My son loves yogurt, especially Greek Yogurt. Organic Greek is hard to find. He prefers the flavored varieties but the amount of sugar is crazy! Do I just stick to plain Greek yogurt and flavor it with syrup/honey/vanilla/fruit/granola or is there a better option?
Greek yogurt is a great source of protein (with a whopping ~23 grams per 8oz) and calcium for growing kids and can be found in a multitude of varieties (whole, 2%, fat-free, light….etc) and flavors. So how do you choose a healthy Greek yogurt with all these choices?
Lets take a step back for a moment and talk about shopping for food (in general). I typically keep an eye out for 2 things on a food label:
1.) A short list of ingredients.
2.) Ingredients with a known source (and no, a test tube or lab doesn’t count). For example, if we take a look at yogurt we know that the ingredient “milk” comes from a cow, “cane sugar” is derived from sugar cane (albeit processed)….etc. What about natural flavor or aspartame? Can you tell me where those came from? EXACTLY! Now, this is a general rule and won’t work for everything, but it’s important to know where your food (and ingredients) are sourced, so it’s all part of a learning process.
When we look at plain yogurt, it almost always fits the bill! So yes, it is typically one of the healthiest options. However, it doesn’t appeal to everyone’s tastebuds. So what can you do to jazz it up?
-add a touch of honey or maple syrup and a few drops of your favorite pure extract (vanilla, lemon, almond, coconut….etc) for flavor. Maple syrup and vanilla is our family’s favorite (I also make sure to use the alcohol-free extracts if I’m not baking with them as they have a smoother flavor profile).
-stew some berries or apples with cinnamon in a saucepan on the stovetop (to pull out the juice and soften the fruit), let the mixture cool, store it in the fridge and mix it into the yogurt as you like (you can also puree the mixture).
-mix in a dallop of your favorite pure fruit jam.
-mix together plain yogurt and fruit yogurt to cut the sweetness in half.
-pulverize some dehydrated fruit (strawberries, mangos, etc) and mix it until you reach your desired taste.
-top with granola, toasted chopped nuts, or crushed homemade graham crackers.
Of course, Greek yogurt can also be used in many recipes for dressings, dips, marinades and baked goods and as a substitute for sour cream and mayo as you may see in some of my recipes.
In the real food world Greek yogurt should be made with just 2 ingredients: milk and live cultures. However, once you begin reading labels you will soon discover that many Greek yogurt brands on the market contain a slew of other unnecessary ingredients.
One of these added ingredients includes sugars: Milk, in its natural state, contains sugar. For example, plain Greek yogurt contains about 6-9g of sugar per 8oz (1 cup). Additionally, if the yogurt contains some sort of fruit it will have a higher sugar content (as fruit naturally contains sugar). So don’t panic when you see the number of sugar grams. Rather, look at the ingredients label and pay attention to the added sweetener and the form it is in. Some of these added sweeteners include (in which I would consider descending nutritional order): fruit/fruit juice/fruit concentrate, honey, cane sugar, agave, fructose, high fructose corn syrup or even artificial sweeteners (stevia, sucralose, aspartame).
Now, I never like to make anyone hyper vigilant about every single thing that is put in their mouth, as balance plays a very important role in health (both physical and mental). However, I do believe in educating the consumer so that informed decisions can be made. So, what might be some other aspects to look for in a Greek yogurt?
Is the yogurt organic? The organic label would imply that the product is GMO-free, as certified organic products cannot contain genetically modified organisms. Additionally, an organic label would ensure that the milk used to make the yogurt was not derived from cows given antibiotics (which can interfere with the effectiveness of human antibiotic use). So now I want you to ask yourself whether this is important to you.
Additionally, some so-called yogurts are disguised as “Greek” through the use of milk protein concentrate. This highly processed ingredient is often used to boost the protein content of these “yogurts” and to create that Greek yogurt mouth-feel (even though the yogurt has not gone through the traditional straining process). Why? Well, because “Greek-style” yogurts are cheap for food manufacturers to make and sadly, they are in business solely for a profit.
Now think back to my formula for choosing food products:
1.) A short list of ingredients…….and
2.) Ingredients with a known source.
So, if you run across a yogurt containing any other ingredients such as fillers (corn starch, maltodextrin), colorings, flavors (even natural flavor), stabilizers and preservatives those varieties should then take a back seat….need I say more?
Also, it’s important to remember that fat is not your enemy. A little bit of a full-fat yogurt will keep you much more satiated than a fat-free variety. Although, this can be a personal preference, you should base your buying decision on your current health status and your typical yogurt consumption. For example, I believe a full-fat yogurt on an occasional night is definitely a pure delight. Now if I were a regular consumer or had elevated lipid levels I might rethink the full-fat variety. Do you get my drift?
So there you have it! I’m hoping that you can confidently buy a yogurt that suits you and your family (as we all differ with regards to health, monetary resources, stances on GMOs and product availability). Or if you want to take it one step further, you can make your own yogurt in the comfort of your home…..but that will be saved for a different blog post.
With all this being said my family tends to stick with plain yogurt (spruced up with a touch of maple syrup and pure alcohol-free vanilla flavor) with the occasional fruit yogurt here and there. Some of our current favorite fruit yogurt brands include: Maple Hill Creamery, Wallaby Organic and Siggi’s. Additionally, on a side note, if you ever have a question about a product or an ingredient always feel free to call the company and inquire. As a consumer you have the right to know!