Low Fat, 99% Fat Free, No Sugar, 50% Less sugar. How to interpret the Goobleegoo.


Food Companies invest millions per year in marketing their products to the willing consumer by finding nice little ways to highlight all the benefits on their packaging while fineprinting the unhealthy or more negative ingredients.

Which brings me to a question I was recently asked about Yoghurt. The question was: is normal yoghurt better for you or low fat? One of my mates trainers told her that normal is better because low fat has added sugar in it and I was just wondering.

Well thanks for the question anonymous gym user, I always love getting questions! They make me put my thinking cap on. (largely redundant most of the time)

This is certainly not the first time I’ve been asked this question. And although I am not a qualified nutritionist, I am (much to the frustration of everyone else) usually the one holding up the supermarket aisle because I’m avidly reading the nutrition label on every single product before deciding which qualifies to go into my trolley and so I feel like I can offer some advice on the subject.

Let’s of course identify that this question can easily extend across most products rather than just yoghurt.

The truth is varieties of any foods that advertise ‘low-fat’ do often instead have high sugar which they fail to advertise. This goes for milk, flavoured milk, yoghurts, flavoured yoghurts, instant coffee sachets, margarines, butters, muesli bars, cakes, cereals, anything you can think of that is made and packaged really.

It’s easy as a consumer to read those labels that say low fat or no fat, and get suckered into purchasing them and eating them because the marketing companies make them sound healthy, but a good look at the nutrition information panel might tell you otherwise.

So when you’re in the supermarket and looking at the nutrition label you always want the lowest sugar content as well as if possible the lowest, or reasonably low fat content.

So how do you know what is low? Easy! Get out your spectamacles and start comparing.

When comparing products always compare the column that says per 100ml. You cannot compare serving sizes simply because each serving size for each product will be different. So use the 100ml column.

Sugars are listed in carbohydrates because they are in fact a type of carbohydrate although not a very good one. Your body runs about as good on sugar as your car does on it. So to make it easy if you can remember that there is approximately around 5 grams of sugar in your average teaspoon then you can covert the grams listed to a measurement you can understand and relate to readily.

So my protein drink label for example says 5gms per 100ml (yellow circle) so if I was comparing products then I would say that’s not too bad to other products of the same kind. Only one teaspoon of sugar.

I would then discount any other products with higher sugar, and then compare serving sizes of any that have the similar amount of sugar per 100ml to know how much I would be getting by the time I’ve eaten or drunk the product. So in my 375ml protein drink it has 18.8g of sugar per serving and the serving size is exactly 375ml.

That’s about 3.5 teaspoons of sugar by the time I finish drinking it which after I know after comparison is not too bad but I might’ve found a better option if I’d taken the time choosing.

Knowing this you’ll probably be amazed at how many products in the supermarket have high levels of sugar. A can of coke has something like 39gms of sugar… that’s almost 8 teaspoons in one can!

It certainly never ceases to amaze me.

If you want to be really fussy you can then secondly compare fat levels just to double check you have a product with reasonably low fat.

It will usually be divided into Fat Total, Saturated and Trans on the label.

-The total is overall total fats in the product.

-Saturated Fats are fats derived from animal products, like meat dairy and eggs.  Conventional advice says to avoid them as much as possible. More recently, some have questioned this because some of these fats have at relatively neutral effect on cholesterol. Personally I believe everyone needs some of these fats anyway to be healthy especially if you are exercising regularly and have an otherwise healthy diet.

-Trans fats are a type of unsaturated fat, they can raise total and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels while also lowering HDL (good) cholesterol levels. These are the ones you don’t want too much of. Trans fats are used to extend the shelf life of processed foods, typically cookies, cakes, fries and donuts. Try and always compare products for a low Trans-fat content. Anything under 1 gram is A-ok.

In drinks look for less than 10gm of fat per 100ml the lower the better.

In other products anything less that 20gm per 100gm or less is generally acceptable but again the lower the better.

This isn’t a fool proof framework that will always guarantee you the healthiest product but instead will enable you to compare and then pick the best available to you at the time in regards to sugar content and hi fat/low fat content.

A more specific answer when talking about yoghurt: Natural yoghurt is always a good option if you can stomach it because it’s usually guaranteed to have the lowest sugar and low fat. Adding fresh cut up fruit and berries is an option if your taste buds need the flavour. Otherwise if you are having a vanilla or strawberry flavoured yoghurt, you will need to just make sure you are adequately exercising for the calories you are consuming over the day, including the yoghurt and it will be of benefit to consume it in the first half of the day rather than before bed or periods of inactivity.

Def’s stay away from Milo flavoured yoghurts, yogos or nesquik yoghurts. Although they are super yummy and have way cooler packaging, they are perhaps more suitable for the school yard and an adult’s lunch.

Happy yoghurt eating!