Americans are crazy for yogurt these days.
Not pizza. Not french fries. Not even apple pie.
It used to be that you had to go to a specialty store to find anything more exotic than a Columbo or Yoplait. Yogurt was health food. You ate it when you were dieting. You stuck it in your kid’s lunch bag. Not so, now. Oh, no.
Welcome to Yogurt Nation. Population: everyone.
But, you know, that’s Whole Foods, and they’re always going to have stuff you don’t see at the corner market. I think I was adventurous enough to try a Brown Cow yogurt once—because it had cream on the top. (I highly recommend it if you can find it. It’s luscious and amazing.)
Yogurt as food—and medicine (well, sort of)
Yogurt has been around for about 4,500 years. History books track its spread across Europe and Asia.
It came to America in the late 1920s with Armenian immigrants, who would later hock their Columbo yogurt from the back of a horse-drawn wagon. (Yes, it’s the very same Columbo that was sold to General Mills in 1993.)
For Americans, the most recent yogurt craze tipped off in 2005, when the International Journal of Obesity published a study which found that eating yogurt may help you lose weight. The momentum seems to have picked up over the last year or so. I’ve watched the dairy section of my local Stop & Shop explode with life, literally.
Ever since pro-biotics came into fashion, it seems like new brands are multiplying in the dairy aisle every night. Yogurt’s influence has also crept out of the supermarket. We now have a National Yogurt Association, as well an organization devoted to tracking and explaining the trend.
So what’s the difference between all these new yogurts, and are any actually any better for you than, say, a good old-fashioned Dannon with the Fruit on the Bottom?
A Quick Guide to Some of the Newer Players on Your Grocer’s Dairy Shelves
The containers are smaller and the packaging is different. Product names and ingredients sound mildly scientific, and the packages read like you could find them in the over-the-counter section of your neighborhood drugstore.
Activia is made with the culture Bifidus Regularis. It claims to improve regularity when eaten daily for two weeks, when eaten in conjunction with a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle. One 4-oz. serving of strawberry has 110 calories, 2 grams of fat, and 5 grams of protein.
You should note that Dannon came under fire in January 2008 from a class-action lawsuit surrounding deceptive claims in its advertising about Activia and DanActive’s “scientific” benefits.
DanActive is drinkable yogurt made with the culture L.Casei Immunitas. It claims to regulate intestinal flora and fauna and strengthen your immune system. A 3.1 oz. bottle of strawberry has 90 calories, 1.5 grams of fat, and 3 grams of protein.
Yoplait’s Fiber One makes a bunch of different products, from granola bars to cereal to english muffins. All have more protein and fiber than a lot of their traditional counterparts. One 4-oz. serving of strawberry has 4 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber (most yogurts have next to none). That’s 20% of your daily fiber for only 80 calories per serving. It’s also fat free.
Yo-Plus is made with Yoplait’s Optibalance, which includes pro-biotic Bifidobacterium Lactis Bb-12. One 4-oz. serving of strawberry has 110 calories, 1.5 grams of fat, 4 grams of protein, and 3 grams of fiber. It also claims to have more vitamins A and D than Activia. More on that here.
Promise Activ SuperShots have slightly different ingredients—and different goals. Made with plant sterols, this yogurt drink claims to remove cholesterol from your body when you have one a day (or more) with a meal. One 3.3 oz. bottle has 70 calories, 3.5 grams of fat, and 1 gram of protein.
And then there’s Dannon with Fruit on the Bottom. One 6-oz. serving of the strawberry flavor has 150 calories, 1.5 grams of fat, and 6 grams of protein. It’s also made with L.Acidophilus. For an old standby, it holds its own pretty well against some of its newer counterparts.
So Which is Better?
As a relatively well-educated consumer with no medical training, I honestly think it depends.
Each of these products has something to offer. Worried about regularity? The Fiber One may be for you. Need more vitamins AND more fiber? Try the Yo-Plus.
The bottom line? Like most everything else, it…well, it depends. If you’re trying to fit a food into your routine as a medicinal thing, look at your routine and see what you’re missing. And if you try one and find it’s giving you the result you want, then there’s your proof.
If you’re like me, you don’t want any of the bells and whistles listed above.
You have a decent diet. You take a couple of vitamins and exercise pretty regularly. What you want is a bunch of protein in the morning so you can motor through a too-busy day—and you also want to feel like you’re having dessert for breakfast.
Is that too much to ask from a little cup of fermented milk? Maybe not.
Enter Greek Yogurt, Stage Left
Greek yogurt almost belongs in a class of its own. (And no, that’s not just because I’m Greek.) It floats somewhere in the velvety middle of yogurt and sour cream. And it’s been seducing our country for about a year, maybe more.
Greek yogurt is thicker and creamier than regular yogurt (because the whey is strained off, so technically, it’s denser). It’s tangier. It’s more satisfying to eat than regular yogurt. And, since it typically has more protein than most yogurts, it’s a great thing for energy in the morning. Greek yogurt is also made with live, active cultures, so you still get all the probiotic goodness you want.
Fage has always been one of my favorites, drizzled with honey. Made with the culture S.Thermophilus, I think it’s one of the first Greek yogurts to be widely distributed in the U.S., at least on the East Coast. The 0% fat version is a little thin for me, but I can hardly tell the difference between the 2% and the whole milk version. The 2% still clocks about 17 grams of protein per 7 oz. serving, with 130 calories and 4 grams of fat.
Fage also makes fruit-flavored yogurts, as well as yogurts that are pre-packaged with honey and nuts. I’d love to try these, but haven’t seen them around Boston yet.
Oikos is a newer Greek yogurt made by the folks at Stonyfield Farm. I haven’t tried this one yet, but I’m excited to, since I’ve always liked their other products. One 5.3 oz. blueberry flavor has 120 calories, 13 grams of protein, and no fat. It’s made with five live, active cultures, including L.Acidophilus, Bifidus, and L. Casei.
Then, a few months ago, Chobani popped up on the shelves.
The 6-oz. strawberry flavor has 140 calories, 1 gram of fiber, and no fat. It’s made with the cultures S.Thermophilus, Bulgaricus, L.Acidophilus, Bifidus, and L. Casei.
This is a no brainer for me. Chobani is thick. It’s tangy. AND it has fruit on the bottom. Lots of protein? Win. And fruit (you mean I don’t need to tote a sticky honey bear with me to work)? Double win.
My only complaint on this one is the packaging. I’ve brought more than one container home from the store with a foil lid that’s already slightly open in one or two places. So, buyer be(slightly)ware.
Long story short, I know what I’m eating for breakfast. At least this week.