Yogurt: So many choices, lots to like

 There seem to be a lot more kinds of yogurt than there ever used to be. I like it, but is yogurt really that popular?

Yogurt has made big gains over the years. Although it’s leveling off, yogurt consumption has more than doubled over the last 15 years, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. During that time, Greek yogurt appeared on the market and quickly gained steam, now accounting for about half of all yogurt sales.

What’s the appeal? Yogurt has a lot going for it. It has a good amount of calcium, although the amount can vary. To determine how much calcium is in your favorite yogurt, look for the Percent Daily Value for calcium listed on the Nutrition Facts label, and multiply it by 1,000 mg, which is the Daily Value for calcium. For example, if the label says a serving of your yogurt has 25 percent (0.25) of the Daily Value for calcium, then it has 250 mg. To compare, a cup of milk has about 300 mg.

It’s important to note that the recommended daily amount of calcium for people varies, from 1,300 mg for 9- to 18-year-olds, to 1,200 mg for men 71 and older and women 51 and older, to 1,000 mg for those in between. So, you have to do a little mental math to know if you’re getting enough. Fortunately, when the new Nutrition Facts labels appear on foods in 2018, they’ll list the actual amount of calcium in grams.

Also like milk, yogurt has a good amount of protein. A cup of plain low-fat yogurt has 12 grams of protein, compared with 8 grams in a cup of 2 percent milk. Again, your mileage may vary with the type of yogurt. To verify, check the Nutrition Facts.

Most types of yogurt also contain beneficial bacteria naturally found in the intestinal tract, but which can sometimes use a boost. These live cultures, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, can improve digestive health and strengthen your immune system. Unfortunately, you can’t really tell how much of this bacteria is in the yogurt you eat. Even in yogurt with a “Live and Active Cultures” seal, which verifies the yogurt had at least 100 million cultures per gram (or 10 million for frozen yogurt) at the time it was made, the number of good bacteria can fade over time.

Although yogurt is a highly nutritious food, flavored varieties might contain more added sugar than you’re comfortable with. Flavored regular yogurt often has about 24-30 grams of carbohydrates, some from added sugars and some naturally from the sugars in the yogurt’s milk and fruit. Light varieties, with low- or no-calorie sweeteners, have half as many carbs. When the new Nutrition Facts labels come out, you’ll be able to easily see how much of the carbohydrate is from added sugars.

Or, opt for plain yogurt. It won’t have any added sugars, and you can add your own flavorings, such as vanilla, or top it with fresh or frozen berries yourself.

Plain whole-milk Greek yogurt is also a good substitute for sour cream. Along with some added tang, it provides fewer calories (190 per cup compared to 480 in sour cream), less fat (9 grams compared to 45), more protein (20 grams compared to 5) and more calcium (250 mg compared to 7). So, it’s worth an experiment or two to see how it might work in your recipes.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Dan Remley, field specialist in Food, Nutrition and Wellness for Ohio State University Extension.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Added sugar in yogurt can be hard to identify

chow_022616-78617919A friend recently read a book on healthful eating and is now telling me I should stop eating yogurt because it contains so much sugar. I normally have a 6-ounce container after dinner, and I admit I was surprised at the sugar content when I looked at the label. Should I cut back?  

First, take a second look at the label that surprised you so much. Currently, the Nutrition Facts label simply lists the amount of sugar in a product as a subset of its carbohydrates. This sugar can be naturally occurring, such as the sugars from the milk or fruit in the yogurt, or it can be sugars added during processing, such as sucrose, honey or high-fructose corn syrup. You can’t tell which is which from the Nutrition Facts label.

Nutrition professionals have long differentiated between naturally occurring sugars and added sugars. Added sugars are often called “empty calories” because they aren’t accompanied by vitamins, minerals or other beneficial nutrients. For example, when you consume sugar from milk or yogurt (lactose), you get calcium, too. When you consume sugar from an orange (fructose, glucose and sucrose), you also get vitamin C plus a whole host of other nutrients. But added sugar doesn’t provide much more than added calories.

The new Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting added sugars to no more than 10 percent of your daily calorie intake. If you normally eat 2,000 calories a day, that’s 200 calories from added sugars, or 50 grams of added sugars a day. If you normally eat 1,600 calories a day, that’s means 40 grams of added sugars.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is currently proposing changes to the Nutrition Facts label so it would be easy for consumers to see how much of the sugar in a product is naturally occurring and how much is added. But in the meantime, figuring it out can take some detective work.

For yogurt, first look at the ingredients list for sugars. If they are listed in the first few ingredients, then the product could be high in added sugars. To get a ballpark estimate of how much of the sugar is “added sugar,” compare the Nutrition Facts label of a similar yogurt that is sugar-free. If your yogurt has 25 grams of sugar, and the plain or artificially sweetened comparable yogurt has 12 grams, you can assume there are about 13 grams of added sugar in your yogurt.

Is that too much? It’s hard to say. Those 13 grams could be perfectly reasonable depending on what else you eat over the course of a day. But if it’s just one of many foods with added sugars you commonly eat, it could put you over the top.

If it’s something you’re concerned about, you could try yogurt made with zero-calorie artificial sweeteners. Or if that doesn’t appeal to you, what about plain yogurt topped with fresh berries or other fruit? Or, just trim back added sugars from other foods and keep enjoying your nightly treat.

It’s good be more aware of added sugars that you may not have known about, but it’s also important to look at the whole diet. You have options.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Irene Hatsu, food security specialist with Ohio State University Extension.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.