Sugar warning on yoghurt products

Agnes Lam

Parents have been urged to pay attention to the content of probiotic-rich dairy products they buy for their children because they may have high levels of sugar.

The appeal was made by the Consumer Council, after a study found all the eight samples examined contained too much sugar.

The consumer watchdog also warned diabetics to seek advice from medical experts before taking such products.

The Consumer Council commissioned International Consumer Research and Testing to examine four yoghurts, three yoghurt drinks and one lactobacillus drink. Results showed all samples contained sugar, ranging from 10.5 grams to 14.8 grams per 100 grams of food.

Guidelines issued by Britain's Food Standards Agency state that any food product with 10 grams or more of sugar per 100 grams contains 'a lot' of sugar.

Yakult Live Lactobacillus Drink tops the list, with the highest sugar content. The tested samples include other popular brands such as yoghurt products from Nestle Dairy Farm and Danone. The council's deputy chief executive, Connie Lau Yin-hing, said sugar was often added to improve taste and neutralise the acidic or sour taste of some strains of probiotics.

She reminded parents to be aware of the sugar content when buying such products for their children. 'There is a general belief that probiotic-rich dairy products are beneficial to our health. Parents might think it is good for children to take such products. But they have to be aware that consuming food that is too sweet can lead to tooth decay,' she said.

Dietitians have suggested that fermented diary products with probiotics support gastrointestinal health.

The council suggested that the government speed up the introduction of a new food labelling law which requires manufactures to specify the concentration or quantity of probiotics and sugar.

'Most labels only tell consumers a product contains sugar or probiotics, but consumers have no clue as to the quantity. They can only make their choices based on brand names,' said Larry Kwok Lam-kwong, the council's chairman of publicity and community relations committee.

Under existing law it is not mandatory for yoghurt, yoghurt drinks and lactobacillus drinks to carry labels indicating probiotic species, concentration of each probiotic and sugar content.

Nestle Hong Kong, in a press release issued yesterday, said: 'We respect and follow the Hong Kong regulation requirements on labelling. Should there be any changes in future, we would adapt accordingly.'