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The Greek Yogurt Bait and Switch!

I wanted to share with you some things I’ve discovered about Greek yogurt…

It started on a day like any other day, which is to say, I was shopping for groceries.

However, I  found myself having some extra time last week to do some luxurious meandering of the aisles instead of rushing around the perimeter of the grocery store like my pants were on fire in the midst of my daily attempts to do 25 hours worth of stuff in a 24 hour period.

I decided to do a little extra detective work in the yogurt aisle since I had been seeing a lot of Greek Yogurt listed in my clients’ food logs lately. That, and I had also heard from NPR that a food scientist, Erhan Yildiz, had developed an ingredient that can be added to regular yogurt to imitate things like “residual mouth coating,” “meltaway” and “jiggle” typically found in Greek yogurt.

And here’s what I found – there are now an overwhelming assortment of products that claim to be Greek yogurt, but have such a wide variety of price points, I knew something was amiss…

Recall 5 years ago, there was Fage and Chobani. These are actual Greek yogurts which are processed by straining the yogurt to yield a thick, creamy, high protein, low milk sugar product. Yay!

So, what’s the story with all these less expensive “Greek Style” or “Greek inspired” yogurts? You really have to get out your magnifying lens to spot the difference! Take the Muller brand. It has the same packaging, font and marketing scheme as Fage. It even has a cute little topping compartment!  And who doesn’t like the idea of adding carmelized almonds to their yogurt? The price is way less: 4 for $5 as opposed to $2 each for Fage.
But, when we read the ingredients we see milk, sugar and….whey protein concentrate which is made by filtering skim milk to remove non-protein elements (think processed protein powder) and thickeners like gelatin, pectin, guar gum, and locust bean gum. What does that mean? It means instead of going through the straining process, Muller has substituted additional ingredients for the time and effort it takes to go through the real process.

Dannon, Yoplait and all supermarket brands are also eager to capture some of the market share. And why not? The Star Tribune figures the U.S. yogurt business to be worth a staggering $5 billion.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Greek yogurt now represents 28 percent of U.S. yogurt.

Some of us are concerned that some of these Greek yogurt “knock-offs” aren’t exactly what they claim to be.  General Mills, which produces yogurt brand Yoplait, is currently the target of a lawsuit filed by a Chicago resident who pointed to General Mills’ use of the thickener “milk protein concentrate” and alleges its Greek yogurt product isn’t actually Greek or yogurt.

It appears that Stonyfield’s Oikos is the real deal, but watch out for all the extra sugar! Holy cow! When I saw the added sugar content on these I knew right away why they keep showing up on clients’ food logs! They are dessert! In fact, most of the yogurts I picked up had as much, if not MORE sugar than a can of soda!! True! A 12 oz Coke has 42 grams of sugar (which by the way is the upper limit of what you should be taking in per DAY) and these yogurts are weighing in with 21g per 5 oz container!

Spending time in the yogurt section left me chilled (literally) and wondering why, in our quest for convenience, we choose to put all sorts of bizarre science experiments in our mouths.
I wondered if we hadn’t come as far from Velveeta as I thought? But, according to Squidoo,  only about 5% of the population eats about 75% of all the Velveeta, so you fans can consider yourselves part of an elite force. And I won’t even start on a rant about Kraft singles – the edible equivalent to pleather.

What can we do?
1. Remember, you get what you pay for. Although the Yoplait is $1 and the Oikos is $2, by choosing the Oikos you’ll be supporting a local business and getting an organic product free of hormones, pesticides, and petroleum based fertilizers.
2. Read the labels! If you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it.
3. When in doubt, choose vegetables.

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