Buying yogurt used to be simple. There was plain, vanilla, blueberry, and strawberry. Pick a flavor from the relatively small section in the grocery store and you’d be on your way. Over the years, there have been trends that have come and gone. “Lite” yogurts with artificial sweeteners, dessert flavored yogurts, yogurt with added fiber marketed to dieters….but nothing compares to the meteoric rise of Greek yogurt over the past few years!
Greek yogurt has taken over the yogurt market in the United States. Despite the classic Greek yogurt Fage being sold in the U.S. for years, it wasn’t until Chobani was launched 2007 that Greek yogurt really took off (1). Now, every yogurt company wants a piece of the action. Recently, traditional yogurt brands like Dannon and Yoplait introduced their own Greek lines. Now, walking into the yogurt section at the grocery store presents a dizzying array of options.
Why are people going gaga over Greek yogurt? Like regular yogurt, it’s a good source of calcium, but it’s higher in protein and thicker and creamier than regular yogurt, due to straining out the whey (that pool of liquid that sits on top of regular yogurt when you open it). However, some brands cut corners and skip the straining, using thickening agents instead (2). These thickeners simulate the mouthfeel, texture, and consistency of authentic Greek yogurt. These ingredients, which include modified corn starch, carrageenan, guar gum, locust bean gum, and pectin, all have varying levels of safety and may irritate the gut over time. Intestinal permeability (aka “leaky gut”) can be affected by these gums and thickeners (3), potentially leading to gastrointestinal problems such as abdominal bloating, excessive gas and cramps, and food sensitivities.
The explosion of Greek yogurt also brings the inevitable marketing to dieters. These “100-calorie” and “lite” versions of Greek yogurt almost all have artificial sweeteners, a topic that deserves a whole blog post of its own. Bottom line? Artificial sweeteners are not associated with weight loss and in fact, may lead to weight gain (4)! Dieters, please don’t be seduced!
So what’s a yogurt lover to do? Since many flavored regular and Greek yogurts are full of too much added sugar and questionable gums, and thickeners, I say stick to plain and doctor it up yourself! Add loads of fresh or frozen fruit like berries or bananas. Or, eat it the way the Greek actually do, with a drizzle of honey!