Been wondering whether you should be feeding yogurt to your kids? Or to yourself? Here’s what I think!
Yogurt is a milk product produced by bacterial fermentation, which converts milk sugar, or lactose, into lactic acid to give yogurt its characteristic tart flavor. Yogurt has been around for at least 4500 years, and it likely developed as a method for preserving milk (without refrigeration). Yogurt is real food. As long as you are able to tolerate dairy without difficulty, it is a delicious and nutritious option.
But the “yogurt” on the shelves at conventional supermarkets and made by companies like Dannon, Breyers, Yoplait, and so on, is a different story. These products may start out as yogurt, but most of them don’t really end up that way. They end up more like some kind of sweet pudding. Very, very sweet pudding. Well, actually, sweeter than pudding, as we shall see.
A quick glance at the yogurt flavors at my local supermarket supports a dessert motif: Flavors include amaretto cheesecake, white chocolate raspberry, black cherry cheesecake, chocolate eclair, coconut cream pie, caramel praline. These make the blueberry and strawberry versions sound downright wholesome. The target audience for “Sprinklin’s Magic Crystals” and “Sprinklin’s Rainbow Sprinkles” is obviously children. There is no dearth of products specially designed to appeal to children and, in most every case, the attraction is sugar.
Yogurt without added flavors could be called “pure” yogurt, but it’s not. It’s called “plain” yogurt. That’s interesting. Which would you rather have, the “plain” or the “fancy?”
Besides the bogus flavor names, what bothers me about the yogurt at the supermarket is one thing and one thing only: the amount of sugar in each container. I took pen and paper to the supermarket, and copied down the information from the nutrition labels. The numbers below were relatively consistent across the many different brands I reviewed, and they held true whether the yogurt was made from skim, low-fat, or whole milk. So here we go.
A single-serving container of plain yogurt contains 11-12 grams of carbohydrate. These 11 grams of carbohydrate come from lactose, or milk sugar, an intrinsic nutrient in all yogurt.
In contrast, a serving of flavored (lemon, vanilla) or fruit (strawberry, peach) low-fat or skim milk yogurt contains 33-34 grams of carbohydrate. Because milk fat takes up a bit of space in the container, whole-milk yogurt weights in with slightly less carb at 31 grams.
If you take the total grams of carbohydrate (34) in low-fat yogurt, and subtract the lactose, a/k/a milk sugar (11), you’re left with 23 grams. That’s the amount of sugar added to each single-serving container of yogurt.
Since each teaspoon of sugar equals 5 grams of carbohydrate, and each container has 23 grams more carbohydrate than plain yogurt, that means each container of flavored yogurt has almost 5 teaspoons of added sugar.
Swiss Miss chocolate and tapioca pudding, in comparison, have 26 and 25 grams of carbohydrate, respectively, per serving, which is still a lot, but then no one’s trying to disguise the fact that these are desserts.
Now I put a teaspoon of honey in my tea sometimes, and even a spoonful of sugar occasionally on half a grapefruit. But 5 teaspoons is a whopping amount of sugar. Would you ever put 5 teaspoons of sugar in a cup of yogurt if you were preparing it yourself? So if you aren’t doing so already, I would say that it’s a very good idea to buy plain yogurt, and then add your own fruit, sugar, honey, or maple syrup. However much sugar you add, it’ll likely be less than 5 teaspoons.
What else can you add to yogurt? Taste is acquired. In the United States, we are taught very early to prefer sweet flavors. But limiting your choices to sweet is not the only way to enjoy yogurt.
Indian raita, a yogurt complement to spicy curries, is prepared with toasted cumin seed, cilantro, mint, and cayenne. The cool temperature and flavor of the raita offsets the heat of the spicy curries and chutneys with which it is served. In Indian cuisine, yogurt is also used to marinate chicken.
Tsatsiki is a delicious Greek condiment made with yogurt, cucumber, dill and garlic.
My father eats yogurt with fresh, chopped cucumbers and tomatoes, plus a bit of finely diced sweet onion. He makes it for me sometimes when I come to visit, and you know what? It’s delicious.
For more interesting facts about yogurt, check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/yogurt.