Does the world need 369 kinds of yogurt? Let me narrow that question a bit. Do the grocery shoppers in my neighborhood need 369 kinds of yogurt? The dairy case at my supermarket suggests that we do. Yes, I counted. 369 distinct varieties. Capitalism run amuck?
I love yogurt. But I hate yogurt. What do I love? I love creamy, full-fat Greek yogurt, unsweetened, or perhaps sweetened with a little stevia. This is yogurt as nature intended – a balanced healthy meal that has been around for centuries. What do I hate? I hate sugary, low-fat yogurt that is passed off as a ‘health food’ when it really resembles dessert more than breakfast.
Let me elaborate. When you buy anything but plain yogurt, you are buying a lot of sugar (or chemical sweetners, which I would caution against). Allowing the food industry to decide how much sugar to put in anything, even yogurt, is a bad idea. (If you have not yet seen That Sugar Film, it is smart, funny, and worth renting. The film illustrates that much of the sugar we eat is found in food that is perceived as healthy, like yogurt.) A 6oz container of yogurt often contains about 20 grams of added sugar. That’s five teaspoons. Would you let your kid put five teaspoons of sugar on his cereal? I hope not. Yogurt has a natural tang to it, and this takes some getting used to – but if you pour a bunch of sugar in it, the tang is masked by the super-sweet flavor. This is what we have become accustomed to – heavily sweetened yogurt. Yogurt begins to look, nutritionally, pretty much like dessert.
Here’s low-fat strawberry yogurt, contrasted with low-fat ice cream and cookies. Note that although the yogurt offers a few extra grams of protein, it comes along with more grams of sugar, too:
Stonyfield Low-fat Organic Strawberry Yogurt
1 cup (200 calories)
Fat – 2g • Carbs – 36g (sugars 35g) • Protein – 9g
Breyers All Natural Light Vanilla/Chocolate/Strawberry Ice Cream
1 cup (218 calories)
Fat – 6g • Carbs – 35g (sugars 30g) • Protein – 6g
Mother’s Chocolate Chip Cookies
6 Cookies (220 calories)
Fat – 10g • Carbs – 30g (sugars 15g) • Protein – 5g
The question, ‘Is this dessert?” is sometimes even provoked by the names of the flavors offered: Chobani’s Chocolate Haze Craze; Dannon Oikos’ Vanilla Sundae or Chocolate Covered Stawberry; Dannon Danimals’ Cotton Candy Thrill; and Yoplait’s Boston Cream Pie.
To make matters worse, America’s misguided fear of saturated fat has led to mostly reduced fat offerings. In my supermarket, the low-fat and fat-free varieties dominate, with 94% of the shelf space. (Only 23 full-fat offerings – yes, I counted.) This is a problem for two reasons. First of all, low-fat engineering takes a balanced, natural food and removes a key nutrient, leaving behind mostly carbohydrates. Secondly, it makes the yogurt more sour and less palatable, so more sugar is required to make it taste good. Stripping fat out of yogurt makes breakfast (or your snack) a carbohydrate heavy meal that lacks staying power. Let’s look at the macros of the two extremes for a moment:
Full-fat Greek Yogurt – Plain
1 cup (220 calories)
Fat – 11g • Carbs – 9g (sugars are 16% of calories) • Protein – 20g
Fat Free Fruit Yogurt
1 cup (230 calories)
Fat – 0g • Carbs – 46g (sugars are 80% of calories) • Protein – 11g
Which one looks more like a meal and less like dessert?
How can you get the most from your yogurt? Here are three things you can do to skip the hype and go straight to the good stuff:
- Go Greek (usually roughly double the protein);
- Buy plain (unsweetened, so you control how much sugar or stevia goes in);
- Buy full-fat (better taste, and more satisfying, balanced nutrition).
In my grocery store, with 369 choices, these three criteria rule out all but one option. At specialty markets, you'll find a few more.