Source: black dog food blog
I love yogurt. Admittedly from childhood through adolescences, I thought it was disgusting. Maybe it was the the tart zing, or the the texture (I couldn’t handle ANYTHING that was smooth with chunks in it), but as the yogurt craze boomed around me, I was not buying in. It was not until later, when I went abroad to Egypt, that I found a new appreciation for yogurt. There, fancy individually sold “red velvet cake” flavors and “go-gurt” like containers didn’t exist. You could buy strawberry and maybe mango flavored (there were also some really delicious strawberry-banana drinkable yogurts) otherwise plain, unadulterated yogurt reigned supreme.
I later came to understand why plain yogurt was so popular: it’s versatile. Yogurt doesn’t have to be forever relegated as a snack food. Rather it can be used as a core ingredient to add protein and probiotics to many dishes. I started using yogurt to thicken my oatmeal, learned how to make the popular Baba Ghanoush which has yogurt as its base, used it to calm the spices in my favorite Maqluba, and found it useful as a base for a lighter hummus. I now use yogurt as a base in many of the dishes I prepare. As I plowed through tubs of yogurt, I not only became more conscious of the quality between different brands, but I also became increasingly anxious about the dent it was putting in my wallet. That’s when I decided to embark on making my own yogurt. You may be pleasantly surprised to know that homemade yogurt is not only incredibly easy, but extremely inexpensive as well!
So what is my point in all of this? The point is that I am a passionate yogurt consumer, but it doesn’t really surprise me that, as this recent article points out, most commercially bought yogurts contain more sugar per serving than a Twinkie. Sugar has been shown contribute to diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other complications form obesity. Though soda and sugary drinks are most infamously blamed, it turns out most of our extra sugar comes from our food. So, despite yogurt’s high sugar count, dieters and the health conscious alike continue to consume these snacks enmass viewing them as a healthy alternative.
This is a classic example of the dangers of the “health food” market. Yogurt, once thought of as a fringe hippie food, moved into the mainstream by being promoted as a “health” and “diet” food. Interested in expanding sales, marketers asked “What does any dieter crave more than sweets?”, and introduced new lines of dessert flavors. With saturated fats as the culprit of the day, producers removed fat and added sugar to account for the loss of flavor. Though yogurt gained a lot of sugar, it never lost its “health food” image and morphed into the perfect, guilt-free snack food. This ideal world situation, reinforced through a lot of advertising, masked the age old reality: if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
The reality is the high sugar content of many yogurts shouldn’t be a surprise. The previously mentioned article isn’t some in-depth, scientific study. It is merely pointing out what is on the back of any yogurt container. Yet consumers rarely look at the nutrition labels on the back, and instead make choices based on the marketing food claims on the front. This can be seen in the amount of food sold using food claims topping out at more than $377 billion per year. The claims work because they cause consumers to believe that this product is somehow healthier for them. Take health claims about fat content for example. This label has sold $64 billion worth of food each year. Yet few consumers actually know what these food claims mean. Below is a chart outlining the regulations for each type of claim.
From: Nutrition and You, MyPlate Edition by Joan Salge Blake
To be fair, consuming a high sugar yogurt is still a better choice than a Twinkie. You still gain the probiotics and protein, that are yogurt’s main benefits, over the empty calories of most junk food. And sugar is not inherently the enemy. Yogurt is notorious for having a high natural sugar content, especially low fat varieties. Original yogurt contains between 12-15 grams of natural sugar and this increases to 17 grams for low fat types. Where the real sugar hike occurs is in what we add to plain yogurt. Between the candied nuts, sweetened granola and syrupy fruit often mixed into store-bought yogurts, the sugar content can soar up to 29 grams of sugar! As attention moves from the hazards of saturated fats to added sugars, perhaps we should move to higher-fat varieties of yogurt with fresh fruit and simple granola. Maybe the hippies had something right.
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