The Hidden Dangers of Yogurt

Posted on Aug 1, 2011 in Health & Wellness

By Joseph Erdos

Over the years, yogurt has become synonymous with healthy food and dieting. When you see someone with a container of yogurt, you immediately assume they must be on a health regimen — and they probably are. But what they and most people don’t realize is that many of the top brands of yogurts are just as unhealthy as eating a bowl of ice cream.

Many store-bought yogurts are laden with sugar and calories, not to mention numerous artificial ingredients that are impossible to pronounce or identify. The most popular yogurt with fruit on the bottom is typically pink in color because of food dye. And on the whole, yogurt is full of preservatives and food additives that are not nearly as “natural” as the product labels claim. We’re here to help you navigate through the artificial ingredient obstacles to find a yogurt that’s truly natural.

The most common ingredients in processed yogurts include:
• Modified food starch, corn starch: Used as as a stabilizer, thickener and emulsifier. This gives yogurt an extra creamy texture.

• Gelatin: Also used as a thickener, and often made from animal bones (unless it’s marked Kosher).

• Potassium sorbate: A preservative used to neutralize acids and prevent mold. This ingredient gives many yogurts an unnaturally long shelf life. It’s considered safe, but some people might be sensitive.

• Aspartame: An artificial sweetener. You’ll find this in yogurts labeled “lite” or light.

• High fructose corn syrup (HFCS): A sweetener. This has replaced sugar in many food products because it’s cheap to produce, plus the corn industry is subsidized by the government. Some claims have been made that HFCS contributes to the obesity epidemic, because scientific studies have found HFCS to alter the body’s insulin levels, raising the risk of diabetes.

• Tricalcium phosphate: A calcium supplement, usually made from bone ash.

• Food dyes: Carmine is made from ground cochineal beetles — but at least it’s natural, right? Numbered dies, such as Red No. 40 and others are chemically made and may have health risks that are not yet fully understood.

What about those yogurts that claim to regulate our digestive system?
These yogurts contain a laboratory-produced, commercially used probiotic called Bifidus Regularis, which is a bacteria directly extracted from animal intestines. It is added to yogurt and helps the consumer speed up digestive transit time. Yes, there may be a benefit for some people after consuming these types of yogurts, but if you eat a well-balanced diet filled with fiber (fruits, vegetables, and grains), it is completely unnecessary. A normal yogurt is filled with naturally occurring enzymes, so there’s no need for an artificial probiotic.
So what yogurt is good to eat?
Plain, plain, plain. Plain yogurt should only have two ingredients: milk and live yogurt cultures. Plain yogurt is packed with protein and is richer in calcium than milk. Try to choose low-fat or non-fat yogurts that don’t contain any of the artificial ingredients. Stay away from fruit-flavored yogurts and instead add the flavorings of your choice to plain yogurt. A spoonful of preserves, honey or applesauce stirred into plain yogurt is all you need if you like the sweet flavor.

Regular plain yogurts can come in various textures. Some may be a bit runny, which is perfect served over granola or cereal. If you like super-thick and creamy yogurts (which are creamy because of emulsifiers), choose naturally creamy Greek yogurt. It’s one of the creamiest because it’s strained. Straining doubles the protein content and decreases the sugar content, which is drained away in the whey. You can make your own Greek yogurt by straining plain yogurt through a cheesecloth, or use this recipe for Homemade Greek Yogurt, which starts from scratch.

Armed with the right knowledge, you’ll easily be able to dodge the minefield of artificial additives in yogurts. Take time to read labels and know what you’re eating. Yogurt has many great health benefits, so there’s no reason to be afraid of all the brands out there. Find the one you like and you’ll be on your way to better health.