Yogurt is quite possibly the perfect food. Not only is it a great source of calcium, but it also has many health benefits and happens to be one of my favorite snacks. Still, I get dizzy just looking at the dairy case. There are an overwhelming number of products―plain, flavored, creamy, fruity, fruit on the bottom, granola-topped, whole, low-fat, fat-free, light, reduced-calorie, sugar-free, drinkable, organic, and something called “probiotic.” How can you make a smart choice? I did some research, and this is what I learned.
Don’t Be Lured by Labels
Health and weight-loss claims are popping up everywhere on product labels, and yogurt is no exception. Consider these facts on your next grocery run.
- Fat-free doesn’t always mean lower in calories. In fact, sometimes sugar and other ingredients are added to fat-free products to enhance texture and flavor. Compare the calories of various fat-free and low-fat yogurts. Some fat-free products may have 10 to 20 more calories per serving.
- Watch out for high fructose corn syrup. It’s the leading sweetener added to many commercial foods. Recent TV ads have recommended high fructose corn syrup in moderation, but it’s hard to know what that means. Here’s the skinny: Fructose contributes to more than 10% of America’s daily calories. One study suggests that the average consumption of high fructose corn syrup among Americans tops 315 calories a day.
- Ingredients are listed in descending order on product labels, so it’s easy to figure out what the main ones are. The first few usually contribute the most to calorie content.
- “Light,” “reduced-calorie,” and “sugar-free” typically mean that the sugar calories have been replaced with no-calorie sweeteners, such as NutraSweet or Splenda.
- Organic yogurt contains no artificial sweeteners, flavorings, or preservatives, and it should come from cows that haven’t been treated with artificial growth hormone.
What Are Probiotics?
The term is making headlines, but it’s actually nothing new. It simply refers to live bacteria that are beneficial to health. Probiotic bacteria naturally live in our digestive tracts to fight off pathogens, but they need to be replenished, particularly if you smoke, drink alcohol, eat poorly, or take antibiotics.
In order for yogurt to be called “yogurt,” two probiotic starter cultures must be added―Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus, which are known to have a positive effect on digestion. No matter what you hear in TV ads, all yogurts contain some beneficial bacteria. Some brands, such as Horizon Organic and Stonyfield Farm, add three to four more cultures, which may help strengthen the natural defenses of our bodies. Dannon Activia, on the other hand, adds a culture that targets intestinal transit, potentially regulating the digestive system. Although some probiotics can be beneficial for certain health functions, results may vary among individuals. Cooking destroys live bacteria, but even when heated, yogurt still serves as a low-fat alternative for dips, spreads, and sauces.
- The “good” bacteria found in yogurt can help suppress pathogenic bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract, improve lactose tolerance, and help strengthen your immune system.
- Eating low-fat dips and spreads with a variety of vegetable slices is a tasty way to add more fiber and antioxidants to your day.