Two a Healthy Life

One couple on a mission to become healthy

The Great Yogurt Debate

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I love yogurt.  Some of you may have noticed this in peaking at my food log, I have a cup of yogurt everyday for breakfast, for more then just one reason:

  1. No preparation
  2. Easy serving size
  3. Tons of protein

In trying to eat healthier it is sometimes hard to balance wanting nutritious food and having time to make meals.  Most fruits are great because they are already packaged into single servings by nature.  This brings me back to yogurt as a great breakfast food because it is usually packaged in a single serving.  And yet, these packages can vary greatly in what you are actually getting.

Most Americans (myself included) are used to the runny yogurt that you had as a kid that came in flavors like banana and strawberry.  With the trend in healthier eating, many varieties of yogurt have hit the shelves of grocery stores, offering everything from low fat and diet to Greek and whipped, the choices are astounding. But most of these styles of yogurt do not really compare when we check under the hood and judge them against each other.

I went to a local supermarket (not a chain, but an actual local supermarket) and this is just a sample of the yogurts I found there.  The table above is sorted by protein content in ascending order and what this table can breakdown is the amount of sugar that most brands try to pack into yogurt; with a regular Yoplait topping the list at 27g (that is just 11g less then a can of regular coca-cola).

Side note on sugar content: parents may want to reconsider the yogurt that is marketed to children.  Yoplait has two brands that target children, one being Trix and the other Yoplait for kids.  The Trix is sold in 113g servings and the Yoplait for kids is sold in 85g servings. While it is great that they are selling sizes that are portioned for kids, when you scale both of these servings up to the normal adult serving (here assumed to be 170g) the Yoplait for kids has 18g of sugar, and the Trix tops out at 21.1g, which puts both of these yogurts in the upper echelon of sugar content.  (A side note, the Yoplait for kids is marketed as having 25% less sugar then the leading kid’s yogurt, which is Trix yogurt, sold by Yoplait).

What the chart indicates is that in most common American yogurts the amount of protein is 5-6g, while the carbohydrates average in at 22.5g with the average sugar content as a proportion of carbohydrates being 82%.  What does this really mean from the point of view of a consumer?

To answer this we must first have an understanding of the difference between carbohydrates and protein from the perspective of diet and how your body processes these key nutrients.  I am not a nutritionist or biologist, so take my comments with a grain of salt, but from how I understand it carbohydrates are for instant energy your body needs to function.  This is why runners in long distance races will eat bread or drink juice to get a quick shot of energy to fuel their running.  Protein, on the other hand, is not for a quick pick me up, but more sustained energy and will only be used by the body for energy when there are a lack of carbohydrates to burn (for a more comprehensive view of carbohydrates vs. protein). What this really means for you as the eater is that protein will make you feel more full then a carbohydrate will simple by how your body uses these nutrients.  The following chart will help breakdown the differences between carbohydrates, protein, and sugar in each brand in a more visual way.

Click to enlarge

With this in mind, we look back to the yogurt conundrum.  Any of the yogurts that are shaded in blue have little protein content and contain significantly more carbohydrates.  While this means it can give you a boost in the morning with some quick energy, you are going to be left feeling hungry soon after consumption.  I would highly suggest against these types of yogurt as the only benefit is some quick energy and an almost empty belly.

The yogurts shaded in orange are our good yogurts (notice they are all Greek style), but do have varying levels of carbohydrates and calories.  Personally speaking, I would go with the Trader Joe’s Greek yogurt (calories vary per flavor) as it packs in 12g of protein for only 14g of carbs and only 120 calories.  And while it is listed in the good yogurts, I would steer clear of the Yoplait Greek as even in their healthier yogurts they still need 25g of carbs and 150 calories to make their yogurt.  I am also not happy that both of Stonyfeild’s offerings have to use all of their carbohydrates for sugar and would choose a different yogurt if given the option.

The yogurts in green are what we will term the elite yogurts.  These yogurts pack an outstanding 14g of protein into each serving while keeping the carbohydrates at a reasonable to very low amount.  In looking at my food log you could easily notice that I will promote Siggi’s as the elite of the elites (no, I am not a paid endorser of this product).  Siggi’s is the best for multiple reasons, not only does it contain the most protein (their plain version packs in 15g of protein), but they do it with only 11g of carbohydrates and 100 calories.  Sweetened with agave syrup this yogurt will fill you up and you may even find it lasts you the whole morning before your hunger pangs return.  Still, the other two yogurts in this category will offer enough protein to get a full belly and does it while keeping carbohydrate and calorie levels low.

The question still exists: does it really matter that there are a couple more grams of sugar and little more calories in my yogurt?  To some it may not matter, if you are controlling portion size and living an active lifestyle then you can enjoy yogurt of any variety as long as it tastes good to you, though switching to a higher protein one may help to give you a fuller feeling in the morning.  For the rest of us, specifically those trying to loose weight, it could make a big difference.  Breaking it down:

The above chart is based on eating a serving of yogurt 5 days a week for a whole year

I had never fully considered the difference that a high protein yogurt could make for a breakfast food.  But having been eating it now for five months, the difference is clear.  I am more full throughout the morning and less tempted to snack when I do eat it and it is the easiest breakfast because all I have to do is remove the lid and enjoy a nice cup of yogurt.As you can see, just the choice of Siggi’s over regular Yoplait will cut 18,200 calories out of your diet per year, plus 10.32 POUNDS of sugar, which to give you a visual is two and a half sacks that you buy for baking.  What this math may also help with is measuring some of the other choices that you make in any given day and how those add up in an entire year of eating.

Note: I only used flavored yogurts in my analysis because I cannot stomach plain yogurt.  My hat is off to people who enjoy the taste of plain yogurt, but for me I need something to help mask that taste.  So if you can, try eating plain yogurt and it will help eliminate tons of wasted carbohydrates.  But if you like me and find the plain stuff a little unpalatable, then reach for a little sweetened cup of high protein yogurt.

Article: Nathaniel Chaney

Photos: Alex Washburn

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Author: Nathaniel Chaney

Traveling Latin America for the next six months with just a KLR and my girlfriend. Let the adventures begin!

3 thoughts on “The Great Yogurt Debate

  1. Nice, Nath! Really great analysis of all the yogurt options. Yogurt joke alert!
    What’s the difference between yogurt and San Jose?
    One has a live and active culture.
    BUUUUUUUURNN!
    I’m GSI-ing Nutri Sci 10 right now and maybe I’ll send the students on over to give this a read!

    P.S. Great pics, Alex!

  2. Great Article! I stumbled upon this on Siggi’s Facebook page. One of my favorite yogurts (next to Siggi’s) is Kalona Supernatural. It has 104 calories, 80 mg sodium, 6 grams of sugar, 6g of protein, and 10g total Carbs. I just hate the taste of some of these yogurts with 20+ grams of sugar. It is insane how much sugar some of these have….

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