My earliest memories of yogurt was, yes, back in the 1970s, and yogurt only appeared in our fridge if Mom was “on a diet.” Now, to me as a kid, this delicious looking-cool-packaged-delight in no way resembled a “diet-food”. And as it was with all diet foods, it was totally off-limits during any other time of the year: strictly relegated to the diet food category, for “diets” only. “How could this be?” I wondered, innocently. I mean, it looked like pudding! My Mom made it look so delectable when she ate this sacred fare: she closed her eyes and savored each and every spoonful (she may have hummed a little too. Bear with me, it was a long time ago). Seriously! A “diet-food”? And it's off limits to me? I was totally confused.
I still am. Forty years later I am still confused: is it still a “diet food”? No, and it never was. Forty years ago we didn’t have a need to deem foods healthy or not. It was a given. Most things were whole foods, and although forty years ago was the advent of Rice-A-Roni, Hamburger Helper and mashed potatoes out of a box, common sense told you that these (few things) were the exception. Your markets sold dry goods (in the middle of the store) and perishables, aka "whole foods" (around the perimeter of the store). Yogurt lived in the dairy case, and I believe it was to us then what Slim Fast is now: a “healthier” meal substitute, aka something you could eat as a meal if you were on a “diet”.
So fast forward forty years and like the game ‘Telephone’, things have gotten a little...um...blurred, confused and out-of-control. The only thing today’s yogurt has in common with yesterday’s yogurt is that it can still be found in the dairy case. In 1970, it was a pretty good choice, although it still contained sugar so that alone takes the “healthy” status away; it came from cows not given hormones and antibiotics and raised on GMO subsidized feed; it was cultured by traditional methods; the added fruit and sugar were not genetically engineered either. That is SO not what it is today.
Today, commercial yogurt is, plain and simple, a treat. It’s dessert. And not a good one, if you ask me. Ounce for ounce, you might as well eat cheesecake or pudding--you’d be doing yourself a favor by avoiding the ridiculous additives and chemicals that are what today’s yogurt-clone is comprised of. And trust me, I understand the frenzy over the importance of probiotics in our diets (read this, or this, or this, and this) so I say in earnest: commercial yogurt is NOT the answer.
Here’s a per-fect example: Activia’s Cherry Lowfat Yogurt:
Cultured grade A reduced fat milk is a euphemism for dry milk dissolved in water. Dry milk is produced by spray-drying skim milk at extremely high temperatures using hot gas! This process causes oxidation of the remaining lipids, which, in turn, are implicated in atherosclerosis and cancers. The advantage, of course, is financial gain: higher yield for less $$.
Sugar. Number two in the ingredient list! As a refresher, everything listed in an ingredient list is by weight first, meaning “what is this made mostly of?: first, cultured milk, second, sugar...Commercially used sugar is: 1) bleached to its white color and 2) genetically modified from sugar beets (not sugarcane anymore, folks!).
Cherries, Water. Okay.
Fructose. The sweetest of sugars. It’s still sugar, but just more damaging because it is a single molecule (monosaccharide) and goes directly into your bloodstream. In addition to the not-sweet-enough-second-ingredient-sugar.
Modified Food Starch. Ahh…Where should I begin…This concoction is widely used in so many packaged foods. Basically it is enhanced “starch”, derived from corn, potato or tapioca (if derived from wheat it must state so on the label because it is an allergen), however this starch has been “altered” to speed up thickening, prolong thickening and increase stability and shelf life. Plus it's also used as a pseudonym for MSG...but we won't go there in this post.
Milk Protein Concentrate. My favorite. Basically this Frankensteinian product is made from “fractionated” milk: the milk is separated into several components in our food-factory-labs, each component altered/enhanced, one of its components being the dry milk product named above. Each component is enhanced to “perform” in a better way than natures’ way. Sheesh. So, these MPC’s are used in this case for stabilization and emulsification; other uses include spray whipped cream, enhanced browning in bread products, and making products more heat stable.
Natural Flavor. Once again, this will be an entirely different subject further down the road. Just know that if it were all that “natural”, wouldn’t the label just say what the flavor was? Of special note, the term “natural flavor” falls under the umbrella of MSG…
Modified Corn Starch. In addition to the Modified Food Starch above. I guess they needed to add some GMO starch to the mix as well. Hey, why not? And yet again, MSG code alert.
Kosher Gelatin. Gelatin (thickener) from a non-animal source.
Agar Agar. Another plant-based (seaweed) thickener.
Carrageenan. Oy! Carrageenan is a known carcinogen, currently under review and fire by numerous advocates because although it is derived from red algae, once it is processed it becomes denatured and carcinogenic -- and it's rampant in organic foods! It's yet another thickener, however this one helps with viscosity.
Carmine (E 120) is a bright red artificial color derived from either aluminum salt or harvested from scale insects—you pick! It is also used to make red paint (of course-duh!)
Calcium Lactate is a preservative. It is also used as a spray on melons to prolong their “salability”.
Malic acid (E 296) is a known mouth irritant and cavities-causing agent. It gives Activia its tartness.
Xanthan Gum. And yet another thickener…
Seriously? 18 ingredients!! This so-called “healthy food” has 18 ingredients. You can begin to understand why I have such a beef with this one. And please, pay no attention to the claim of “active” cultures or “live” cultures. Probiotics live in our intestines. In order to re-populate them orally, live bacteria need to survive the harsh environment of our stomachs, which were designed by nature to kill (sterilize) offenders, ie. bacteria. So even if you are ingesting active or live cultures, they will be killed in your stomach. Sorry to be a buzzkill. Probiotics are best taken as a supplement in capsule form (designed to withstand stomach secretions) or ones formulated with something called a Prebiotic: saccharides that increase the bioavailability of the probiotic (enhances its effectiveness).
Don’t fool yourselves and be mislead. If you want to eat yogurt eat yogurt, but give your body the respect it deserves by giving it good yogurt, like Stonyfield Organic. Here’s what Stonyfield’s Organic Whole Milk Vanilla Bean Yogurt has to offer:
So, if you're looking for an alternative "healthy" choice under 250 calories--believe me, there are so many nutrient dense choices that will not only leave you feeling satisfied, but your body will be satisfied because it is getting nutrients--the one thing it really wants and needs--not sugar.
For example: if calories are important to you (take note that if you are eating a nutrient dense diet with adequate healthy fats and normal portions, calories aren't an issue) for just 260 calories, you can have an actual lunch of turkey rolls: a large romaine lettuce leaf with 2 oz of turkey and a thin slice of provolone--and you can have two of these! For only 210 calories, you can have ¾ -cup of cooked oatmeal with ½ teaspoon of honey and ½ cup of blueberries with cinnamon and nutmeg -- or 10 olives with 1 ½ oz of swiss cheese; for 225 calories how about 8 crackers topped with slices of avocado; for 260 calories you can have half of a large banana (4”) with 2 tablespoons of almond butter. I know I know, it just doesn’t seem like much food, but trust me, 1) it’s not supposed to be "much" food, eating is for nutrition first, enjoyment second, and 2) if what you are eating is nutrient dense, you will be satisfied. Perspective: nourish your body, not your desires.
If you're going to do the yogurt thing, stick with organic brands and brands that you find in your natural food stores without the added garbage, not these commercial atrocities. Btw, Greek yogurt does not mean "healthy" either, it's just a style of yogurt.
And save the treats for dessert: have a yogurt.
Thanks for reading,
"Planting your nutrition seed for the day."