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What's Really In This: Yoplait Yogurt

Mar 15, 2011
Yogurt - a snack that is generally associated with health and quality nutrition, and in a lot of respects it is.  Yogurt is a great natural source of protein and B vitamins, and most brands are fortified with calcium and vitamin D.  Plus with recent research showing the numerous health benefits of pre and probiotics, yogurt has become a go-to snack for adults and kids alike.  When you go to the grocery store you will have dozens of tasty yogurt options in front of you - everything from whipped to extra creamy to the run-of-the-mill yogurt that most Americans are used to.  Despite all of the options and the several different brands of yogurt that are available, Yoplait yogurt is arguably the most popular.  But have you read the ingredient label of your favorite Yoplait lately?  Some of the contents may have you questioning your go-to "healthy" snack.  Here is a list of the ingredients in a Yoplait Light Blueberry Pie yogurt:   

-    Cultured pasteurized grade A nonfat milk:  This ingredient may have a long name, but the parts are quite innocent.  Cultured milk is the start to all yogurt products.  In North America Streptococcus thermophilus (ST) and Lactobacillus bulgaricus (LB) are the bacteria strains that are most commonly used and are responsible for the flavor and texture of yogurt.  Pasteurization is the process of heating milk in order to destroy any unwanted microorganisms.  Virtually all dairy products on grocery store shelves are pasteurized.  Grade A means that the milk and/or milk products must come from dairies and plants that meet the requirements of the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance in order to be shipped interstate.  The grading of milk is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.  And in order for milk to become nonfat it is spun in a centrifuge in order to separate the fat globules from the liquid.  A lot of processing goes into this one ingredient, but all in all it's a healthy ingredient in terms of nutrient composition.
-    High fructose corn syrup:  There has been a lot of recent controversy and media attention surrounding high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) mainly because of its implied contribution to the obesity epidemic in the United States.  HFCS is made by milling corn into cornstarch.  That starch is then further processed to produce corn syrup.  Finally, enzymes are added that change some of the glucose in the corn syrup into fructose.  The simplicity and cost-effectiveness of this process may be why HFCS has flooded the food industry.  According to the Journal of Clinical Nutrition the average American consumption of HFCS has increased by greater than 1000% between 1970 and 1990.  HFCS now represents greater than 40% of caloric sweeteners in foods and beverages today.  Nutritionally however, HFCS contains the same 4 calories per gram that regular cane sugar, honey, and other caloric sweeteners contain.  One concerning fact however related to Yoplait yogurt is the fact that HFCS is listed as the second ingredient, meaning that it is one of the most prevalent ingredients by weight.
-    Cornstarch:  A corn-derived starch that is used as a thickener in foods.
-    Modified cornstarch:  A modified starch has been physically, chemically, or enzymatically changed in order to enhance its performance in different applications.  It can be used as a thickener, stabilizer, or emulsifier.
-    Kosher gelatin:  Gelatin functions as a thickener, stabilizer, and/or texturizer in foods.  The fact that it is Kosher indicates that it follows specific Jewish regulations on which foods are clean and safe to eat. 
-    Tricalcium phosphate:  This ingredient is used as an anti-caking agent and it also provides a source of added calcium.
-    Potassium sorbate:  "Added to maintain freshness" follows the listing of potassium sorbate on the Yoplait ingredient list.  Potassium sorbate is the most widely used food preservative in the world.  In yogurt it is used to inhibit molds, yeasts, and select bacteria.
-    Sucralose:  More commonly known as Splenda, sucralose is an artificial sweetener that is 600 times sweeter than table sugar.  The body is not able to break it down, which is why it is calorie-free.
-    Natural and artificial flavor:  The difference between natural and artificial flavor can be confusing since they are both made in a lab by someone called a "flavorist."  The definition of natural flavor according to the Code of Federal Regulations is very long and wordy, but it basically states that a natural flavor has to have the same flavor constituents derived from natural products like spices, herbs, fruits, vegetables, etc.  An artificial flavor does not need to have those flavor constituents and are generally simpler in composition.  And as contradictory as it sounds, artificial flavors may be safer because only "safety-tested" components are used, which is not the case with natural flavorings.
-    Acesulfame potassium:  This ingredient is more commonly known as aspartame, the type of artificial sweetener in Equal or NutraSweet.  It was the most popular type of artificial sweetener until Splenda came on the market.  These artificial sweeteners are what qualify this yogurt as "light."
-    Red #40:  A food dye that is manufactured mostly from petroleum.  Yum.
-    Blue #1:  Another food dye that is also derived from petroleum.  Double yum.
-    Vitamin A acetate:  Used as a vitamin A fortifier.
-    Vitamin D3:  Also known as cholecalciferol, vitamin D3 is a form of vitamin D that is often used to fortify foods.

Still think that this is a "healthy" choice?  It all depends on what you compare it to.  If you have a choice between a Yoplait yogurt and a vending machine for your afternoon snack then by all means choose the yogurt.  But the next time you find yourself in front of the yogurt section at your local grocery store be sure to look for a yogurt without any added sugars (real or artificial) or weird petroleum-based food dyes.  By the way, does anyone else find it odd that in this Blueberry Pie-flavored yogurt there are no blueberries?

Brianna Wilson, MS, RD is a dietitian and freelance writer based in Boston, Massachusetts. Brianna received a Bachelor of Science degree in dietetics from California State University, Fresno and a Master of Science degree in nutrition from Boston University. She currently works with an adult weight management program through Winchester Hospital. She is passionate about food and eating and enjoys teaching others about the preventative benefits of following a healthy lifestyle. Contact Brianna via email at briwilsonRD@gmail.com.

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