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.