Yogurt is fermented milk. Like any other milk product, the calories depend on how much fat it has and what else is added to it. Plain yogurt can be a nutritious and satisfying snack, but harder for supermarkets to sell with its tart taste. But it is much easier to sell when it is turned into the sweetened yogurt we see in the Yoplait and Dannon containers. Yogurt, unlike other dairy product such as milk, has this aura of health surrounding it.
How did yogurt get this reputation as a health food?
In the early 1900s, a Russian scientist, Ilya Ilyich Mechnikov, thought that Bulgarians lived to be a very old age because they ate yogurt. He believed that the friendly bacteria in Bulgarian yogurt, Lactobacillus bulgaricus, might replace harmful bacteria in the large intestines, hence prolonging life.
In 1973, Alexander Leaf, a Harvard cardiologist, published an article in National Geographic about these long lived people in Bulgarians.
In 1975, Dannon made its first commercial featuring active elderly Bulgarians happily eating Dannon yogurt. Hence, yogurt got its reputation as a health food. Even current research only found “possible benefit” from the consumption of yogurt.
But what about the good bacteria in yogurt?
A discussion on yogurt cannot be completed without a discussion on the good bacteria. Yogurt starts out with pasteurized milk (whole, low fat, or skim). Two kinds of bacteria (Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus) go into the milk. These bacteria are cultured (cultivated, fed, and grown) in the milk. Because these two species are often killed by the acids in our stomachs, commercial yogurt producers often add hardier bacteria. These bacteria digest the milk and produce lactic acid and other substances that curdle and flavor it (fermenting). Since most the lactose gets used up during fermentation, even lactose intolerant people can eat yogurt.
The bacteria in yogurt may replace harmful bacteria in the intestinal tract. But it only works if they are alive and present in large enough quantities to survive the acid in our stomachs. There are 18 billion live bacteria in a 6 oz container of yogurt when it is made. But as for how many are still alive at the time of purchase or when it hits our stomach is anyone’s guess.
In a previous post, I talked about adding value to packaged goods in order to sell us more of the same product. Yogurt is the cash cow of the dairy industry. Add some fruit, you have one product. Add some thickeners, you have another product. Add some candy and granola toppings, you have another product. Add some more bacteria, you have Activia yogurt (which by the way, is not that much healthier than the original stuff). The list goes on.
Yogurt appeals to our sweet tooth
Unlike milk or cheese, yogurts are sweetened in the most imaginative ways from pina colada, custard, cheesecake, chocolate mousse, peaches, cherries, etc. Some even have candy sprinkles, M&M””s, Oreo cookies, or chocolate chips as toppings. There is more sugar in fruit flavored yogurt than there is real fruit. Fruit flavored yogurt is mostly just fruit concentrate, added colors, or thickeners (flour, corn, starch, pectin, and carrageenan) to make the yogurt look fruitier. Yogurt is a fast selling dairy dessert that has been successfully marketed as a health food.
My problem with yogurt is the sugar, not the health claim.
With a reputation of being a health food, it is the ideal product for the dairy industry to market to kids. Parents I know unintentionally encourage their kids to eat yogurt because it is a “healthy” food.
Watching my co-worker eat a Go-GURT yesterday, I cannot help but feel that we have been duped by marketing. Introduced in 1999, Go-GURT had a $10 million advertising campaign specifically targeting children between 8-12 years old.
Sugar is approximately 55% of the 80 calories in Go-GURT. With approximately 5 grams of sugar, my co-worker is slurping a little over 1 teaspoon of sugar in 1 minute!
67% of the 90 calories in Danimals Drinkable is sugar. Even Stonyfield’s YoBaby (organic yogurt), marketed towards infants and toddlers, has 53% of its 120 calories from added sugar. Can you imagine feeding an infant this much sugar on a regular basis?
If you must eat yogurt, try plain yogurt or Greek yogurt. Sure it has the tart taste and might take some getting used to, but at least you will save on the dental bill.
Until next time and thanks for stopping by Small Steps to Health.
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