Breakfast Rescue: Be Aware of Excess Sugar and Fat in Muffins, Yogurt

Do you know how much sugar and fat are in your breakfast?

— -- “Good Morning America”’s Breakfast Rescue series takes an in-depth look at popular breakfast items to help you make more informed choices for your diet.

We asked nutritionist Maya Feller to analyze popular muffins and yogurt, and what she found out about fats, calories and sugar was eye-opening.

MUFFINS

Muffins may be a staple at your morning meeting or grab-and-go breakfast at the coffee shop, but the recent trend in offerings may mean you’re getting way more calories than you think.

“Good Morning America” bought blueberry muffins from Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts (their reduced fat version) and Costco. We asked nutritionist Maya Feller to analyze the nutritional information and give us a breakdown.

The Starbucks muffin comes in at 380 calories with 16 grams of fat but 30 grams of sugar. The Dunkin’ Donuts reduced fat muffin does have lowest fat at 10 grams, but piles on 40 grams of sugar and 410 calories. The whopper of the bunch is the Costco muffin: 32 grams of fat 40 grams of sugar and 600 calories.

To give us a food equivalent to see this nutritional information in a more tangible way, Feller explains, ”When we think about this gigantic muffin, in terms of its fat content, you're going to be so surprised.”

She unveils a plate of store-bought onion rings and a cola. The cola has 39 grams of sugar and 140 calories, add in a double serving of onion rings coming in at 480 calories, with 4 grams of sugar our food visual still only has 26 grams of fat; 6 grams less than the 32 grams from the Costco muffin.

Feller explains why this is a problem in light of healthy eating guidelines for calories.

”Imagine an average man or woman allotted around 2,000 calories for the day. 600 calories --boom right there! For a woman whose intake is lower at 1800 calories, the muffin represents a third of her allotted food intake each day," she said.

Part of the issue is the size: Muffins have gotten huge. I pulled out some old cookbooks and checked portion sizes. Thirty years ago a muffin was 1.5 ounces. Now, for example, the muffin from Starbucks is 4 ounces. I looked on the plastic-wrapped tray the Costco muffins come in but there was no nutritional information, so to find the size of the muffin I had to call their 800 number. The customer service representative from Costco relayed that one muffin is 5.75 ounces: almost 4 times the size of our 80s muffin. But he went on to explain that despite the fact that there is no nutritional info on the packaging the company considers one serving to be half a muffin.

We contacted all three muffin makers for comment. Here are their statements:

Starbucks: ““We are committed to offering a wide variety of food in our stores. Over the years our variety, specific choices and sizes have evolved based on customer and partner (employee) feedback. They have shared with us that they are looking for nourishing and wholesome grab and go snacks and meals that are versatile and easy to fit into a busy lifestyle. The Starbucks Blueberry muffin is a customer favorite and our goal is to provide a muffin that is filled with more real fruit than our previous recipe and enough batter to hold the delicious berries. Additionally, since 2009, Starbucks has remained true to our leadership effort to remove artificial flavors, dyes and high-fructose corn syrup, as well as artificial preservatives wherever possible from our food portfolio.”

Dunkin' Donuts said: “Dunkin’ Donuts offers a wide range of product choices in various sizes and flavors, and we encourage our customers to make decisions that are right for them. Our menu includes a full line of beverages, baked goods, breakfast sandwiches, better-for-you items from our DDSMART menu. We support the National Restaurant Association’s view that through balance and moderation, coupled with physical activity, all foods can be part of a healthy lifestyle.”

Costco declined to comment.

YOGURT

On average, each American eats about 13 pounds of yogurt a year, but the brand you choose could have a significant effect on your sugar intake.

Nutritionist Maya Feller says the amount of sugar varies wildly between brands.

“When you take the fat out, what you end up putting back in is sugar,” she said, comparing the yogurt to a Twinkie, which has 16.5 grams of sugar.

Greek yogurt generally has 12 grams of protein – four egg whites’ worth, which is good, but the sugar can have an effect on people’s health.

“We're looking at elevated lipids, diabetes, hypertension, overweight, and obesity,” Feller said.

The good news is that sugar levels vary across different brands of vanilla Greek yogurt.

“Good Morning America” looked at the sugar content of several brands of yogurt.

“GMA” compared 5.3-ounce containers of Chobani and Activia vanilla Greek yogurt. The Chobani had 13 grams of sugar, but the Activia had 21 grams.

A 5.3-ounce serving of Stonyfield had 19 grams of sugar and a 5.3-ounce serving of Oikos had 18 grams.

Feller said the sugar difference between the two brands amounted to one popsicle or two sugar cubes.

Those who ate the Activia yogurt five days a week would end up adding the equivalent of about 260 additional popsicles per year to their breakfast routine, Feller said.

“GMA” contacted the makers of Activia, who said they were continually working to improve the nutrient profile of their yogurt, including to reduce the sugar.

Stonyfield said they were responding to what their customers wanted and made a point about milk sugars, writing in a statement: “About half of the sugar in most of our products is naturally occurring from the lactose.” They added: “Nutritionists don’t consider these sugars to be harmful.”

The manufacturers of Oikos also disagreed with the comparison of its products to a Twinkie, writing: “Yogurt is a nutrient dense food and is a healthy option with nutrients our bodies need, such as calcium, protein, Vitamin D and potassium. Those are not benefits that confectionery sweetened baked goods contain.”

World health guidelines suggest you limit sugar to 50 grams per day, but ideally people should aim for 25 grams of sugar.

More of the yogurt manufacturers’ statements are below, which have been adapted for this article.

Stonyfield: About half of the sugar in most of our products is naturally occurring from the lactose and fruit, the rest is added to create the taste most people prefer. We understand that different people have different preferences for the amount of added sugar they choose to consume. For yogurt eaters who prefer no added sugar at all, we offer plain versions of our nonfat, lowfat, whole milk, YoBaby, Greek yogurt, and Petite Crème without any added sugar. We don't stop there. Like the growing number of families we make yogurt for, we're concerned with the amount of sugar in food too. We currently have teams looking at nutrition levels across all of our product lines to make sure we're making the healthiest food available that people still love the taste of and want to eat. Stonyfield cited a nutrition expert who has said much of the sugar in yogurt is naturally occurring because of the lactose and fruit ingredients. The company also mentioned that yogurt contained calcium, potassium, live active cultures and naturally occurring vs. added sugar.

Oikos and Activia: Dannon, the maker of Oikos and Activia, provided the following statement: We make a variety of different types of yogurt based on what people tell us they like, including several varieties with no added sugar and other varieties of Activia with substantially less sugar … such as Activia Greek Light, which has 6 grams of sugar in 5.3oz cup. For a variety with no artificial sweeteners, Oikos Triple Zero, which has 7 grams of sugar in a similar size cup. Another good variety with no added sugar or sweetener to compare (also in a 5.3oz cup) is Oikos Plain, which has 6 grams of sugar. These are delicious and nutritious with comparable nutrient benefits (protein, calcium, etc.) and they have less sugar for people who prefer to limit or avoid added sugar. We feel strongly that people should reduce the amount of sugar in the diet while getting the nutrients our bodies need, and that's why we offer so many varieties and why we are working to reduce the amount of sugar in our sugar-sweetened products. Unlike a popsicle, yogurt is nutritious and most contain nutrients out bodies needs such as calcium, protein and Vitamin D.

The statement added: Regarding a comparison between yogurt and a confectionary product, we believe it is misguided to look at any single nutrient when comparing the nutritive value of two dissimilar foods (e.g. a banana and a cookie, or in this case a yogurt and a Twinkie). It’s important to look at the benefits of yogurt which - as a nutrient-dense food - is a healthy option with nutrients our bodies need, such as calcium, protein, Vitamin D and potassium. Those are not benefits that confectionery snacks/candy/sugar sweetened beverages/baked goods contain. The amount of sugar listed on the Nutrition Facts Panel of our yogurt is the total amount of sugar, and the milk used to make yogurt naturally contains lactose, which is a form of sugar. We make a variety of products, and our goal is to encourage Americans to eat yogurt every day while continually improving the nutrient profile of our yogurt.

Chobani declined to comment.