Hang with me, there is a lot to say about yogurt. Let’s start with the process that turns milk into yogurt. Yogurt is made through the fermentation process. Fermentation is the process of adding yeast or bacteria to turn carbohydrates into alcohol and carbon dioxide, or acids. Live, active bacteria are added to milk causing the milk’s sugar to turn into lactic acid. That acid gives it the tangy, distinct flavor.
Fermented foods, while they may not sound so appealing, have many vital health benefits. By eating fermented foods, yogurt for example, you are adding good bacteria to your gut. These bacterias help to break down food, and allow your body to absorb more nutrition. Adding fermented food to diets has shown to help aid digestion, build a strong immune system, and everything from Multiple Sclerosis, and Colitis, to Constipation, and Asthma. This is where yogurt gets its good health reputation. It is a fermented food that contains beneficial bacteria, and also is a good source of calcium. Unfortunately, most store bought yogurts have additives that cancel out any of the good.
One additive in particular comes to mind now – carrageenan. This has been in articles lately, and until recently I thought it was harmless in food, after all it’s a derivative of red seaweed and can be found in organic foods. But studies have shown this causes inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract, and possibly even cancer. And the additives don’t stop there. You can find a rainbow of food dyes, high fructose corn syrup, and aspartame. Please do not assume yogurt is good for you. Yes, foods and drinks made through the fermentation process are very beneficial to our health, but the additives have to stop!
Greek Yogurt is made by straining the liquid whey, which give you a thick, creamy, protein concentrated yogurt. It takes up to three times more milk to make, which is the reason it is so much more expensive. Greek yogurts have lower lactose amounts, so they may be a good option for anyone who is lactose intolerant. Greek yogurt, on average, has twice as much protein as regular yogurt, and usually less sugar, when comparing the plain varieties.
There are also dairy-free yogurt alternatives, such as soy, almond, and coconut yogurts. Just make sure you check the labels, just as you should with the dairy yogurts.
Here’s what you don’t want to see on the label of your yogurt:
- Aspartame - This is a very dangerous additive and should always be avoided in any food or drinks. Aspartame has three components: methanol, phenylalanine, and aspartic acid. All three of these chemicals have each been shown to either stimulate brain cells to death, severely disrupt hormone balances in the brain, or act as a dangerous nerve poison. Scary stuff! It was in about 75% of the yogurt I looked at, except Greek Yogurt and Organic yogurts.
- Artificial Food Dyes – Not only are artificial food dyes linked to behavioral problems, diabetes, obesity, and asthma, the three most used food dyes (red-40, yellow-5, and yellow-6) contain cancer causing substances. Most food dyes are also petroleum based, and something you do not want in your food — even in the smallest amount.
- Carrageenan - This additive has come under fire lately, especially for it’s use in organic products. It sounds harmless, it’s a derivative of red seaweed, and has been used in western diets as a thickening adgent since the 1930’s. There are two forms of carrageenan, degraded and undegraded, decided by their molecular weight. Studies linking carrageenan to cancer are focused on the degraded form of carrageenan, which is not commonly used as a food additive. The problem is, undegraded carrageenan is processed in a way that it can be contaminated with degraded carregeenan. There may still be reason to avoid all carrageenan, even the undegraded form, because studies show it can cause inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract. If you have Ulcerative Colitis, Chrons, or any other gastrointestinal diseases, I would be especially cautious of carrageenan in your food.
- High Fructose Corn Syrup – All sugars should be limited in our diets, and high fructose corn syrup is no exception. There is an on-going debate whether high fructose corn syrup is causing the obesity epidemic. Princeton proved it may be the cause during a recent study.
- Gelatin vs. Pectin – Both are used to help thicken yogurts, gelatin is animal based and pectin is plant based. Gelatin is derived from collagen found in ligaments, bones, and skin of animals.
- Full fat vs. Low Fat or Fat Free – I guess that is a personal preference but the majority of studies show, full fat milk actually helps maintain healthy cholesterol levels, plus the natural fat in the milk helps our bodies digest the protein or absorb the calcium.
- Carmine - while I guess it can be considered “natural”, carmine is a nice word for color from red beetles. This can be found in Yoplait Strawberry Yogurt.
- Modified Corn Starch - you will find this in many yogurts. Most corn in our country is genetically modified, and then on top of that they modify the starch again to change the texture, or how it dissolves before adding it to the yogurt. Unless it’s an organic company using corn products, or a company that is GMO-free it’s best to stay away from yogurts with corn starch.
- Locust Bean Gum - this is not from a bug! Locust bean gum is another name for carob bean gum, or carob gum, and is extract from seeds of a carob tree and used as a thickening agent.
There are so many brands and flavors of yogurt at the store, and it would be impossible to list them all. I’m listing the one’s I can find at my local supermarkets. Your best bet for clean yogurts — reading labels and buying plain yogurt (regular or greek, although greek has the better nutrition) and adding sweetener and fruit yourself. I’m listing some safe, clean yogurts you can buy. I will continue to update this list often so there are plenty of options.
DAIRY YOGURTS -
- Atlanta Fresh Creamery - this yogurt is only offered regionally (south-east). They get their milk from a small farm that is free from hormones and antibiotics, and the cows are primarily grass-fed. They do not add any additives, and pride themselves on making high quality, fresh product. They have a line of unique flavors like peach ginger, and black cherry & port wine, and offer Whole Milk, 2% Low-Fat, and Nonfat yogurts.
- Chobani - they do not use milk from cows treated with rBST, and they do not add any food additives to their yogurts. They have a variety of delicious flavors, but do not offer a full fat yogurt. Five live active cultures can be found in their yogurts, some other brands only have two. This is a great option even on a budget.
- Voskos - greek yogurt company that offers full fat yogurts, which are additive, rBST, and GMO free.
- FAGE - free from harmful additives but they do add corn starch as a thickener in some of their fruit flavored yogurts. The milk they use is from cows that are not treated with rBGH (hormone).
- Organic Yogurts – in general, organic dairy is the best and safest way to go, but carrageenan is allowed in organic products. Just make sure you read the label if your yogurt is not listed. One in particular to point out is Stonyfield. While they are an organic company, they do add carrageenan to some of their yogurts – the caramel greek yogurt and YoKids Squeezers. Their YoBaby yogurts are a great option, because they are organic and use whole milk. They would even be a good option for adults looking to watch their portions.
- Whole Soy – they use only organic, non-GMO soybeans to produce their yogurts. Since they use soybeans, the yogurt has more protein than most other dairy-free alternatives.
- Amande Yogurt - made from almond milk, and does not have carrageenan or any other additives.
How to Naturally Sweeten Plain Yogurt -
- Add fresh or frozen fruit – if you use frozen fruit, simply take it out of the freezer and run it under room temperature water for one minute to defrost.
- Homemade Granola is a great addition to yogurt
- Dried Fruit, Nuts, and Coconut
- Barlean’s Omega Swirl
- Honey, agave, or maple syrup
Who didn’t make the list at my local supermarket -
- Dannon and Yoplait Yogurts – I left them ALL off the list, even though some do not have artificial additives. The reason? They use aspartame and food dyes in some of their yogurts. I will not support any companies that use those additives and would urge you to do the same.