Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Yogurt But Were Afraid to Ask
Yogurt is a food product that results from the fermentation of milk by a couple of specific types of bacteria. It has been around for at least 4500 years, and is clearly a way to preserve dairy products without refrigeration. Yogurt is real food. It is delicious and nutritious. I strongly recommend whole milk yogurt for the same reasons that I recommend whole milk. Milkfat contains the widest possible variety of nutrients, including all the fat-soluble vitamins, and it helps to slow the absorption of carbohydrate eaten along with the fat. The more slowly you absorb your food, the less insulin your body needs to release. The less insulin you use, the more satisfied you are and the less fat you store.
Now let's talk about what's on the shelves at the supermarket. They may start as yogurt, but they 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, they contain signicantly more sugar than pudding.
Yogurt without added flavors could be called "pure" yogurt, but it's not. It's called "plain" yogurt. That's interesting. A glance at the yogurt flavors at my local supermarket supports the dessert motif. Product flavors include amaretto cheesecake, white chocolate raspberry, black cherry cheesecake, chocolate eclair, coconut cream pie, caramel praline. These make the strawberry flavor sound downright wholesome. The target audience for other flavors, like "Sprinkl’ins Magic Crystals" and "Sprinkl’ins Rainbow Sprinkles," is children. See my posts on breakfast cereals, Most Cereals are Like Eating Candy for Breakfast and More on Breakfast Candy, for more on marketing strategies that target children.
What’s bothering me about the yogurt at the supermarket? Besides the bogus flavor names, it's 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 I quote below were relatively consistent across the many different brands I reviewed. These numbers held true whether the yogurt was made from skim, low-fat, or whole milk. So here we go.
A single-sized serving of plain yogurt contains 11-12 grams of carbohydrate. These 11 grams of carbohydrate are from lactose, or milk sugar, which is 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 milkfat takes up a little space in the container, whole-milk yogurt has slightly less, 31 grams.
34 (total grams of carb) minus 11 (lactose) is 23. That's the amount of carbohydrate added to each single-serving container in the form of sugar. Each 5 grams of carbohydrate is equivalent to a teaspoon of sugar. So 23 grams of carbohydrate is equivalent to almost 5 teaspoons of sugar. This means that each container of yogurt contains close to 5 teaspoons of added sugar. By comparison, Swiss Miss's chocolate and tapioca pudding flavors have 26 and 25 grams of carbohydrate, respectively. Still a lot, but then no one's trying to disguise the fact that these are desserts.
Now I like sugar in my tea and oatmeal, and even on a grapefruit half now and then. But 5 teaspoons of sugar is a whopping amount of sweetener. I'm not recommending that we stop eating our yogurt sweet, by the way. I am saying that it would be a very good idea to consider buying plain yogurt, and then to add your own choice of fixings.
Taste is acquired. In the United States, we are taught from a very early age to prefer sweet flavors. In the yogurt aisles, demand is met by Dannon, Breyers, Yoplait, and the like. But restricting yogurt to sweet choices markedly limits your options. Sweet is not the only way to eat and enjoy yogurt.
For example, tsatsiki is a Greek condiment made with yogurt, cucumber, dill and garlic. Indian raita is similar, though it is spiced instead 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. Yogurt is also used as a chicken marinade in Indian cuisine. My own father likes to eat his 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. Bon appetit!
For more interesting facts about yogurt, check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/yogurt.