If you're looking to cut out sugar from your diet, you've probably given up some of the main culprits already - soda, chocolate, ketchup, and fruit juice. That's a great step! Cutting out these products means you are moving in the right direction and are serious about living a sugar free life and improving your overall health.
However, what you replace these items with can be just as important as removing them from your diet in the first place. Are you drinking more milk now, instead of soda? Have you replaced your candy cravings with yogurt or cheese?
Unfortunately, sugar and dairy are almost impossible to separate, so if you are eating and drinking dairy, you're probably eating and drinking sugar too. And if you're trying to cut down on your sugar intake, this could be a problem, so I'll help you to understand just how much sugar is in dairy products, and which dairy products have the most sugar and which have the least.
However, before we discuss the amount of sugar found in dairy products, it's important to understand the different types of sugar and how they impact our bodies.
Dairy sugar overview
The most common sugar found in dairy products is lactose, as it is found in mammals' milk. This type of sugar is easily broken down in the body by an enzyme called lactase, (unless you happen to be lactose intolerant). Once lactose has been reduced to glucose, the body can easily make use of it for energy.
But it's not just the naturally occurring sugars in dairy that you need to keep an eye on, as products will often include fructose, which can come in the form of added fruit or other sweeteners, and so it's often these 'added' sugars that can make some dairy products end up being very high in sugar content.
In general, lactose is viewed as one of the healthier forms of sugar, as it is fairly easy to convert into energy by our bodies. However, fructose, while not inherently unhealthy in small quantities, is not as filling as other lactose and glucose, which may lead to overeating.
Eating too much fructose is a common problem for millions of people around the globe, as it is highly addictive and causes sugar addiction. Cutting down on sugar can have so many health benefits, as I outlined in a blog here: 17 amazing things that happen when you stop eating sugar.
Now that we have a basic understanding of lactose and fructose, let's take a closer look at different types of diary products and how much sugar they can contain.
How much sugar is in milk?
Milk only contains the naturally occurring lactose. On average, a single glass (250g) of white milk contains 12 grams of lactose. While the sugar in milk isn't inherently bad for you, your overall sugar consumption can skyrocket if you aren't aware of how much sugar is really in that cup of milk you had for breakfast.
Bear in mind that the daily recommended sugar allowance according to the World Health Organisation is only 25g (7tsp) for a woman and 35g (9tsp) for a man. Two glasses of milk and you've already reached your daily sugar allowance for a woman!
If you prefer to indulge in something a bit more flavorful and decide to grab a chocolate milk instead, prepare to be shocked. Most chocolate milks contains approximately 30 grams of sugar per cup! That's nearly equivalent to a can of soda. While it's true, you do gain additional nutrients from milk compared to soda, the sugar content can bring on a plethora of negative health effects, especially if you are unaware of your total sugar consumption.
If you feel the need to drink milk while trying to reduce your sugar intake, be sure to stick with a brand that is unsweetened, and double check the Nutrition Facts label to see the total sugar content (Carbohydrate per 100g of which sugars). Milk is such a staple in many people's diets that it is usually a hard item to stop drinking. With time and effort, you can step away from this product and enjoy healthier alternatives, such as unsweetened almond milk.
Examples of typical sugar content in milk:
- Milk, 1% (1 glass): 13 grams of sugar
- Milk, 2% (1 glass): 12 grams of sugar
- Milk, Nonfat (1 glass): 12 grams of sugar
- Chocolate Milk (1 glass): 24 grams of sugar
- Powdered Milk (glass): 49 grams of sugar
How much sugar is in cheese?
Discussing sugar in cheese in difficult, simply because there are so many types to choose from! In general, all cheeses do contain sugar, however it is at very low levels. For example, Parmesan cheese only contains 0.3 grams of sugar per ounce and a slice of Provolone holds only 0.2 grams of sugar. If you are replacing high sugar items in your diet with cheese, then you are making a wise decision. Again, be sure to check the Nutrition Facts label, as some cheeses such as Gouda can hold around 6 grams of sugar per serving. Sticking with provolone, parmesan, or goat cheese which contains no sugars is your best option for moving towards a sugar free life.
Examples of typical sugar content in cheese:
- Parmesan cheese (1 ounce): 0.3 grams
- Provolone (1 slice): 0.2 grams
- Gouda (1 cup): 6 grams
- Goat (1 cup): 0 grams
- Cheddar (1 slice): 0.1 grams
- Monterey Jack (1 cup): 0.7 grams
- American (1 cup): 3.2 grams
How much sugar is in yogurt?
While cheese might be a good substitute for high sugar products in your diet, most yogurt is not. Just like everything else on this list, it pays to be a smart consumer and do your research. Sugar content varies between not only types of yogurt, but brands of yogurt as well. If the yogurt contains mixed in fruit, or fruit on the bottom, the sugar content will be much higher. Fruit is a hiding spot for sugar, and mixed in with yogurt, you could be consuming 20 grams of sugar in one serving.
Yogurt, like milk, naturally contains lactose. So, no matter what type of yogurt you indulge in, you'll be consuming sugar. If you are trying to slowly phase it out from your diet, look for products that have no added sugar or mixed in fruit. Most companies market it as plain yogurt, containing 12 grams of sugar, or you can opt for the plain Greek yogurt to cut the sugar count down to 9 grams.
Also, be wary of terms such as "Low Sugar" or "Reduced Sugar". These terms are not properly regulated and can be dangerously vague. For example, "Reduced Sugar" means that the sugar content has been reduced at least 25% from the original product. However, the original product might already contain large quantities of sugar, therefore it's not a good alternative food choice.
Understanding that yogurt is not a low sugar alternative is important on your "Sugar Free" journey. Too often people will see yogurt as a healthy substitute for other products in their diet. This leads to over consumption of the product, and with it comes increased sugar intake. Be sure to read those labels to identify products that contain little to no sugar, or, if possible, ditch yogurt all together.
Examples of typical sugar content in yogurt:
- Greek Yogurts (100 grams): 9 grams
- Plain Yogurts (100 grams): 12 grams
- Fruit Yogurts (100 grams): 20 grams
How much sugar is in butter?
Butter might be high in fat (in fact it's almost solely composed of fat), but it contains no sugar! Be sure to use it sparingly though, as it is known to be unhealthy for reasons unrelated to sugar.
How much sugar is in ice cream?
Sadly, ice cream is usually loaded with sugar and should be avoided whenever possible. In fact, half a cup of plain vanilla ice cream contains 14 grams of sugar! Even ice cream that has no added sugar can still hide over 4 grams of sugar per half cup serving. Surprised to see that the sugar content in ice cream is similar to yogurt? That's because they are both derived from milk, and both contained added sugars for flavor. Pay very close attention to your labels when shopping, and don't trust a food by its packaging! Yogurt contains a few other nutrients that are beneficial to the body when compared to ice cream, so try to opt for yogurt over ice cream when shopping if you need something for your sweet tooth.
Examples of typical sugar content in ice cream:
- Vanilla Ice Cream (1/2 cup): 14 grams
- Chocolate Ice Cream (1/2 cup): 17 grams
- Chocolate Soft Serve (1/2 cup): 18 grams
- Fat Free Vanilla Ice Cream (1/2 cup): 5 grams
- Fat Free Chocolate Ice Cream (1/2 cup): 14 grams
Strategies for dealing with sugar in dairy.
The first, and easiest strategy is to read the Nutrition Labels before you put a dairy item into your cart. Too often we see a product advertising "Low Sugar" and assume it must be healthy for us. That isn't the case with dairy products. Along with the naturally occurring lactose, many manufacturers mix in additional sugars to help improve the taste. Reading the label is the best defense against deceptive marketing and will help you make informed decisions.
Having your research done before you go to the supermarket is strategy number two. Understanding the difference between types of cheese, types of yogurt, and types of milk will save you some headaches while shopping. You won't have to compare mixed in fruit yogurts with plain yogurts. Instead, you can simply compare different varieties of plain Greek yogurt and see which one has the lowest sugar count. You will no longer be tempted to buy chocolate milk, since you know the total sugar content in milk.
Next, plan out your sugar consumption for the week and only buy enough items to reach that goal. If you are targeting a certain number of grams per day, multiple that by seven and buy only that many grams of sugar, paying extra attention to the hidden sugar in dairy products. Your sugar consumption should come from healthy sources in the early phases, before disappearing entirely. This means dairy and fruit should be the primary contributors.
The final strategy, is to simply cut out dairy products. As we've seen, most dairy products contain sugar, primarily lactose. Lactose is a product that is inherent in all dairy products, as it is derived from mammals. No matter how much you try to cut out sugar, unless you cut out dairy products you'll never be truly sugar free.
But, there are alternatives to all of these options!
Sugar free dairy alternatives.
Instead of drinking milk, opt instead for almond milk. It contains no sugar, is low in calories, and contains a hearty dose of calcium for building strong bones. Be sure to shop around for a brand that matches your palate as they all taste slightly different.
Opt for hummus instead of cheese dip, as it is a no sugar alternative. Or, choose goat cheese instead of another variety as it contains no sugar.
Sugar in dairy summary.
Most people are shocked when they discover how much sugar is in their supposedly healthy dairy products such as cheese, yogurt, and milk. Not only is sugar an integral part of dairy products manufacturers pump in additional sugar, usually fructose, into these items to create a more flavourful product. Whether it's chocolate milk or yogurt with mixed in fruit, sugar is added to most diary products.
If you are using dairy products to replace soda, candy, or other high sugar products while moving towards a no sugar diet, then you are moving in the right direction. If you are using dairy products as your final stop on a healthy diet, you might have room for improvement.
Ensure that you are reading the Nutrition Label on the back of the products you are buying. Don't trust the flashy packaging on the front of the label, as terms such as "Reduced Sugar" can be misleading. The only way to ensure you are consuming no sugar is to read the label on the back. Use these labels to help plan your diet.
Limit your yogurt consumption to plain Greek yogurts, and don't mix in granola or fruit, as these can both be high in sugar. Sugar in cheese varies wildly from type to type, so be mindful your purchases.
While it might be healthy compared to most other food on the market today, remember that dairy is not part of an entirely sugar free diet. As people realise that it sometimes isn't as nutritious as it seems, companies are constantly creating products to meet the demand for healthy and delicious dairy alternatives, so be on the lookout for these food choices the next time you go shopping.
Cutting down on sugar in your diet can have a whole host of amazing health benefits, take a look at the video below to find out more.
If you would like to cut sugar from your diet you can sign up for my 21 Day Sugar Detox program here.