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Sunday, February 10, 2013

Not all purported Greek yogurts are Greek or even yogurt

It was 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 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 also had 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. ...

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It was 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 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 also had 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 that I knew something was amiss.

Recall five years ago, when there were Fage and Chobani. These are actual Greek yogurts that 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 caramelized almonds to their yogurt? The price is way less: four 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 nonprotein elements (think processed protein powder) and thickeners such as gelatin, pectin, guar gum and locust bean gum. What does that mean? It means that 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.

This also appears to be the case with Dannon’s offering in the Greek-style market, as well as Yoplait’s attempt at capturing some of the market share. And why not? The Star Tribune figures that the U.S. yogurt business is worth a staggering $5 billion. The Wall Street Journal reports that Greek yogurt now represents 28 percent of U.S. yogurt.

Apparently, I’m not the only one concerned with these Greek yogurt “knock-offs.” General Mills, which produces 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 that 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: A 12-ounce 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 21 grams per 5-ounce 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 percent of the population eats about 75 percent 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 Yoplait is $1 and 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.

Carolyn Maul, MS, CPT, RYT is a wellness expert and nutrition guru with a passion for harvesting foods from our global economy. You can reach her via her website, www.carolynmaul.com, or email her at carolyn@carolynmaul.com.