Yogurt: Healthy or Not?
By Melissa Conroy
When searching for a tasty, nutritious snack, many people reach for a carton of yogurt. Yogurt has long enjoyed a reputation as a healthy, delicious food. Full of protein, calcium and probiotics, yogurt is a great way to start your morning or tide you over until dinner.
Or is it? While yogurt has a “health halo,” the truth is that many brands and varieties of yogurt are not very healthy. While yogurt does contain beneficial ingredients such as protein, most commercially prepared sweetened yogurt is packed full of sugar, artificial sweeteners and food dyes. (It may be worth your time to do a bit of research on the source of some of the food dyes). Other yogurt brands contain low levels of beneficial probiotics, and others are high in fat.
To help separate the facts from the myths, let’s take a quick look at the history of yogurt. Yogurt has been a part of most dairy-consuming cultures for centuries. It doesn’t have a single origin: Many people throughout history discovered that fresh milk turns into thick, tangy yogurt in the right conditions. To create yogurt, milk needs to be exposed to the right bacteria in the correct temperature and moisture. Thermophilic (heat-loving) bacteria cultures develop best in heat and produce thicker yogurt. Mesophilic cultures (medium-loving) grow best at room temperature and produce thinner yogurt.
In the right conditions, the bacteria in milk convert the lactose (milk sugar) into lactic acid, which thickens the milk. The milk proteins coagulate and set, which form yogurt. The fermentation process also produces acetaldehyde, which gives yogurt its tangy taste.
In the 1900s, scientists isolated the bacteria that makes yogurt and created a combination of different bacteria strands so that yogurt could be commercially produced. In 1981, the FDA declared that all commercially prepared yogurt in the U.S. must contain Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. Today, a yogurt lover can go to a grocery store and select from dozens of different types of yogurt flavors, brands and concoctions, everything from Go-Gurt (frozen yogurt in a squeeze tube) to yogurt parfait packs, complete with granola and chocolate topping.
When most people reach for a yogurt, they pick a sweetened one such as Yoplait Whips Chocolate Mousse. However, most sweetened yogurt is high in sugar, which makes it a less healthy food. Here are some popular yogurt flavors and their sugar content:
6 ounce serving of Dannon Fruit on the Bottom Blueberry: 24 grams
8 ounce serving of Stonyfield Smooth & Creamy Lowfat French Vanilla: 29 grams
4.4 ounce serving of Activia Blueberry: 19 grams
4 ounce serving of Yoplait Whips Chocolate: 22 grams
It is important to note how much sugar your yogurt contains and also look at how much sugar is in each ounce (4 grams equals approximately 1 teaspoon). Yogurt servings are typically small. A four-ounce serving of Yoplait Whips Chocolate has 5.5 grams of sugar per ounce. In comparison, Coke has 3.3 grams of sugar per ounce. (that’s close to 10 teaspoons of sugar in a 12 oz. bottle). Also, sweetened yogurt gets most of its calories from sugar. In Yoplait Strawberry yogurt, 63 percent of the calories are from sugar, and many other yogurt brands are just as sweet. (For a list of 251 other forms of sugar log onto www.MyFitnessPal.com).
There are lighter, less sugary yogurts available, but many of them use artificial sweeteners, which can be harmful to your health. Yoplait Light Boston Cream Pie has only 10 grams of sugar per serving, but it also contains sucralose and acesulfame potassium, two forms of artificial sweeteners. (For more information, google dangers of artificial sweeteners for more information).
Your favorite yogurt may also be lacking the live bacteria cultures that are beneficial to your digestive system. Some yogurts are heated after they are made, and this kills their bacteria culture. Other yogurts are made with low levels of bacteria culture. When picking a yogurt, look for the National Yogurt Association Live & Active Cultures seal to ensure that your yogurt contains beneficial bacteria.
Yogurt can be a healthy snack if you are careful to pick the right brand. Greek yogurt is a good choice; it can have up to twice the amount of protein and half the carbs as regular yogurt. Greek yogurt is strained to make it thicker, and this reduces the milk sugar and lactose content.
One good yogurt choice is Chobani 100 Greek Yogurt. Key Lime Chobani (5.3 ounces) has 12 grams of protein, 100 calories, 5 grams of fiber and 7 grams of sugar. Instead of artificial sweeteners, Chobani 100 uses stevia, evaporated cane sugar, and monk fruit.
Plain yogurt is also quite delicious: a good brand of unsweetened yogurt is tangy and full-bodied. Unsweetened yogurt has some natural sugar content because milk contains sugar. At first, plain yogurt may seem a bit sour, but once you become accustomed to the taste, you will find it pleasant and satisfying. The key is selecting a good-quality brand such as Stonyfield. Stonyfield Smooth & Creamy Nonfat Plain Yogurt (8 ounces) has 100 calories, 10 grams of protein and 16 grams of sugar. For an even richer taste, try Stonyfield Smooth & Creamy Whole Milk Yogurt. At 8 ounces, it contains 170 calories, 9 grams of fat, 9 grams of protein and 12 grams of sugar. If plain yogurt is too sour at first, add a little fruit or a drizzle of honey. Once you are used to eating it, you will find its natural sweetness and piquant flavor very appealing.
High-quality yogurt can be a healthy, beneficial snack. The bacteria cultures in yogurt are often referred to as probiotics, which are living organisms, such as bacteria and yeasts, that are beneficial to your health. Your body needs these organisms to digest food, boost your immune system and help keep your intestinal track functioning properly. The average woman needs 46 grams of protein per day and the average man needs 56 grams, while 6 ounces of Greek yogurt can contain 10-15 ounces of protein. Yogurt is also an excellent source of vitamins such as potassium, magnesium, calcium and vitamin B.
Double chocolate cheesecake yogurt may taste delicious, but don’t fool yourself into thinking you are eating a healthy snack. Choose your yogurt wisely. Pick one that has low sugar, no artificial sweeteners and high protein, and then you will have a snack both good and good for you.