Dr. Victor Marchione shares his views on the Greek yogurt fad
You know, I’m all for treating food as medicine. What you take in plays a major role in how the body functions, how we feel and how strong we become in fighting off sickness. Good food and a balanced diet, to me, are the true tickets to health.
But we live in an age of consumerism, where marketers are clamoring for every dollar, calling out to us in all sorts of subtle and clever ways to spend, spend, spend.
Case in point, when it comes to food, look at all the hype over Greek yogurt. You can’t go through the dairy section of most grocers without seeing a plethora of yogurt tubs with the Greek label. Why do yogurt lovers and nutrition advocates praise its thick and creamy signature goodness? And is it truly all that it’s cracked up to be? Well, yes and no.
It’s the protein in Greek yogurt that has elevated its status to superfood: Six ounces holds about as much lean protein as three ounces of lean meat. That’s about 20 grams of protein per eight-ounce serving compared to only 13 grams in even the healthiest low-fat regular kind. Its thickness makes it a great substitute for higher-fat sour cream and crème fraiche, and it also lends itself to savory flavors just as much as sweet, so it can be used much more in cooking or in dips like tzatziki.
If you aren’t big on meat, poultry or fish (or don’t always have the time to prepare it), pulling the tub of yogurt out of the fridge is an easy fix to boost your protein. Protein is good for us! A diet in lean protein is a healthy way to ward off heart disease and lower the risk of weight gain.
Yogurt in all its creamy forms has some diehard advocates, with good reason. A 2013 study conducted by Tufts University and published in the journal Nutrition has shown that people who eat any kind of yogurt have healthier diets overall, as opposed to those who don’t eat yogurt or rarely do.
Researchers analyzed information from 6,500 adults, aged 19 to 89, who were asked how much yogurt they ate on a daily basis. The results showed that in addition to having a healthier diet, the men and women who regularly ate healthy yogurt – described as Greek or sugar-free, low-fat – had higher potassium intakes, were 48 percent less likely to have inadequate levels of calcium and 55 percent less likely to have shortfalls of vitamin B12.
Clearly, yogurt gets its great reputation for a reason.
As with many trendy items – deep-dish Chicago pizza (from the freezer section!) comes to mind – Greek yogurt comes with its own potential for imposters.
The term “Greek” when it comes to yogurt can be used on any old tub in the dairy aisle, so the result can be a costly variation of the standard yogurt filled with sugar, fat and other fillers, no healthier than budget yogurt.
Greek yogurt is healthy because authentic processing strains out the whey protein which leaves the yogurt in a more creamy original state, often free of sugar and fewer carbs than the regular kind. The result is that dessert-like texture, without the downfalls to your health and waistline. So it’s smoother, thicker and tangier than other yogurts.
Because the term “Greek” isn’t regulated, companies can flub the details and avoid what’s considered a more expensive manufacturing process. They try to duplicate the appealing texture using cornstarch or other thickening agents.
So buyer-beware: Check the product label for gelatin, cornstarch and milk protein concentrate – additives that weigh down the product, often filtering the sugar, carbs and fat back into the yogurt. When you’re paying up to $3 more per tub, you want to be able to justify the contents.
Is Greek yogurt worth the splurge? Yes, just make sure you’re getting the real deal. And for best choices, go for unflavored, lower-fat options. Full fat varieties can pack 16 grams of fat in a seven-ounce serving (that’s about the fat content of three chocolate bars). Regular yogurt has about five grams. That extra creaminess doesn’t come from nowhere.