A category I used to quite like has really gone downhill fast. When good food goes bad, and not in the food safety sense, can it come back from the dark side?
Take a natural healthy food and keep adding bells and whistles until it’s no longer recognizable and voila, you have one lousy, if not the worst, section of the store. This area, typically found on the heavily promoted ‘healthy’ outer perimeter of the store has rapidly turned from a wholesome food source to a not-so-secret hideaway for the sugar and artificial sweeteners consumers have been advised to steer clear from the inner aisles of the store. The claims on the labels are a perfect example of everything that’s wrong with food marketing.
If the picture didn’t reveal it, the category my friends is…YOGURT – that satisfying, wholesome, wonderfully versatile food that many over 50 didn’t even grow up with because it was only something the ultra-natural crowd sourced from the health food store.
These days, too commonly I hear consumers lament that just when they finally found a decent, healthy yogurt the whole family likes, they return to the store to buy it again and the shelf space has been re-allocated to the latest fandangled yogurt-like product. For many of us, the amount of time it takes to find a decent yogurt is significantly more than what it takes to identify other healthy products. It’s worse than finding a basic multi-vitamin should you need one or finding the right colour and size of pantyhose as one client put it.
This area of the store definitely requires the “Stop. Drop. And Roll” approach. The terminology weakly masquerading here as helpful is actually awful. “Kid’s Yogurt?” Since when do kids need a different type of yogurt than adults? And how come “Kid’s Yogurt” is full of sugar, and candy? In many cases kid’s yogurt-like products are also an environmental disaster of excessive packaging. Consumers are on to the now obvious fact that nutritionally many cereals are chocolate bars in disguise. Fortunately at least some cereal manufacturers have improved the whole grain fibre content and reduced sugar.
Is yogurt becoming the new junk food section – the place where the excess sugar coming out of other categories hides out? We need to fight for the survival of the quality products this category originated with. And all of the probiotic digestive system-enhancing stuff? Although some of it may be helpful, most won’t provide a high enough dose to work as effectively for digestive health as the consistent presence of vegetables (which contain both fibre and prebiotics) on half your plate.
Before I say how I really feel and suggest approaching this category as a vegan would, here are my #ChueyOnThis 10 suggestions for finding a quality yogurt:
- Choose one labeled with the actual full word “yogurt” – not Yocrunch, YotoGo or other yogurt-esque terms. Never thought my career as a dietitian would need to include that advice. Check the best before date to ensure you’ll use it in good time. (Cool hack: If you won’t use it in time, label and freeze it in small portions for later use in smoothies.)
- Ensure the actual food product inside of the container is white – the colour of the substance yogurt is made from, milk.
- As for all other real, actual foods, short ingredient lists are better than longer ones. No gelatin, no extras, good.
- There should be at least some milk fat in the product. (% m.f.). Although for some folks a zero percent mf yogurt is okay, the vast majority of those no or ultra-low fat yogurts have very high carb and sugar counts or artificial sweeteners I don’t recommend replacing the mouth feel and flavour of the fat. If choosing a fruit-flavoured one, compare brands and select the one with the lowest grams of sugar while still being in that 1.5-4% mf range. If yogurt is what you choose as a dessert or it’s for kids or anyone who needs to keep weight on or even gain weight, a 9% or higher mf is a good way to go. (Reminder: when reading labels, 4 grams = 1 teaspoon. A helpful visual in assessing the sugar quantity.)
- Consider a good quality plain yogurt to which you can add your own nuts, seeds, toasted oats, berries or pureed real fruit instead of the jam-like substance the flavoured ones come with.
- Don’t consider yogurt a way to get fibre, iron, vitamin C or other nutrients that come from fruit, vegetables and whole grains. Consider it a source of protein, calcium and if well-chosen, quality calories. It’s not typically a source of vitamin D. Plain Greek yogurt, thicker for having some whey strained out, is a nice product significantly higher in protein and consequently, price.
- Yogurt naturally contains bacterial culture and if the label states that it has active bacterial cultures, it will have probiotics. Read any claims carefully to ensure the digestive system benefits aren’t overstated. If you shop in a store that employs a dietitian or pharmacist, they are excellent people to consult with in determining if you need extra probiotics from food or supplements based on your unique situation.
- To save money, check the unit pricing. If you don’t need yogurt packaged in 16 individual containers, it’s usually more cost-effective to buy the larger containers. The individual ones do go on sale frequently and quality ones are an easy addition to school lunches or a protein option when on the go.
- If your favourite good quality yogurt was removed from the offering at your local supermarket, ask to see the store manager, the dairy department manager and the store dietitian to let them know. Another option is to call the head office of the company and ask to speak to the Dairy Category Manager. Customer-focused organizations will take your call and be interested in your concerns.
- Readers who cook will know that it’s quite simple to actually make your own yogurt and that’s most likely the very best yogurt of all! Google to find easy recipes. We have had success making our own yogurt. When buying yogurt, I opt for plain Greek yogurt for use as is, in dips and cooking. I also buy some individual yogurts for school lunches that are low in or free of added sugar, without artificial sweeteners and contain active bacterial cultures.