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When it comes to delicious foods that fit your nutrition goals, yogurt easily checks the box for many people. And lucky for us, there are almost too many yogurts to choose from. According to 2021 reports by Statista, yogurt is a highly-competitive industry, generating $7.24 billion in annual sales in the U.S. alone.
Most already know the health benefits that yogurt offers – its ability to improve your gut health, minimize food cravings, and support bone health. The latest yogurt innovations have risen to popularity with wellness in mind.
But if you want all the positive effects of this probiotic-rich food, you’re going to have to be a little pickier with which varieties you choose for your cart. “Yogurt contains protein, probiotics, and calcium. It is also fairly low in calories making it a weight-loss friendly food,” says Eat This, Not That! Medical Expert Board member Lisa Young, PhD, RDN, author of Finally Full, Finally Slim, nutritionist in private practice, and adjunct professor of nutrition at NYU. “Many yogurts, however, have too much sugar, so reading labels is important.”
Because not all yogurt is created equal, whether it’s due to false advertising, poor quality standards, or detrimental additives, the yogurts made by these four brands should probably stay off your list. As for yogurts you should buy, we have that list handy for you, too.
Unfortunately, no, you can’t just add this gut-friendly snack to candy-coated chocolate and expect it to still work its magic. The 8 grams of added sugar can actually reverse all the benefits you would get from the yogurt on its own.
According to Young, one container of Vanilla M&M Yogurt includes over twice the amount you should aim to have in a serving. Besides contributing to weight gain, too much sugar can negatively alter your gut microbiome, killing off good bacteria and feeding the bad bacteria.
While the cup of M&M topping makes this considerably more exciting to eat, it’s not a great grab-and-go breakfast to have each day. “This yogurt isn’t an optimal choice,” says Young. “It’s relatively low in protein compared to other yogurts and contains 2 teaspoons of added sugar.”
“M&Ms are OK once in a while as a fun snack, but it certainly wouldn’t be a healthy choice to add to your yogurt as a topping. Berries or crushed nuts are a much healthier option,” she adds. Either leave it on the shelf, or maybe buy a few as an occasional dessert. But if you do, be aware that it is just a dessert – you won’t get any nutritional help from this one.
Remember Danimals? You may have been familiar with this brand as a child, sipping their drinkable yogurts at recess. But just because it’s nostalgic doesn’t mean you should stock it in your fridge. “Many of [Dannon’s] yogurts are high in added sugar, with more than 2 teaspoons per serving,” says Young.
The company also produces several lines of nutrition-targeted yogurts – including DanActive, Activia Light, and Activia – with dubious claims made about their ingredients in the past.
In 2009, Dannon paid $35 million to settle a class-action lawsuit in California over false advertising that its probiotic line of yogurts could produce “clinically and scientifically-proven health benefits,” according to the Canadian Society of Intestinal Research. Dannon marked these products up by 30% while allegedly knowing that the benefits were unproven.
The case’s lead attorney stated, “Deceptive advertising has enabled Dannon to sell hundreds of millions of dollars worth of ordinary yogurt at inflated prices to responsible, health conscious consumers.”
Dannon has since cleaned up its act, sticking to more sensible claims, such as marketing Activia to help with “supporting gut health and contributing to the maintenance of a balanced gut microbiota.” But between this and the added sugar, it doesn’t inspire much faith in the quality of their dairy products.
Another brand that makes misleading claims, Powerful Yogurt boasts that it’s made with all-natural ingredients. Unfortunately, the nutrition label can’t back this up.
According to Young, some of its ingredients are no-no’s, especially for those with cardiovascular problems. “I’m not a fan of this yogurt as it contains cornstarch and Stevia,” she says. “For people concerned about heart health and watching saturated fat intake, this yogurt isn’t the best option as it contains 5 grams and 26% of the daily value.”
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) assigns health scores to food, in the interest of providing consumers transparency around what they’re eating. EWG’s food score for this yogurt is a middling five-out-of-ten, calling out the inclusion of food additives and processed ingredients. For example, Stevia could be considered a processed sweetener, according to the Mayo Clinic, which may not be all that great for your gut’s well-being.
Most notable of the concerns, though, is the caramel color, which has been linked to cancer-causing carcinogens. The one benefit to this yogurt is that it is loaded with protein, but overall, it comes at a cost to your health that you shouldn’t have to pay.
The popularity of Greek yogurt has risen rapidly, as many nutrition experts tout the advantages of the thicker, creamier offering over traditional yogurt. Statista reported that Greek yogurt has 45% of the yogurt market share, with Chobani ranking as the “most consumed brand of yogurt in the U.S.” It’s no secret that expanding into Greek-style yogurt might be a competitive move, something that Yoplait tried early on, but with poor – and potentially harmful – execution.
The Twin Cities Business Journals reported in 2012 that General Mills Inc. was being sued for defrauding consumers with their subsidiary Yoplait’s “Greek Yogurt.” The claim stated that the product could not be categorized as yogurt. Rather than straining the yogurt to create the thicker texture of Greek yogurt, Yoplait added milk protein concentrate (MPC), a dry milk powder. According to the lawsuit, this ingredient is not listed by the FDA as an ingredient acceptable for use in yogurt production.
The suit was eventually dismissed in court to be handled by the FDA, but it pokes a gaping hole in the standard of processing and marketing that the company stood by.
Yoplait’s current Greek-style product seems more in line with what qualifies as a Greek yogurt. However, our expert would still pass on this at the grocery store. “While this yogurt is high in protein, I’d leave it on the shelf as it contains these artificial ingredients: Acesulfame Potassium and Sucralose,” says Young.