Reducing Sugar Content Gives Dairy Products a Competitive Edge

New sugar reduction techniques give dairy a competitive edge over sweet drinks. ( Wyatt Bechtel )

As competition for beverage space in the refrigerator rises, consumers are demanding healthier, more low-calorie products than ever before. However, they are not willing to sacrifice the taste of these high calorie beverages. Dairy farmers and food scientists may have the answer to their problem.

In a study conducted at North Carolina State University, scientists have been testing new methods to help reduce the sugar content in dairy products to better appeal to consumers. Some of their sugar reduction techniques include hydrolysis of lactose and ultrafiltration.

"The dilemma of how to reduce sugar content without sacrificing flavor and negatively affecting product sales is challenging, as sugar plays an important role in dairy foods, not only in flavor, but also in texture, color, and viscosity,” says MayAnne Drake, professor for the Department of Food, Bioprocessing, and Nutrition Sciences at the Southeast Dairy Foods Research Center at North Carolina State University. “Replacing sugar can have negative effects, making substitution inherently difficult."

For products like yogurt and ice cream, reducing sugar content can have a negative effect on the overall texture and aroma of the product, making it less appealing to consumers. Using calorie-reduced sweeteners have provided similar results to traditional products while keeping the same palatability.

Flavored milks also have their share of added sugars. This is why schools are opting to keep milk out of the lunch room to meet dietary requirements. However, the study showed that withdrawing a chocolate milk option meant that three or four additional foods needed to be added into the diet to replace the nutrients from milk, adding additional calories and cost. Therefore, sugar-reduced chocolate milk should be considered the cheaper alternative.

According to Milk Life, all types of milk, including fat free and flavored, provide the same essential nutrients. While flavored milk does contain added sugar, many leading health and nutrition organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, agree that flavored milk is a positive trade-off for soft drinks, which are the primary source of added sugars in children’s diets. Flavored milk contributes only 3 percent of total added sugars in the diets of children from 2 to 18 years old.

"Understanding current sugar-reduction techniques, research, and consumer response to sugar reduction in dairy products is important for dairy manufacturers in order to design and produce sugar-reduced products," says Drake in an interview with The Dairy Site. "Sugar reduction is an inherently difficult task due to the many functions of sugar in food products, but progress is being made in developing products acceptable to consumers."

Sugar Content

Take a look at the list below to see how milk compares to other sugary beverages:

  • Mountain Dew (20 oz) – 77 grams
  • Coke (12 oz) – 39 grams
  • Lemonade (8 oz) – 27 grams
  • Apple Juice (8 oz) – 26 grams
  • Chocolate Milk (8 oz) – 24 grams
  • Chocolate Almond Milk (8 oz) – 17 grams
  • Vanilla Almond Milk (8 oz) – 15 grams
  • White Milk (8 oz) – 12 grams

To learn more on flavored milks, read: