Health Food or Junk Food: Greek Yogurt

It's National Nutrition Month! At work, I'm celebrating it with a series on MyPlate. However, I'm going to focus on junk food here because, of course, I am the Junk Food Nutritionist and love to eat.

So, for the next few weeks, we'll be looking at items that might be healthy foods in some ways and might be junk foods in other ways.

First up is Greek yogurt.

Greek yogurt can be a healthy food. It has protein and calcium, which we need to be healthy. But there are many Greek yogurt products on the market. They're not all the same and they're not all equally healthy.

One major difference is the ingredient list. Some Greek yogurts are thick due to straining or removing the liquid portion; others are thickened with added ingredients.

Today, I will breakdown the ingredients of one flavored Greek yogurt product with raspberry chocolate and toasted coconut mix-ins.  

In case you can't see the picture, here are the ingredients again...

 Ingredients: Nonfat yogurt (Cultured pasteurized nonfat milk, live and active cultures: S. thermophilus, L. bulgaricus, L. acidophilus, Bifidus and L. casei), Water, Chicory Root Fiber, Sugar, Raspberries, Cocoa Butter, Coconut, Milk, Acai Puree, Unsweetened Chocolate, Pectin, Organic Soy Lecithin, Evaporated Cane Juice, Natural Flavors, Locust Bean Gum, Guar Gum, Lemon Juice Concentrate, Monkfruit Extract, Stevia Leaf Extract.

  • Nonfat Yogurt: This is what it sounds like--nonfat yogurt made with nonfat milk and live and active cultures. This is normal for yogurt and it’s healthy.  S. thermophilus, L. bulgaricus, L. acidophilus, Bifidus and L. casei are the bacteria that turn the milk from a thin liquid to a thick, creamy product. They also provide probiotics, which are being investigated for a variety of health benefits.
  • Water: Hopefully, we all recognize this ingredient.
  • Chicory Root Fiber: Inulin fiber is extracted from chicory root and used to provide a creamy texture to non-fat and low-fat dairy products.1
  • Sugar: Again, we all recognize this ingredient. I believe in everything in moderation. A little sugar in yogurt doesn’t automatically make it junk food. There are only 7 total grams of sugar in the product, some of which likely come from the natural sugars in the yogurt, milk, raspberries, and acai puree. Unfortunately, the current nutrition label does not differentiate between these natural sugars and added sugars.
  • Raspberries: Another ingredient we all recognize. It’s typically considered a health food, but the raspberries in this product seemed very processed. They were sweetened, dried, and mixed into milk chocolate. So, in this case, they’re more of a junk food than a health food.
  • Cocoa Butter: Cocoa butter is a form of fat made from the Theobroma cacao seeds. It contains saturated fat, one of the “bad” fats. Again, I believe in everything in moderation.
  • Coconut: Coconut is another source of saturated fat. There’s only 2 grams saturated fat in the entire product, though. So, I wouldn’t be too concerned.
  • Milk: Milk is often considered a health food because it contains protein and calcium. Vitamins A and D are usually often added to milk to increase its health benefits. Some people are concerned about the amount of hormones and bacteria in milk. I'll let you decide if milk has a place in your diet.
  • Acai Puree: Acai berries in their whole form contain antioxidants and may reduce the risk of cancer. However, there probably aren’t enough acai berries in this product to make a health difference.
  • Unsweetened Chocolate: Chocolate, especially dark chocolate, also contains antioxidants. Again, there probably are not enough antioxidants in this product to gain a health benefit, though.
  • Pectin: Pectin is a compound found originally in fruit. Extracted from fruit, pectin can be used to thicken, add texture, and emulsify or stabilize a mixture. 1 My guess is that it’s being used to create the thick texture of the “Greek” yogurt.
  • Organic Soy Lecithin: Soy lecithin is another emulsifier. Emulsifiers help fats mix with non-fatty ingredients.It may be used in the chocolate topping to help the fatty chocolate mix with the non-fatty raspberry pieces.
  • Evaporated Cane Juice: Evaporated cane juice is a form of sugar, specifically from sugar cane. Even so, there are only 7 grams of sugar in the whole product, which is less than some other yogurt products.
  • Natural Flavors: Unfortunately, "natural flavors" is a generic term. I can’t tell you where the natural flavors in this product came from. They likely came from fruits and/or vegetables, but they do not contain much, if any, of the health benefits whole fruits and vegetables do.
  • Locust Bean Gum: Locust bean gum is added to dairy products to prevent the separation of the curds from the whey. It comes from a seed, not the locus insect; so, it’s vegetarian and vegan.1
  • Guar Gum: Guar gum is also extracted from a seed and used to thicken dairy products. 
  •  Lemon Juice Concentrate: Lemon juice concentrate is what it sounds like, a concentrated form of lemon juice. I can’t say for sure if it’s being used for its acidic properties or if it’s being used to provide flavor.
  • Monk Fruit Extract: Monk fruit extract is a sweetener which provides little to no calories and no sugar.
  • Stevia Leaf Extract: Stevia leaf extract is another sweetener which provides little to no calories and no sugar.

Summary: There are a lot of ingredients in here with potential health benefits. For example, there are 10 grams of protein in this product from the yogurt and milk. 

Additionally, there are some ingredients that provide saturated fats and sugars. These can be unhealthy in high levels, but the levels in this yogurt are probably not high enough to cause harm. There are only 2 grams of saturated fat. Although there are 7 grams of sugar, some of these are natural sugar, which may not have the same negative consequences as added sugar. 

Lastly, some ingredients, like guar gum, may be unfamiliar to you, but they are natural plant-based ingredients that are generally recognized as safe. 

I'd consider this food safe to eat, if you like it. However, due to the chocolate mix-in, I'd consider this more of a treat or dessert than an everyday food.

Healthier option: Try plain, non-fat Greek yogurt with fresh or frozen raspberries on top.

Are there other ingredients you've seen in products that you want to know more about? Are there other products you want me to analyze?  Let me know in the comments below.

1. I looked up the ingredients marked with a 1 in Understanding Food Principles and Preparation by Amy Brown, the 4th International Edition, published in 2011 by Wadsworth Cengage Learning.


The information provided in this blog is not intended to replace individualized medical advice provided by your own doctor, dietitian, or other healthcare professional.
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