Wholesome R.D. Mom

Making Nutrition a Way of Life

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Q and A: Greek Yogurt

Reader Question:

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!







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My general rule of 5 ingredients or less (that are pronounceable and have a known origin)

We had a science birthday for my son where we conducted experiments, made organic munchable molecules (various cut up fruits, whole wheat pretzel sticks and cheese cubes), created milk art and ended with a grand finale of diet Coke and Mentos “explosions” which, by the way, are pretty awesome!

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After everything was done and over I had 2 rolls of Mentos left. I was thinking that the kids might enjoy having a Mento on occasion (as we never buy them) and that it certainly wouldn’t hurt them……..after all, I used to eat these things nonstop as a kid (and they are in fact the “Fresh maker” which just might get rid of hummus breath and my run on sentences). However, after taking a look at the ingredients, I decided that the best place for the Mentos was the trash or in another 2 liter of diet coke solely for the sake of science!

Ingredients: sugar, wheat glucose syrup, hydrogenated coconut oil, rice starch, natural flavors, gum arabic, sucrose esters of fatty acids, gellan gum and Carnauba wax, Beeswax

I’ll stick to my general rule of: Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can’t pronounce (or have no clue where they are derived). Also, why oh why do companies still use trans fats (which come from hydrogenated oils) after all of the evidence pointing to their health dangers?

Have you ever looked at a Nutrition Facts label or Ingredient list on a food product that you used to eat or had at home and made up your mind that you would NEVER buy it again? What was it and why?

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How can you help promote healthy eating in your household?

Here are a few tips that have helped my kids begin to understand what it means to eat real food while promoting an intrinsic desire to eat healthy (….well, at least most of the time).

Say Cheesecake

  • Cook your meals at home. When we eat out we are often bombarded with meals that are higher in fat, sugar, salt and calories compared to home-cooked meals. Cooking at home additionally sets an example for kids and provides them with an understanding of where food comes from and how it gets to their plate. Meals that are enjoyed together as a family create a cohesiveness which can carry numerous other health benefits as well. So save your dining out for special occasions….you’ll also notice that you’ll save a lot of money eating at home…..BONUS!!!
  • Involve your kids in the selection, preparation and cooking process (for example: grocery shopping, selecting what goes in their lunchbox, preparing the meals). This process provides a great opportunity for your to teach your children about various foods, where they come from, their nutrition value (or lack there of) and how they affect our bodies.
  • Make healthy foods accessible.…..especially when it comes to snacks. Keep plenty of fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grain snacks available and accessible for your family so that choosing something healthy is easy. You can do this by pre-washing produce and having it in a bowl on the counter top, prepping 1 oz bags of nuts (1/4 cup) in ziplock snack baggies and having vegetables washed and cut (in a tupperware in the fridge) to munch on at any time. Also, make sure that water is available at all times. Making healthy choices becomes even easier when you make the processed junk food inaccessible and by this I mean: just don’t buy it. Trust me, it may take a little adjustment at first, but soon your child will be grabbing fruit and nuts to snack on.
  • Don’t be a sneaky chef: when using a fruit or veggie in a recipe have your kids help add it to the mix. I have my daughter put 2 big handfuls of spinach into our smoothies because I want her to know that she likes spinach. Additionally, don’t avoid a vegetable just because your child disliked it in a certain way in the past. Rather, try serving it prepared differently: grill it, eat it raw with dip, steam it, roast it with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, puree it in a smoothie, grate it and cook it in spagetti sauce, chop it up and sauté it for a frittata…..the possibilities are endless.
  • We use the “one bite” rule at our house when it comes to trying foods. My kids are well aware that if they don’t like something they do not need to eat it. However, it’s important to try new foods so we have them try one bite and if they really don’t like it they can spit it out. This rule eliminates the fear of having to consume something they really dislike and gives them an appreciation for food and a desire to try new things.
  • Avoid the “clean your plate club” and phrases such as “you need to take 4 more bites before you can be excused/have dessert).” Rather, ask if your child’s tummy is full and let them be the judge. Children are quite intuitive to their hunger levels and it is unhealthy to play with their hunger and satiety cues.
  • Food should be eaten at the table (with an exception here and there……for example: my kids love to take their popsicles outside and snack on ingredients during food prep). Additionally, there should be no distractions such as electronics or TV when eating. This is not always easy, but if you make a conscious effort to eat together as a family it becomes second nature.
  • Never use food as a reward or bribe and never withhold food from a child as punishment. This is not always easy, but is very important! Find a way (that works for you and your child) to celebrate accomplishments without food……. such as a trip to a museum, a small tangible toy, a pass to stay up 30 minutes passed bedtime, a movie night (of their choice)…..etc.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not perfect when it comes to all of the above. However, I formulated these tips based on observing what worked and what didn’t work with my kids. Unfortunately, when I slack on my own principles the ones who suffer most are my children. I owe it to them to cook meals at home, ensure we eat together as a family, keep healthy food readily available, involve them in the whole process and watch them flourish in wisdom and health. One day when my kids grow up and are on their own I hope to look back and say, “I’m so glad I made nutrition and health a priority and set a good example for them to follow.”

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Serving Sizes? How much should I be feeding my child?

I frequently get asked about serving sizes for different ages. Therefore, I’d like to start off by clarifying the difference between a serving size and a portion size because these terms are often used interchangeably.

A “serving” is the amount of a food recommended in consumer education materials or the amount of food that a nutrition facts label is based on.

A “portion” is the amount of a food you choose to eat at any given time (which could be more or less than a serving).

Ultimately, food intake should be based on inner body cues and hunger levels rather than serving sizes (and children are typically much more intuitive to their hunger levels than we adults are). However, the chart below provides a good example of how food portions should vary based on body size. For instance a child’s palm is much smaller than an adult’s palm so a served portion of meat should be adjusted accordingly. Note, this does not dictate portion size as your child may still be hungry or may feel full. Rather, it serves as a guide. Just think…….your hands go with you wherever you go so you and your children will always have this guide “handy”……now how cool is that?