on a population level, we are unlikely to see much reversal in the obesity epidemic,” she said.

However, several recent studies in the European Journal of Nutrition and Scandinavian Journal of Primary Health Care have shown that consumption of high-fat dairy foods are inversely associated with obesity.

A September report from the Credit Suisse Research Institute describes fat itself as “The New Health Paradigm”, and predicts that fat intake will grow to 31% of calorie intake from 26% by 2030, with saturated fat growing the fastest. In terms of dairy and its effect on cardiovascular disease (CVD), the report states: “Out of 18 studies published between 2010 and 2013, eight suggest that dairy lowers CVD risk, nine suggest no effect and only one points to a slight risk linked to dairy consumption.”

Consumers may decide what type of milk is best for them personally based on their preferred balance of calories to fat to protein to carbohydrates specific to their health history and their genetics. Either way, no one should be drinking enough milk for the type of that milk to make much of a difference on his or her health overall.

“In nutrition, there are no absolutes, only relative statements in the context of everything else someone eats,” said Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition at New York University and author of What to Eat, and Food Politics.

“I don’t think the kind of milk or milk at all matters if the overall diet is reasonable. Everything in moderation.”

Fact Sheet – How much sugar is in what we drink?

PDF Version of Fact Sheet – How Much Sugar is in what we drink? (PDF 137 KB)

Sugar content examples

Drink Type Type of Sugar Average Qty of Sugar (grams) Average Qty of Sugar (teaspoons)
Water No sugar and essential for health and hydration 0 0
Drink Type Type of Sugar Average Qty of Sugar (grams) Average Qty of Sugar (teaspoons)
Milk (low fat) 250ml (1 cup) Natural sugar 14g 3 teaspoons
Drink Type Type of Sugar Average Qty of Sugar (grams) Average Qty of Sugar (teaspoons)
100% fruit juice 250ml (1 cup) Natural sugar – but drinking too much can cause tooth decay 24g 6 teaspoons
Flavoured milk (small) 300ml Natural and added sugar – drinking too much can lead to increased weight gain 28g+ 7 teaspoons

The following types of drinks are very high in added sugar
Drinking too much can lead to increased weight gain and tooth decay

Drink Type Average Qty of Sugar (grams) Average Qty of Sugar (teaspoons)
Flavoured fruit drink 250ml 27g+ 6.5 teaspoons
Energy drink 600ml 36g+ 8.5 teaspoons
Soft drink (Can) 375ml 38g+ 9 teaspoons
Soft drink (Buddy) 600ml 64g+ 15 teaspoons
Soft drink 1.25 litre bottle – 1250ml 140g+ 33 teaspoons

Daily intake

There is much debate about ‘daily intake’ of sugar. What we know:

  • The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting intake of foods and drinks containing added sugars.
  • Soft drinks and other high sugar drinks such as energy drinks, flavoured mineral waters, fruit drinks and sports drinks can contain amounts of sugar in excess of dietary needs. Therefore, any high sugar drinks that are consumed may contribute to increased weight gain and tooth decay.
  • When lots of sugary drinks are consumed on a regular basis, the body can’t use all the sugar and turns it into fat.
  • High blood sugar levels and increased weight gain can place strain on key organs such as the heart and kidneys.

High added sugar drinks

Drinking too many high sugar drinks can contribute to:

  • Tooth decay
  • Weight gain

Being overweight can contribute to:

  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Other chronic diseases

Diet and low sugar (soft) drinks

  • Still contain high levels of acids and additives such as flavours and colours. Drinking soft drink (sugary and diet) regularly can contribute to the erosion of tooth enamel surfaces which then leads to tooth decay.

Further Information

  • Australian Guide to Healthy Eating
  • Better Health Channel
  • Australian Dietary Guidelines

How Much Sugar is in Dairy

As a child, how many times were you told to drink your milk? Most Americans were raised to believe that dairy is good for you and that we needed multiple servings in a day. Many adults hang onto this teaching, reaching for yogurt when they need a healthy snack. Those who are concerned about the healthy of dairy tend to worry more about fat content than sugar, since dairy was one of the main targets of the low-fat lie that blamed fat content rather than sugar for negative health effects. However, people who are living a low-sugar lifestyle need to remember that there’s sugar in dairy, too— and more than you might suspect. Eating sugar makes you crave more sugar, so you need to know where it’s hiding in the foods you eat. Knowing how much sugar in your dairy is an important part of taking control of your health and making well-informed choices.

Naturally-Occurring Sugar in Milk

All milk has naturally-occurring sugar called lactose. Lactose is less sweet than sucrose—cane sugar—and your body is better able to process it because it occurs naturally. If you’re trying to minimize added sugars, you don’t have to worry much about lactose. However, if you’re limiting your intake of all kinds of sugar to 25 grams a day, it’s important to be mindful of the sugar in milk just like you are mindful about the naturally-occurring sugar in fruits.

Added Sugar in Dairy

Milk and milk products have naturally-occurring sugar, but some dairy products get a double-dose of sweetness when sugars are added to them. This happens most often with yogurt and creamers, which are often artificially sweetened. When you’re picking a yogurt or creamer, find one with no added sugar or artificial sweeteners. Remember that even artificial sweeteners can make you crave more sugar. Giving up the supersweet taste might take some time to get used to, but soon your taste buds will adjust and you’ll be able to enjoy the natural sweet taste of lactose.

Sugar Content In Dairy

Here’s the sugar content for common dairy products: Milk and Cream:

  • All types of regular milk, from whole to skim, contain 12 grams of sugar (and no added sugar) per 8-ounce cup. That’s less than 1 gram of sugar per tablespoon if you’re adding it to coffee.
  • Chocolate and other flavored milks have a lot of added sugar. Hershey’s low-fat chocolate milk, for example, has 30 grams of sugar per cup.
  • Creams, from heavy cream to half-and-half, have only 0.5 gram of sugar per cup— that’s less than ⅙ of a gram per tablespoon.
  • Flavored Coffee Creamers, sold under brands like Coffee Mate, have up to 5 grams of added sugar per tablespoon.

Yogurt The sugar content of yogurt runs the gamut, so it’s critical to be an informed consumer in the grocery store, checking the nutritional labels before you buy. Yogurts with mix-ins like granola, candy or fruit will have a higher sugar content, and even those meant for babies or children often have lots of added sugar. Plain yogurt is the healthiest choice, since it contains only naturally-occurring lactose (about 12 grams per cup for traditional yogurt and 9 gram per cup for Greek yogurt). Here is a sampling of yogurt brands with how much sugar on average is in each:

  • Yoplait Originals: 19 grams of sugar per 6-ounce serving.
  • Dannon Fruit on the Bottom: 22 grams of sugar per 5.3-ounce serving
  • Stonyfield Organic YoBaby: 9 grams of sugar per 4-ounce serving
  • GoGurt: 8 grams of sugar per 2.25-ounce serving
  • Chobani flavored: 15 grams per 5.3-ounce serving

Dairy Alternatives

  • Unsweetened almond milk contains no sugar.
  • Vanilla almond milk contains 13 grams of sugar per cup.
  • Original soy milk contains 6 grams of sugar per cup.
  • Vanilla soy milk contains 9 grams of sugar per cup.

No matter what dairy or dairy alternative you choose, it’s important to be informed and know just how much sugar you are consuming.

Don’t Sweat Over Sugar in Plain Dairy

One of the unfortunate side effects of the widespread campaign against added sugar has been misplaced concern over the natural sugar found in milk and fruit. In particular, I’ve seen a lot of misguided chatter about low-fat dairy products being less healthy because they contain more sugar.

Milk, plain yogurt, and other unsweetened dairy products contain the naturally-occurring sugar lactose, while fruit contains fructose. These sugars shouldn’t be confused with added sugars; sweeteners such as corn syrup and cane sugar that are added to packaged foods and beverages during processing. Unlike added sugars, which contribute plenty of calories but zero nutritional value, the natural sugars in dairy and fruit are part of a nutrient-dense package, so they aren’t something you need to worry about limiting in your diet. Fruit provides vitamins, minerals, and fiber, which incidentally helps to slow down your body’s absorption of sugar. Milk and yogurt are among the richest sources of calcium (though there are plenty of good non-dairy sources, too), and they also provide protein, potassium, and other micronutrients. What’s more, whole fruit and unsweetened dairy products aren’t as concentrated in sugar as soda, candy, and desserts made with large doses of added sugar. Regular milk and plain yogurt don’t contain any added sugar, but keep in mind that many flavored yogurts and milks do, which is why their sugar counts are higher on the nutrition label. The American Heart Association’s recommended cap of 6 to 9 teaspoons (tsp) of sugar per day applies only to added sugar, because that’s the type that has been linked to weight gain and other health problems when consumed in excess. Likewise, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s proposal calls for limiting added sugar — not all sugar — to 10 percent of total calories.

Sizing Up Sugar in Low-Fat Dairy

When two controversial topics — sugar and low-fat dairy — collide, the conditions are ripe for misinformation to spread. I’ve seen numerous bloggers and health gurus claiming that skim milk is “loaded with sugar.” But if you refer to the labels or check the USDA nutrition database, you’ll see that whole, 2 percent, 1 percent, and skim milk all contain 12 grams (g) of sugar (lactose) per cup. When it comes to plain yogurt, there’s more variation. For example, 1 cup of Stoneyfield fat-free plain yogurt contains 16 g of sugar, a cup of low-fat yogurt has 15 grams, and a cup of whole milk yogurt has 12 g. The fat-free and low-fat versions don’t contain any added sugar — the higher sugar content simply results from a displacement effect. When fat is removed, the yogurt contains a higher proportion of the watery phase that includes lactose, so the amount of sugar in the same volume of yogurt (1 cup) increases. (If you spot a brand of whole milk with 11 g of sugar per cup, it’s also a function of this displacement effect. There are slight differences from brand to brand, which may be due to modest differences in composition.) In plain Greek yogurt, the amount of sugar is more consistent across fat levels. One cup (8 ounces) of Fage Greek yogurt, whether 0 percent fat, 2 percent fat, or full-fat, provides 9 g of sugar. Greek yogurt contains less sugar than traditional varieties because some of the lactose is drained off in the liquid whey during the straining process.

Small differences in sugar content aren’t a good reason to avoid low-fat versions of plain yogurt: These sugars are not added sugars, and the increase is trivial. I understand that some people prefer full-fat dairy products because of their taste, or see them as more natural, and I think it’s fine to go that route if you’re careful with portions and make room in your diet for plenty of unsaturated fats (check out the post Low-Fat vs. Full-Fat: The Great Dairy Debate for my full take). But don’t choose whole milk and full-fat yogurt over non-fat for the purpose of cutting back on sugar.

Of course, companies are well aware that “lower sugar” sells with health-conscious shoppers these days, so it’s not surprising that Coca-Cola spotted a window of opportunity and brought a new milk boasting 50 percent less sugar to the market. Their Fairlife milk also has 50 percent more protein and 30 percent more calcium per serving compared to standard milk, but you’ll pay twice as much for it. As I’ve discussed, the natural sugar in milk isn’t a health concern, and I personally don’t think it’s worth it to pay double the price for a designer beverage that offers 5 more grams of protein when most adults are already getting more than enough in their diet.

Watch the Added Sugar in Flavored Yogurts

The amount of added sugar that is mixed into sweetened, flavored yogurts and milks is worth scrutinizing, however. I spotted one single-serve Greek yogurt with 32 g of total sugar — and none of it was coming from fruit because it was caramel macchiato-flavored. After subtracting the 6 grams of lactose that are found in an equivalent portion of plain Greek yogurt, I calculated that each 5-ounce tub contains 26 g — or 6.5 tsp — of added sugar. Yikes! A cup of chocolate milk can have up to 14 g (3.5 tsp) of added sugar. Sweetened non-dairy milks can be loaded, too. One popular brand of chocolate almond milk crams 5 tsp of added sugar into every cup.

Bottom line: The sugar that occurs naturally in plain dairy products isn’t problematic, so don’t worry about a few extra grams in low-fat versions. That’s exactly the kind of obsession with sugar I want to discourage. But do pay attention to the amount of added sugar in sweetened products, like yogurts. To avoid added sugar altogether, buy plain yogurt and top it with naturally sweet fruit. If you prefer the convenience of flavored single-serve yogurts, look for varieties that list fruit ahead of sweeteners on the ingredients list and contain less than 18 g of total sugar per container (that’s about 2 to 2.5 tsp of added sugar in addition to the lactose in yogurt and fructose in fruit).

Photo credit: Danielle Wood/Getty Image

Processed food has a bad reputation as a diet saboteur. It’s blamed for obesity rates, high blood pressure and the rise of Type 2 diabetes. But processed food is more than boxed macaroni and cheese, potato chips and drive-thru hamburgers. It may be a surprise to learn that whole-wheat bread, homemade soup or a chopped apple also are processed foods.

While some processed foods should be consumed less often, many actually have a place in a balanced diet. Here’s how to sort the nutritious from the not-so-nutritious.

What Is Processed Food?

“Processed food” includes food that has been cooked, canned, frozen, packaged or changed in nutritional composition with fortifying, preserving or preparing in different ways. Any time we cook, bake or prepare food, we’re processing food.

Processed food falls on a spectrum from minimally to heavily processed:

  • Minimally processed foods — such as bagged spinach, cut vegetables and roasted nuts — often are simply pre-prepped for convenience.
  • Foods processed at their peak to lock in nutritional quality and freshness include canned tomatoes, frozen fruit and vegetables, and canned tuna.
  • Foods with ingredients added for flavor and texture (sweeteners, spices, oils, colors and preservatives) include jarred pasta sauce, salad dressing, yogurt and cake mixes.
  • Ready-to-eat foods — such as crackers, granola and deli meat — are more heavily processed.
  • The most heavily processed foods often are pre-made meals including frozen pizza and microwaveable dinners.

The Positives of Processed

Processed food can help you eat more nutrient-dense foods. Milk and juices sometimes are fortified with calcium and vitamin D, and breakfast cereals may have added fiber. Canned fruit (packed in water or its own juice) is a good option when fresh fruit is not available. Some minimally processed food such as pre-cut vegetables and pre-washed, bagged spinach are quality convenience foods for busy people.

If you want to minimize your intake of processed food, aim to do more food prep and cooking at home. Base meals on whole foods including vegetables, beans and whole grains.

Look for Hidden Sugar and Sodium

Eating processed food in moderation is fine, but many of these foods may contain high amounts of added sugar and sodium.

Added Sugars

Added sugars are any sugar that is not naturally occurring in the food and has been added manually.Added sugars aren’t just hidden in processed sweets. They’re added to bread to give it an appealing browned hue, and there often is a surprising amount added to jarred pasta sauces and cereal. Added sugars often are used in low-fat foods to improve taste and consistency. The grams of carbohydrate on the Nutrition Facts label also includes naturally occurring sugars which may be a significant amount in foods such as yogurt and fruit. Instead, review a product’s ingredient list and look for added sugars among the first two or three ingredients including sugar, maltose, brown sugar, corn syrup, cane sugar, honey and fruit juice concentrate.


Processed foods are major contributors of sodium in our diets because salt is commonly added to preserve foods and extend shelf life. Most canned vegetables, soups and sauces have added salt. Choose foods labeled no salt added, low-sodium or reduced-sodium to decrease the amount of salt you’re consuming from processed foods.

Dairy and diabetes

All of us, whether we have diabetes or not, need some dairy products (or non-dairy alternatives like soya products) such as milk, cheese and yogurt every day. These all contain proteins and vitamins and are an important source of calcium, which help to keep your bones and teeth strong.

Some dairy foods, however, can be high in fat and saturated fat, so choose lower-fat alternatives where you can.

Adults and older children who consume too much fat may find they gain weight and too much saturated fat can cause your cholesterol levels to rise, which increases your risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Unfortunately, diabetes increases your risk of having CVD, so it pays to opt for the lower-fat options to help manage your risk.

How much per day?

Aim for 3 portions.

What’s a portion?

One portion equals:

  • 190ml (⅓ pint ) milk
  • a small pot of yogurt
  • 2 tbsp cottage cheese
  • a matchbox-sized portion of cheese (30g)

How to make healthy dairy choices

Switching to lower-fat milk, such as semi-skimmed milk (green top) from whole milk (blue top), which contains the most fat, is a good start. To make even more of a difference, try 1 per cent fat milk (orange top) or even better skimmed milk (red top). Lower-fat milks have all the goodness of whole milk, including calcium, all you lose is the fat.

This table shows the savings you could make. The figures are for 100ml but bear in mind a pint is 568ml, which many of us consume each day on cereal and in cups of tea and coffee. It shows how the savings can really add up.

To help you see if your favourite milk or cheese (see table below) is low, medium or high in fat, saturated fat, total sugars and salt we have colour coded the information in the table in line with government guidelines. The colour coding tells you if the product has low (green), medium (amber) or high (red) amounts of fat, total sugar and salt per 100g or 100ml.


Cheese can be high in fat and salt, so keep a check on your portion sizes. The recommended serving size is 30g/1oz – about the size of a matchbox.

Cheeses such as Cheddar, Leicester, Gloucester, Lancashire, Brie, Blue cheese and Edam are all high in fat, typically containing between 20­–40g fat per 100g. Remember when looking at labels, that foods with more than 17.5g of fat per 100g are considered high-fat foods.

Cheese can also be high in salt (more than 1.5g per 100g is considered high) and too much salt can raise your blood pressure, which is not good for your overall health.

If you love cheese, opt for Brie, Edam and reduced fat-hard cheeses, eg ‘lighter Cheddar’, which are lower in fat compared to Blue cheeses, such as stilton and regular hard cheeses, but remember they still are high in fat and saturated fat so keep an eye on that portion size.

It pays to shop around, as the ‘reduced-fat’ cheeses can vary considerably typically ranging from 10 to 22g fat per 100g so again check the labels. For even healthier alternatives, try cottage cheese, Quark and reduced-fat cream cheeses which are lower in fat and salt.

Make hard cheese go further by grating it instead of slicing and opt for mature cheese as a little goes a long way due to the stronger taste.

This table highlights the differences in fat between some of the popular cheeses.

Yogurts and fromage frais

Yogurts and fromage frais can vary widely in their fat content, too, so check the label and go for the lower-fat options. Bear in mind, though, that food manufactures sometimes replace the fat with added sugar to compensate for the change in taste and texture after the fat is removed. A 150g pot of yogurt or fromage frais can often contain 20g of added sugar (equivalent to 5 tsps) in addition to the 6–12g of lactose – the natural sugar already in milk.

A good option is natural yogurt or low-fat Greek yogurt which you can sweeten by adding chopped fruit, which will also help bump up your five a day fruit and veg intake.

Dairy Q&A

Can eating yogurt prevent Type 2 diabetes?

A study published in 2014 looked at the link between eating yogurt and the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and it found that people who ate large amounts of yogurt cut their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. However, the length of the study was too short to draw any firm conclusions, despite being reported as such in many newspapers. More research is needed before we can change our advice. What we do know is that the best way to reduce your risk of Type 2 diabetes is by maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active and eating a healthy, balanced diet that’s low in salt, fat and sugar.

What effect does eating dairy foods have on my blood glucose levels?

The glycaemic index (GI) tells us whether a food raises blood glucose levels quickly, moderately or slowly. This means it can be useful to help you manage your diabetes. Carbohydrates are digested and absorbed at different rates, and GI is a ranking of how quickly each carbohydrate-based food and drink makes blood glucose levels rise after eating them. Milk and other dairy food generally have a low GI because of the moderate GI effect of the lactose (natural sugar in milk), plus the effect of the milk protein, which slows down the rate of stomach emptying.

Should children eat low-fat dairy foods?

Children should be given whole milk and dairy products until they are two years old because they may not get all the essential vitamins they need from lower-fat dairy products. Don’t give children skimmed milk until they are at least five years old.

Carbohydrates and Sugars

Carbohydrates are one of three basic macronutrients needed to sustain life (the other two are proteins and fats). They are found in a wide range of foods that bring a variety of other important nutrients to the diet, such as vitamins and minerals, phytochemicals, antioxidants, and dietary fiber. Fruits, vegetables, grain foods, and many dairy products naturally contain carbohydrates in varying amounts, including sugars, which are a type of carbohydrate that can add taste appeal to a nutritious diet.

Carbohydrate Classification

Carbohydrates encompass a broad range of sugars, starches, and fiber. The basic building block of a carbohydrate is a simple union of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. The chemical definition of a carbohydrate is any compound containing these three elements and having twice as many hydrogen atoms as oxygen and carbon.

Sugars in Foods

When people hear the word “sugar” they often think of the familiar sweetener in the sugar bowl. That sugar is sucrose and is the most familiar form of sugar to home bakers. But there are many types of sugars, which scientists classify according to their chemical structure. Sugars occur naturally in a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and dairy foods. They can also be produced commercially and added to foods to heighten sweetness and for the many technical functions they perform, including: contributing to foods’ structure and texture, sweetening and flavor enhancement, controlling crystallization, providing a medium for the growth of yeast in baked goods, and preventing spoilage. The sweetening ability of sugar can promote the consumption of nutrient-rich foods that might not be otherwise be consumed. Some examples are a sprinkle of sugar added to oatmeal or adding sugar to cranberries in the juice-making process.

Sugars come in several forms, most containing approximately four calories per gram. Simple sugars are called monosaccharides, made up of single sugar molecules. Examples of these are glucose, fructose, and galactose. When two simple sugars are joined together by a chemical bond they are called disaccharides, the most common of which is sucrose or table sugar. Table sugar is made up of equal amounts of the simple sugars glucose and fructose, which are joined together by chemical bonds. Starches and fiber are made up of many simple sugars joined together chemically. Any carbohydrate that is made up of more than two simple sugars is referred to as a polysaccharide. Some common sugars found in foods are:

  • Corn Syrup: Made from corn and usually 100% glucose. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), “corn syrup” can be used to describe numerous corn-derived products.
  • Fructose: A simple sugar found in fruits, honey, and root vegetables. It is used as a caloric sweetener, added to foods and beverages in the form of crystalline fructose (made from corn starch), and it makes up about half the sugar in sucrose or high fructose corn syrup (see below). Fructose does not elicit a glycemic response so it sometimes has been used as a sweetener for foods intended for people with diabetes. However, because of concern about the effect of excessive use on blood lipids, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics does not recommend fructose as a sweetening agent for people with diabetes.
  • Galactose: A simple sugar found in milk and dairy foods. Galactose and glucose form the disaccharide lactose.
  • Glucose: The main source of energy for the body and the only used by brain cells. Glucose is produced when carbohydrates are digested or metabolized. Glucose is sometimes referred to as dextrose. Starch is comprised of long chains of glucose. Glucose make up exactly half of the sugar in sucrose and nearly half of the sugar in high fructose corn syrup.
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup: A mixture of glucose and fructose produced from corn. The most common form of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) has 55 percent fructose and 45 percent glucose.
  • Lactose: The sugar found naturally in milk, it is a disaccharide composed of one galactose unit and one glucose unit; sometimes called milk sugar.
  • Maltose: A disaccharide composed of two glucose units. It is found in molasses and is used in fermentation.
  • Sucrose: A disaccharide or double sugar made of equal parts of glucose and fructose. Known as table or white sugar, sucrose is found naturally in fruits and vegetables. Appearing most abundantly in sugar cane and sugar beets, sucrose comes from these foods for commercial use.

Sugar Alcohols

A sugar alcohol is neither sugar nor alcohol but is actually a carbohydrate with a chemical structure that partially resembles a sugar and partially resembles an alcohol. Another term for sugar alcohols is polyols. They are a group of caloric sweeteners that are incompletely absorbed and metabolized by the body and consequently contribute fewer calories than sugars. The sugar alcohols or polyols commonly used in the United States include sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, maltitol, maltitol syrup, lactitol, erythritol, isomalt, and hydrogenated starch hydrolysates. Their caloric content ranges from .02 to 3 calories per gram compared to 4 calories per gram for sugars. Most sugar alcohols are less sweet than sucrose; maltitol and xylitol are about as sweet as sucrose.

Due to their incomplete absorption, the polyol sweeteners produce a lower glycemic response than glucose or sucrose and may be useful for people with diabetes. Sugar alcohol-sweetened products may have fewer calories than comparable products sweetened with sucrose or corn syrup and hence could play a useful role in weight management.

Carbohydrate and Sugars Consumption Recommendations

The Institute of Medicine’s Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) Report recommends that Americans get the majority of their daily calories from carbohydrates. The DRI Report established the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR) for carbohydrates as 45 to 65 percent of daily calorie intake,. Children and adults need a minimum of 130 grams of carbohydrates per day for proper brain function.

Another source of recommendations for sugars intake comes from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans In 2010, the DGA recommended Americans to limit their intake of Solid Fats and Added Sugars (affectionately named SoFAS at the time by the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC), but now “empty calories” per the 2015 DGAC) to “no more than about 5 to 15 percent of calories.” At the time, Americans consumed about 35% of their calories (or about 800 per day) from SoFAS. Today the number of “empty calories” we eat per day has declined and is thought to be 25-30% of our total calories. It’s recommended that we cut it down to 8-19%.

The 2015-2020 DGA recommendation is to limit intake of added sugars to less than 10% of total calories per day. Currently, we get 13-17% of our calories from added sugars.

The 2015-2020 DGA notes that this recommendation “is a target based on food pattern modeling and national data on intakes of calories from added sugars that demonstrate the public health need to limit calories from added sugars to meet food group and nutrient needs within calorie limits. The limit on calories from added sugars is not a Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) set by the Institute of Medicine (IOM).” In other words, the recommendation to limit added sugars to less than 10% of total calories is not based on research demonstrating cause and negative health effects. Rather, this level of intake is thought to give consumers sufficient room in their diet to include key nutrients while keeping overall calorie intake at appropriate levels.

While the evidence behind the 10% recommendation is hotly debated, there is no debating that some people would benefit from reducing their total calories (sugars calories included) in the effort to achieve and/or maintain a healthy weight. All calories contribute to body weight, not just those from sugars.

Carbohydrates and Sugars in the Diet

  • Safety: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has examined numerous sugars, including glucose, dextrose, fructose, sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, lactose, and maltose, and determined that they are “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS). According to the FDA, sugars for use in foods have a proven track record of safety based either on a history of use or on published scientific evidence, and can be used in food products without further FDA approval.
  • Metabolism: Once ingested, most carbohydrates and complex sugars are broken down into the simple sugar glucose. However, in the digestion of sucrose, both glucose and fructose are released into the bloodstream. Glucose is the primary fuel utilized by the brain and working muscles. To protect the brain from a potential fuel shortage, the body maintains a fairly constant glucose level in the blood. Dietary glucose can be stored in the liver and muscle cells in units called glycogen. When the level of glucose in the blood starts to drop, glycogen can be converted to glucose to maintain blood glucose levels. Several hormones, including insulin, work rapidly to regulate the flow of glucose to and from the blood to keep it at a steady level. Insulin also allows the muscles to get the glucose they need from the blood supply. In the process of breaking down carbohydrates into glucose, the body is unable to distinguish between sugars that are added to foods and sugars that occur naturally in foods, since they are chemically the same.
  • Carbohydrates, Sugars, and Weight Control: Calories are needed for normal body processes. However, people will gain weight when they eat more calories than they use up in daily activities and exercise. These excess calories can come from all macronutrients—fats, proteins, carbohydrates, and even alcohol. Carbohydrates or sugars eaten within daily calorie needs, by definition, do not cause weight gain. According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report, “healthy diets are high in carbohydrates”—45-65% of calories should come from carbohydrates depending on activity level. Regarding sugars, recent 2015-2020 Guidelines suggest limiting the intake of added sugars to less than 10% of total calories per day.
  • Diabetes: Diabetes is a metabolic disorder that occurs when the body cannot regulate blood glucose levels properly. In diabetes, either the pancreas does not make enough insulin (type 1 diabetes) or the body cannot respond normally to the insulin that is made (type 2 diabetes). The causes of diabetes continue to be a mystery, although both genetics and environmental factors seem to play a role. Obesity and lack of exercise are important in susceptibility to type 2 diabetes. Interestingly, sugars are not “off limits” for people with diabetes. In fact, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) has stated that, “the myth that sugar causes diabetes is commonly accepted by many people”. Regarding sugars, the ADA states that diabetics do not need to avoid sugars, but should focus on portion control and serving sizes of both carbohydrates and sugars to keep blood glucose levels on track. Additionally, the ADA also recommends limits on dietary fat and dietary saturated fat for diabetics.
  • Glycemic Index: The glycemic index (GI) was developed in the early 1980’s as way of classifying foods with carbohydrates. It is a measure of the rise in blood glucose after eating an individual food containing a specific amount of carbohydrate when compared to consuming the same amount of glucose or white bread. For more than 20 years, studies have been conducted to assess whether the GI is a helpful tool for planning diets for weight loss, diabetes prevention or the management of blood glucose for people with diabetes. The usefulness of the GI remains controversial globally. In the US, professional groups such as the American Diabetes Association, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans have not recommended the use of the GI as a diet planning tool for people with diabetes, the general population or people trying to lose weight. In fact even those who support the use of the GI as a useful tool say that foods should not be judge by their GI alone. Other factors such as nutrientdensity and fat content need to be considered. population.
  • Dental Health: Sugars and cooked starches (e.g.: bread, pasta, crackers, and chips) are fermentable carbohydrates that contribute to the risk for dental caries. The degree of risk from a carbohydrate-rich food is related to several factors such as exposure time and frequency of consumption. However, according to the American Dental Association, risk can be decreased through several practices, the most important being proper oral hygiene and the use of topical fluorides, fluoridated toothpaste, and fluoridated water. Regarding sugars, the ADA recommends “limiting between meal sipping and snacking on sugary beverages and foods. If you must eat a sugary food or drink, consume it with a meal”. Also important in reducing the risk of caries is eating a balanced diet in line with current dietary guidelines.
  • Sugars, Mental Performance, and Behavior: Numerous studies with different populations show that sugars consumption does not affect hyperactivity, attention span, or cognitive performance in children.

The Bottom Line

As the main energy source for the body, carbohydrates are an important part of a healthful diet. Currently, experts agree that carbohydrates and sugars in foods and beverages can be enjoyed in moderation as part of a balanced diet and active lifestyle.

Related Information

A: There has been a great deal of concern lately about the amount of sugar we eat, and rightly so. High sugar consumption is not a constant in a healthy diet.

It’s a good idea for everyone to know the sources of sugar in their diet and learn to find the right balance between nutrient and sugar intake.

Sugar is a sweetener that provides calories and is added to food and drinks to give them a sweet taste, as well as texture, body and bulk. It is also sometimes called a caloric sweetener. Sugar is a simple carbohydrate that your body uses for fuel; it has no other nutritional value.

Naturally occurring sugar is found in whole, unprocessed foods, such as milk, fruit, vegetables and some grains. The most common natural sugars are fructose, found in fruit, and lactose, found in milk products. Added sugar, or what most people term “white sugar,” (also in other forms like high fructose corn syrup) is added to processed food and drinks while they are being made, as well as added to your food at home.

But, you should be careful with how much added sugar you eat, because there can be serious health consequences to consuming it. Too much added sugar in your diet can contribute to tooth decay, obesity, difficulty controlling type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

The label pictured is for one cup of fat-free milk. You see on the label that this milk has 12 grams of sugar. This is 100 percent lactose, the natural sugar found in milk as it comes from the cow—no sugar is added.

Each individual needs certain amount of calories each day to provide energy. Try to meet most of your daily calorie needs by eating healthy natural sugar foods and other low- or no-sugar foods that provide important nutrients for your body. However, if you are very physically active, or if you choose healthy foods to meet most of your calorie needs, you may have some extra (called discretionary) calories left over. This means you may have some calories left for treats, often high in sugar.

If you fill up on foods or beverages that contain added sugar, you are less likely to consume healthy foods and beverages. Studies have shown that the more sugary beverages (such as soda or juice drinks) people drink, the less milk they drink. Milk provides protein, calcium, vitamin D, potassium and other nutrients that help your body function well, but soda and juice drinks provide a lot of calories from sugar and little to no nutritional value.

To live a healthy lifestyle, it’s important to have a balance of all the types of food you eat, and to be aware of what you’re consuming.

American Dairy Association North East is one of 16 state and regional promotion organizations working under the umbrella of the United Dairy Industry Association. It is the local affiliate of the National Dairy Council®, which has been conducting nutrition education and nutrition research programs since 1915. For more information, visit

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