Tricked by Health Food – Yogurt

I read an article the other day that showed 67% of grocery shoppers have trouble making healthful food decisions reading nutrional labels. It isn’t surprising given that food commercials tell you about their new whole grain cereals, good for you yogurt, natural cane sugar replacing horrible corn syrup, high protein, and gluten free everything, so you expect those foods to be good for you. But when you look at the labels, can you tell if those ingredients are good? How much is too much fat and sugar? What about carbs? If all else, you should be able to trust the health food aisle, since it is lined with protein and energy bars that should be healthful snacks. However, while the sell-you side of the label looks delicious and it says you get 20 grams of protein, does the nutrition back that up?

I’m going to start with yogurt because it continues to be marketed as the perfect healthful breakfast or snack. Here is the massive yogurt aisle at my grocery store.

Photo of a refrigerator case containing hundreds of containers of different yogurt.
Yogurt as far as the eye can see.

All this yogurt, and this is what I find that’s good for you in the store brand.

Photo of HEB brand Nonfat Greek yogurt
My yogurt of choice
Photo of HEB Nonfat Greek Yogurt nutritional label
HEB Nonfat Greek Yogurt nutritional label

And here is a name brand.

Photo of Chobani brand nonfat Greek yogurt container
Name brand for comparison.
Photo of Chobani Nonfat Greek Yogurt nutritional label
The ingredient list is blurred, but it is the same as HEB.

Greek yogurt is just regular yogurt that’s been strained of some liquid, so it’s thicker. That also means higher calories, protein, fat, etc., but when you stick with the nonfat, plain yogurt, it is great for you. 

The HEB label shows 130 for a cup, which is 225 grams. Be sure to weigh it! No fat, sodium is only 80 mg; 2300 mg is the daily limit. Potassium, which is essential for your nerve functioning, is 320 mg; you need 4700 mg, so this is great. Carbs are only 8 g, and protein is 23 g, so you can consider Greek yogurt a great protein source. The 7 g of sugar on the label is milk sugar, lactose, so it is naturally occurring and low. Finally, you get 25% of your daily calcium, although, it would be useful to see amounts on labels, since these percentages are based on a fixed 2000 calorie diet.

As a brief tangent, the “mathematically simple 2,000 calorie-a-day was chosen so that consumers could easily calculate the Daily Values needed for their own diets. This is the amount of total calories per day that a moderately active adult female (weighing approximately 132 pounds) would need to maintain her weight.” Read the full article here. So unless this is you, your calories count and dietary needs will vary from the nutritional labels. 

Now to compare against the other yogurt you’ll find in this aisle.

Photo of Fage Nonfat Greek Yogurt with Cherry
Notice the portion size of 150 grams, same calories as Chobani, but 77 fewer grams. 

Using the Chobani label data for my calculation,  I figure Greek yogurt has .0264 grams of lactose per gram of yogurt (6 grams lactose divided by 227 grams yogurt).  Lactose is the Fage yogurt accounts for 3.96 grams of the 16 grams of sugar on the label. The 12.04 remaining grams of sugar are fruit and added sugars, approximately.  New regulations on labels require food companies to show added sugars as a separate category, but that doesn’t have to occur until July 2018. 

The ingredient list shows sugar as the second ingredient the cherry mixture, first being cherries. Ingredient lists are in order of greatest quantity used to least. If you have a list in parentheses, that’s a list of ingredients for a main ingredient, like the cherry mixture. The item following the close parentheses is the next used item of the main list.  So, while we know the 12.04 grams of sugar is additional sugar, we don’t know how much of that is natural sugar in the cherries and how much is white sugar. Hence, the need for the new labels! 

Still, I wouldn’t choose the Fage yogurt because I would never dump an extra tablespoon of sugar on my breakfast, and I don’t want to take that risk for a little cherry yogurt. 

Here is another yogurt label for you.

Photo of Noosa Blueberry Yoghurt Label
4 oz serving or 113 grams

Reading this ingredient list, milk is the main ingredient, followed by the fruit puree. The puree has the ingredient list in parantheses (blueberries, cane sugar, etc.) The third main ingredient is cane sugar then honey, and down the list to the least used ingredient, live active cultures. 

After accounting for lactose, Noosa has 12 grams of added sugar and fruit sugar. Since the label lists cane sugar (white sugar written in a way to sound more natural and better than corn syrup) with the blueberries and in the yogurt, and this yogurt has honey,  you can bet a lot of that 12 grams is added sugar. 

Since Noosa is full fat yogurt, you get 6 grams of fat, 3 g of saturated fat. That isn’t a bad amount of fat, but nutritionists recommend limiting animal fat in your diet. As we saw in the last post, 16 grams is your maximum allowable saturated fat intake. This little container of yogurt is 19% of your total.

Noosa isn’t Greek yogurt, so your protein count is only 6 grams. With the sugar and fat, you are looking at dessert instead of part of your breakfast.  You may find it interesting to know that a 1/2 cup serving of Turkey Hill Black Cherry Ice Cream is 130 calories, 6 grams of fat (4 g saturated fat), and 12 grams of sugar per serving. Noosa actually has 3 grams more sugar than ice cream.  Of course, a serving of Noosa is 133 grams, while the Turkey Hill is 66 grams, but by volume, you are eating 1/2 cup of each in a serving.

You will find as you inspect the labels on yogurt that 99% of what you can buy is loaded with sugar and fat. The yogurt with the crunchy bits has up to 21 grams of sugar (over 1 2/3 tablespoons!) and 10 grams of fat. 

As for the sugar free stuff, I will need a separate post to discuss studies that show how those sweeteners still trigger your insulin response, just like, or worse than, sugar. 

This why I stick with nonfat Greek yogurt.


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