This has to be the most confusing aisle in the grocery store. Yogurts, known as a healthy food, make their way to almost everybody’s cart and the different varieties are endless.
How on earth to choose the right one?
Take yogurt back to its basics. If you were to make it at home, you have milk and a live bacterial culture. That’s it. It comes complete with protein, calcium, enough sugar to make it palatable and probiotics.
Let’s have a look at the ingredients that are typically found in yogurts today:
Milk: The basis of all yogurts, it is the fermentation of milk that makes it a yogurt. Greek yogurt is strained milk which makes it thicker and creamier.
Bacterial Culture: Creates the fermentation. It’s a necessary ingredient.
So this is all that’s needed. In addition, here’s what you see:
Some form of sugar: Sugar counteracts all the benefits of the good bacteria (probiotics). Choosing a yogurt without it is far better for you. Especially if it’s glucose-fructose, which is high fructose corn syrup. Greek yogurt has the whey removed from the milk which includes some of the sweetness so it’s more tangy that normal. If you don’t like this, add your own sweetener, honey, agave nectar or applesauce.
Modified corn starch: Since corn is a GMO ingredient, modifying the modified is just another step in the processing of your food. It’s not something you want to see on your ingredient list. It’s put there to make the yogurt appear creamier.
Gelatin: A thickener, it is made from animal bones. If you are vegetarian (or this just makes you cringe) choose a yogurt, either without it or with pectin (from plants) or locust bean gum instead.
Artificial Sweeteners: Check out my list for all the possible names and avoid them. They are most often found in yogurts labeled “sugar-free”.
Colour: Found in almost all fruit yogurts, it can be natural – for instance carmine, made from red beetles, or artificial dyes. The artificial dyes are certainly one to avoid.
Natural or Artificial Flavour: Made in a lab by a flavourist, the only difference is the natural flavour is originally sourced from something natural. After that, it is the same as the artificial with chemicals added to it.
Carrageenan: This is derived from seaweed and has been used since the 1930’s as a thickener. However, it’s become controversial the last while since one form of it can be problematic. Until this is resolved, it’s best to be wary of it and not ingest too much.
Preservatives: Used to keep the yogurts stable for longer, it’s not necessary as this is done naturally by the bacteria. Just how long do you want to keep this yogurt?!
The best choice to make is plain, preferably organic. I prefer higher fat, because a) they taste better and it’s a small amount and b) the fat helps you absorb more of the protein and the calcium. But since fat also carries toxins, I choose organic.
Another reason for organic, is that the organic section is less saturated with choices, making my life simpler when choosing.
One drawback to plain organic yogurt, is that you can rarely find small tubs of it which is handy for lunchbags and popular with kids. My daughter loves her little tubs of yogurt and I keep trailing the aisles thinking I have to be able to find something healthy for her amongst all the choices. But I still can’t. So the best I can do, is the PC Organics 4 pack that are flavoured with vanilla. It’s the simplest, cleanest choice I can find in a small package.
My favourite (in Ontario) is Mapletons or Organic Meadow. I use them in smoothies or in a meat marinade (it’s particularly good with chicken). I add my own fruits, flavours or sweeteners, seeds, flax and granola. And even it’s not portable, my kids inhale it when at home.