Hello! It’s been awhile since I’ve done a Grocery Store Spotlight, so I thought it was time for another one. This time I’m taking a stroll down the yogurt aisle to help you identify the good, the bad and the down right ugly choices out there.
Yogurt can make a great dessert or mid-morning snack and it’s easy to throw in your child’s lunch box, but many people are overwhelmed by all the options in the store. There are so many varieties to choose from, like fat-free, sugar-free, high-fiber, organic, vitamin D fortified, high-calcium, and the list goes on. All brands are clearly not alike, so I did a little investigating to find the best options for your family. Of course I can’t dissect every brand and variety out there, but hopefully I can help you figure out what to look for in a yogurt and convince you to switch if you’re choosing an unhealthy brand.
When I check out the nutritional label on a container of yogurt, I first look for two things. What is it sweetened with, and how much protein is in it? If I see the words Sucralose (Splenda), Aspartame or High-Fructose Corn Syrup in the ingredient list, it’s a deal breaker! If it’s sweetened with fruit, stevia, honey, maple syrup or organic sugar, it passes! If I don’t see a substantial amount of protein, I don’t see the point of eating the yogurt in the first place, because it’s just going to spike my sugar level and I’ll be hungry 30 minutes later. Next I scan the ingredient list for any other words I don’t like (such as modified corn starch and food dyes) or just can’t pronounce.
So with all that in mind, let’s look at some of the most popular yogurt brands on the market.
Yoplait Original French Vanilla – It may be labeled 99% fat free, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for you. With tons of sugar (26 grams in one container!) and only 5 grams of protein, this stuff is sure to send you on a sugar roller coaster.
Ingredients: Cultured Pasteurized Grade A Low Fat Milk, Sugar, Modified Corn Starch, Nonfat Milk, Tricalcium Phosphate, Kosher Gelatin, Natural Flavor, Citric Acid, Vitamin A Acetate, Colored with Annatto and Turmeric Extract, Vitamin D3.
Yoplait Light Fat Free Strawberry – Unfortunately, the fat-free variety is even worse than the original when it comes to nutritional value. I’m sure there are so many people who reach for the fat-free, not knowing that cutting the fat and calories means adding more harmful ingredients. Although it contains less sugar (14 grams) than the original variety thanks to the added High Fructose Corn Syrup and Aspartame, this brand still contains just 5 grams of protein.
Ingredients: Cultured Pasteurized Grade A Nonfat Milk, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Strawberries, Modified Corn Starch, Nonfat Milk, Kosher Gelatin, Citric Acid, Tricalcium Phosphate, Aspartame, Potassium Sorbate, Natural Flavor, Red #40, Vitamin A Acetate, Vitamin D3.
Weight Watchers Berries and Cream – For any of you readers who are on the Weight Watchers diet plan or just like to buy their food (I’ve been there!), just know that while they are low in fat and calories, many of their packaged foods contain artificial sweeteners and harmful preservatives. Two WW points gets you 11 grams of sugar, 6 grams of protein, two types of dyes and several other unhealthy additives.
Ingredients: Skim Milk, Crystalline Fructose, Blackberry Puree, Raspberry Puree, Black Raspberry Puree, Boysenberry Puree, Natural Berries and Cream Flavor, Modified Corn Starch, Inulin Fiber, Whey Protein Concentrate, Kosher Gelatin, Sucralose, Citric Acid, Tricalcium Phosphate, Red 40, Blue 1, Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Citrate, Vitamin A Palminate, Vitamin D3.
Dannon Fruit on the Bottom Blueberry – Unfortunately, this is a different brand with the same story. With 25 grams of sugar, 6 grams of protein and lots of artificial ingredients, Dannon doesn’t make the grade either.
Ingredients: Cultured Grade A Lowfat Milk, Blueberries, Sugar, Fructose Syrup, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Fructose, Modified Corn Starch, Corn Starch, Pectin, Kosher Gelatin, Malic Acid, Natural Flavor, Disodium Phosphate, Tricalcium Phosphate, Carmine.
Dannon Activia Vanilla – I know Dannon likes to boast about all the probiotics in their yogurt, but they fail to mention all the other additives! And with only 4 grams of protein in a serving, this brand doesn’t pack a lot of nutritional punch.
Ingredients: Cultured Grade A Reduced Fat Milk, Sugar, Water, Fructose, Modified Food Starch, Milk Protein Concentrate, Modified Corn Starch, Natural Vanilla Flavor, Kosher Gelatin, Agar Agar, Guar Gum, Lactic Acid, Calcium Lactate, Vitamin D3, Sodium Citrate.
Yoplait Trix Yogurt– Unfortunately, the yogurts marketed for kids are some of the worst ones out there, and usually the ones with the most sugar, preservatives and added dyes. Take the Trix yogurt for example, just because it has a friendly looking bunny on it doesn’t mean it’s a good choice for your little ones! Trix markets this product with the slogans,”Two Fruity colors in every cup!” and “Twice the color means twice the fun!” Even though your kids may beg for them because of the cartoon characters on the packaging, stay away from all the colorful yogurts ridden with dyes and other junk. Some brands are worse than others, so read the labels!
Ingredients: Cultured Pasteurized Grade A Low Fat Milk, Sugar, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Modified Corn Starch, Kosher Gelatin, Citric Acid, Potassium Sorbate Added to Maintain Freshness, Natural and Artificial Flavor, Red #40, Blue #1, Vitamin A Acetate, Vitamin D3.
Stonyfield Organic Strawberry – This brand has a few things going for it, like the fact that it’s USDA Certified Organic, and it doesn’t contain any dyes (colored with beets!) or preservatives. It’s also sweetened with the real deal (20 grams from organic strawberries and organic sugar) instead of the artificial stuff. It only contains 6 grams of protein in a container, so it’s not going to hold you over all that long, but it might make a great addition to a healthy lunch. You could also add some high-quality nuts or granola to it to boost the protein and keep your sugars from soaring.
Ingredients: Cultured Pasteurized Organic Lowfat Milk, Organic Strawberries, Naturally Milled Organic Sugar, Pectin, Organic Beet Juice Concentrate, Natural Flavor, Vitamin D3, Six Live Active Cultures.
Stonyfield YoKids Strawberry and Banana – This is a great option to serve your kids. All the Stonyfield kids yogurts are made with pure organic ingredients and don’t contain fillers, gelatin, dyes, preservatives or high-fructose corn syrup like you’ll find in other kids’ yogurts.
Ingredients: Cultured Pasteurized Organic Lowfat Milk, Naturally Milled Organic Sugar, Organic Strawberry Juice, Natural Flavor, Organic Beet Juice Concentrate, Pectin, Vitamin D3, Six Live Active Cultures.
Brown Cow – Here is another excellent choice! All Brown Cow yogurt varieties contain only natural ingredients, like milk without artificial growth hormones, fresh fruit, pure maple syrup, honey, real vanilla, coffee and cocoa and no preservatives, artificial colors, artificial sweeteners or refined sugar. The only downside I can think of for this company is that some of their yogurt varieties are more like desserts than a light snack. For example, the Cream Top Blueberry variety is sweetened with maple syrup, honey, evaporated cane juice and blueberries, so it has 6 grams of fat, 180 calories and 24 grams of sugar. You could probably have small serving of ice cream for that! Brown Cow’s Greek, Nonfat and Lowfat options are a little lighter and might make a better snack choice. Like with the Stonyfield varieties, Brown Cow’s yogurts aren’t very high in protein, so you may need to add protein to it or eat it as part of a high-protein meal to keep your sugars from skyrocketing.
Now that we’ve compared some of the most popular brands of regular yogurt, we need to talk about the Greek varieties. Greek yogurt has been getting a great deal of attention in the last couple years. Many people know it’s good for them, but they don’t really know why. The answer is that most Greek yogurt varieties have more than double the protein of regular yogurt, so they will keep you fuller longer and will keep your sugars from spiking.
Greek yogurt is strained to remove excess liquid, which is why it’s thicker and creamier than traditional yogurt (YUM!). The straining process allows the whey protein to remain intact. Our bodies need 20 different types of amino acids for proper growth and muscle development, but we can only make 11 of these. The remaining nine, called essential amino acids, must come from food sources like whey protein, which contains all nine essential amino acids. In fact, whey protein contains more essential amino acids than any other type of protein.
My favorite brands of Greek yogurt are Stonyfield Oikos (15 grams of protein in the vanilla) and Chobani (16 grams of protein in the vanilla). I buy the Trader Joe’s Greek Yogurt in a pinch, although it’s not quite as high in protein. Some of the store-brand Greek yogurts aren’t as beneficial and still sneak in some fructose and preservatives (Like Dannon’s Greek variety!), so I’d rather stick to the high-quality brands.
As with other Spotlights I’ve done, the best products are the most expensive, but I think it’s worth it to pay more for the good stuff! (At Kroger, the Yoplait was $.60 per container while the Oikos was $1.99 and the Chobani was $1.19). As a general rule, you’ll usually find much healthier choices in the natural section of your grocery store, where the Stonyfield Farms, Brown Cow and other high-quality brands are stored, or at places like Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. The natural brands also use the non-rBgh milk and you just don’t see all those unnecessary ingredients (the words you can’t pronounce) on their labels. If you don’t do well on dairy products, try coconut yogurt (So Delicious makes tasty, all-natural varieties.).
I hope you learned as much from this post as I did from writing it. If you’ve never tried Greek yogurt, I encourage you to give it a try, or at least switch to a more natural brand if you regularly buy Dannon or Yoplait. If you have questions about another brand not mentioned here or about yogurt in general, leave me a comment and I’ll be happy to research it for you.
Got an idea for a future Grocery Store Spotlight? Send it my way!