Nutrition Action Healthletter
In 1916, Isaac Carasso of Barcelona introduced packaged yogurt to Europe.
1. Spoon-free 2. Drinkable
3. Plus Toppings 4. Full-fat
5. Soy 6. Low-cal
(He dubbed it Danone, his son Daniel's nickname.)  It didn't come in key lime pie, cappuccino, apricot mango, or any other flavor.  The tart plain yogurt, which reached U.S. shores in the 1930s, didn't take off until Dannon-Danone's U.S. incarnation-and its competitors started adding sugar and fruit. Now Dannon, Yoplait, and other companies are changing not just the flavors, but the way we eat (or drink or slurp) our yogurt.
The Culture Club
Per ounce, our Best Bites have at least three percent of a day’s calcium and no more than a quarter of a gram of saturated fat, 30 calories, and five grams of total sugar (that includes added sugar plus naturally occurring sugar in the yogurt and any fruit). For an eight-ounce yogurt, that translates into two grams of sat fat, 240 calories, 40 grams of sugar, and a quarter of a day’s calcium. Best Bites are also free of candy, cookies, sprinkles, and artificial sweeteners.

Within each category, yogurts are ranked from best to worst—from least to most saturated fat, then most to least calcium, then least to most calories and sugar.

Best Bites Chart (Acrobat 448k)

The Plain from Spain

   With protein, calcium, magnesium, riboflavin, vitamins B-6 and B-12, and more, plain low-fat or non-fat yogurt is as nutritious as skim milk. In fact, yogurt does milk one better, because its “active cultures” help digest the naturally occurring sugar (lactose) in milk that can cause bloating and diarrhea in some people. (On the downside, milk is fortified with vitamin D; yogurt rarely is.)

    Mixing plain low-fat or non-fat yogurt with fresh fruit is still your best bet. But most people don’t. In a typical yogurt aisle, the plain yogurt is elbowed aside by a panoply of trays, tubs, and tubes in which sugar, granola, and even candy have replaced some of the yogurt. The result: sugar and calories are up, nutrients are down.

    For the best yogurts, see our Best Bites. Per ounce of yogurt they have no more than a quarter of a gram of saturated fat, 30 calories, and five grams of total sugar, plus at least three percent of a day’s worth of calcium. They’re also free of the artificial sweetener aspartame.

    That’s the only way we could compare the standard eight-ounce (one-cup) container with its two-ounce, four-ounce, and six-ounce cousins. If our cutoffs seem picky, multiply by eight. A quarter of a gram of sat fat per ounce becomes two grams in an eight-ounce serving. That’s a tenth of a day’s worth—plenty for a Best Bite.

    Here are six new trends in the yogurt aisle:

If you’re old enough to use a spoon, you may wonder why anyone needs to eat yogurt out of a tube. Tubes do make life easier for people who want to grab a yogurt as they run out the door without having to carry a dirty spoon around all day. But convenience isn’t their only plus. Spoon-free yogurts are also suitable for freezing. M-m-m.

    Anything frozen can melt away some of a hot late summer day’s misery. And frozen yogurt’s calcium and protein put it a notch above low-fat ice cream and other frozen desserts.

    Just keep in mind that the three spoon-free yogurts on the market are far from perfect. Stonyfield Farms YoSqueeze meets our Best Bite criteria, but replaces the fruit with fruit flavors. Excess sat fat and calories knocked Yoplait’s Exprèsse and Go-Gurt out of the Best Bite running. But don’t cross Exprèsse off your shopping list.

    Unlike the other two kid-centered lines, it’s got real fruit and comes in grown-up flavors (like “mixed berry” instead of “cool cotton candy”). If you eat one (or even two) two-ounce tubes as an occasional snack, the sat fat won’t matter much. Just don’t assume that you can keep going back for more. (And don’t assume that the fruit on the package is the fruit in the tube. The Mixed Berry, for example, has blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries outside, but only raspberries inside. Some mixture.)

^ Top

Who needs a spoon when you can drink your yogurt? Dannon’s new Frusion Fruit ‘n’ Yogurt Smoothies are essentially the classic Dannon Fruit on the Bottom yogurts with added water and fruit juice. The liquids dilute the calcium enough to miss our Best Bite cutoff, but you still get a quarter of a day’s worth plus vitamins B-2, B-6, and B-12. (With Frusion Fruit ‘n’ Yogurt Smoothies you also get the red dye carmine, which is made from the dried bodies of cochineal insects and which has caused severe allergic reactions in a small number of people. Carmine is also used in many other spoonable and “spoon-free” yogurts.)

    If you live on the East Coast, Natural by Nature Lowfat Yogurt Shake is another possibility. It’s organic...and free of carmine.

    Dannon’s kid-oriented Drinkable Danimals were the only drinkable yogurts to get a Best Bite. But to an adult, the three-ounce serving size may not seem worth the plastic container it comes in. At least it and other drinkable yogurt containers are recyclable. Most spoonables aren’t.

^ Top

A few years ago, Dannon started adding sprinkles to some of its yogurts marketed to kids. No doubt, millions of parents were thrilled to have Sprinkl’ins—yet another healthy food heading down the path to Junkville.

    Now, at least one adult brand, YoCrunch, has gotten into the yogurt-as-ice-cream act. The flavors with Nestlé Candy Pieces, Chocolate Crunch, or Oreos supply extra calories and saturated fat at the expense of protein, calcium, and vitamins. A Strawberry YoCrunch with Nestlé Crunch has 240 calories, for example. The same amount of low-fat fruit yogurt has 160 to 180.

^ Top

Only in the U.S. is the market dominated by low-fat yogurt. So it’s no surprise that Dannon would take a stab at marketing the full-fat version to Americans.

    The elegantly packaged la Crème is indeed “incredibly creamy.” But the “touch of cream” means three grams of saturated fat—15 percent of a day’s worth—in a four-ounce serving. Again, you’re trading nutrients for calories. The eight-ounce cups of Brown Cow Farm Cream at the Top Whole Milk Yogurt use up 20 percent of a day’s sat fat. It’s just not worth it.

^ Top

Whether your aim is to avoid milk or to eat more soy, you can now find “cultured soy” tucked in among the milk products in the yogurt aisle.

    Soy does have some advantages: It has virtually no saturated fat, it may help lower cholesterol levels, and some brands—like Silk and Whole Soy—are made from organic soybeans. Whether soy reduces (or raises) the risk of breast cancer and whether it can prevent or tame prostate cancer or menopausal symptoms is still unclear.

    But for many people, the taste takes some getting used to. And remember that soy doesn’t have as much calcium, magnesium, protein, or B-vitamins as milk. Silk and Stonyfield Farm fortify their brands with calcium. Whole Soy doesn’t.

^ Top

Dannon recently cut the calories in its flagship Fruit on the Bottom line. Most flavors now have 210 calories, down from the earlier 240. But for serious calorie-counters, all major brands now have “light” lines that use the artificial sweetener aspartame instead of sugar. That slices the calories by at least a third.

    The problem with diet or light yogurts: it’s hard to say with certainty that aspartame is safe, and the calorie savings are fairly modest (unless you’re eating two or three yogurts a day).

    That’s why we gave no Best Bites to artificially sweetened yogurts.

    Other than that, you won’t find many differences between the regulars and lights. One exception: Dannon Coffee Yogurt has caffeine (about half a cup of coffee’s worth in each eight-ounce container). Dannon Light ‘n Fit Cappuccino Yogurt uses decaf, as does Stonyfield Farm Cappuccino.

^ Top

The information for this article was compiled by Heather Jones DeMino and Jackie Adriano.
Nutrition Action Healthletter Center for Science in the Public Interest September 2001 Yogurt: Diving for Cultured Pearls Yogurt: Diving for Cultured Pearls 1. Spoon-free Yogurt Yoplait's Expresse Yogurt 2. Drinkable yogurt Frusion Fruit 'n' Yogurt Smoothies 3. Yogurt plus topping Nestle Yo Crunch Yogurt 4. Full-fat yogurt Dannon's La Creme Yogurt 5. Soy yogurt Silk's Cultured Soy Yogurt 6. Lower-calorie yogurt Dannon Light 'n Fit Yogurt Subscribe Today! Customer Service