A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing? Is the Yogurt You’re Eating Really Healthy Or is it Just Dessert?
Thirty years ago, putting chocolate into yogurt – not to mention candy bits and cookie crumbles – was unheard of. Coffee flavor and granola sprinkles were about as dolled up as yogurt would get back then. But now, the most cultured section of the dairy case has stretched to include not only yogurts with added fiber and special probiotics, but also tempting choices that sound fit for a white tablecloth establishment’s dessert tray. With names like “chocolate raspberry parfait” and “chocolate chip,” some yogurt sounds more hearty than healthy.
No doubt, the efforts to “dessertize” yogurt are companies’ best efforts to capture the interest of those who say they don’t like its mouth-puckering tang. And the efforts are for good reason – besides increasing market share – since yogurt can be exceptionally healthy so long as it’s not loaded with sugary extras.
Yogurt vs. Dessert
Plainly put, some additives to flavor yogurt can boost calories and fat. But to keep the numbers on the nutrition label from reaching eye-popping heights, manufacturers will often shrink the serving size to keep calories within a reasonable range. For example, Breyer’s new product line, Inspirations, has packed 140 calories and 3.5 grams of fat (3 of them saturated) into a tiny 4 oz single serving cup. Eat one serving, and you’re not even satisfying one of your three daily recommended dairy servings (8 oz of yogurt is a serving, and is equivalent to 8 oz of fluid milk). And don’t even think about trying to satisfy one of your daily dairy requirements by eating two of the 4 oz cups. In the case of Inspirations, you’d be slurping down more calories than you would have if you’d eaten a Hershey’s Mr. Goodbar – and you’d be inching over a quarter of the way to your daily saturated fat limit.
For fewer than 140 calories, you can easily knock out one of your dairy requirements with one 8 oz cup of fat-free vanilla yogurt. Sure, it’s not as snazzy as the mint chocolate chip, but what’s stopping you from adding your own jazz with a healthy mix of fresh juicy fruit, whole grain cereal, and a shake of cinnamon? Nutrient-dense mix-ins like fruit and cereal, in contrast to sugary fillers, add more healthy power to your cup. Even if you choose to swirl in a teaspoon of dark chocolate syrup or caramel sauce, you’ll still invest fewer calories than you would if you’d chosen an indulgent flavor. And that means you’ll be able to save your discretionary calories for a treat that’s really a treat – not a treat that’s masquerading as a healthy yogurt.
Helping Yourself to Healthy Yogurt
To ensure you select a healthy yogurt, carefully read the package of the product you’re considering purchasing. Try to stick to yogurts that have less than 120 calories, 1 gram of saturated fat (and no trans fat), 20 grams (or less) of sugar, and that supply 15% or more of the DV for calcium per 4 oz. Yogurt does contain natural sugar from dairy – and that’s okay – it’s the added sugars from some of the fancy flavors you need to watch out for. But not all indulgent-sounding yogurts are bad news for your waistline; you can have your cake and eat it too, so to speak. Knowing the guidelines can ensure that you come home with a tasty AND nutritious yogurt.
If you’re looking for indulgent, but don’t want to blow your calorie budget, try a newcomer to the mainstream yogurt aisle – Greek yogurt. Though you can find it in 2% and even 5% versions (and loaded with sweeteners, too) the plain, fat-free version still has a deliciously thick and creamy texture that makes it seem like you’re breaking all the rules. Even better, some brands have twice the amount of protein as traditional yogurt – which means you stay fuller longer. It you find Greek yogurt a bit too tart, try adding some fresh seasonal fruit. In the fall, chopped apples and a dash of cinnamon are sensational!
The Bottom Line
If you’re looking at it as dessert anyway, then an indulgent yogurt will at least give you some nutrition over the empty calories you’d be getting from a candy bar. But if you’re watching your calories, sugar, and fat, as well as your calcium, pay careful attention to the label of delicious-sounding yogurts that sound more like treats. Just because you found it in the yogurt section doesn’t guarantee that it’s healthy!
Beth Sumrell Ehrensberger is a Registered Dietitian and holds a Master Degree in Public Health. An experienced nutrition counselor, writer and public speaker, Beth specializes in translating complex nutrition information into practical concepts. Beth was awarded a Nutrition Communications Fellowship to the National Cancer Institute, and has worked on the internationally recognized Nutrition Action Healthletter of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.