Tamara Mannelly

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Greek yogurt has gained tremendous popularity over the past several years.  Plain Greek yogurt is supposed to be higher in protein and lower in sugar and has a thicker consistency than plain regular yogurt.  People have really fallen in love with it!

I was first introduced to Greek-style yogurt in 1996, while living in Amman, Jordan.  A container of lebneh (similar to Greek yogurt) was a staple in my refrigerator and I loved the cool, creamy, tart flavor, especially when paired on a fresh, warm piece of pita bread.  It made a delightful breakfast or after work snack.

In recent years, lebneh/Greek yogurt/strained yogurt/yogurt cheese have become immensely popular with the American public.  While there is no legal definition of Greek yogurt (there is for plain yogurt but not Greek), it traditionally has been plain yogurt which has been strained of the liquid whey resulting in a much thicker, tarter, creamier substance.  It can be eaten similar to plain yogurt or used in place of sour cream, mayonnaise, cream cheese in recipes.

Since this product has become popular, you will notice more and more ‘Greek' yogurts at your local grocery store.  I have looked at the labels of some of these and have been confused at the protein and sugar content.  Much of the hype of Greek yogurt is that it contains more protein and less natural natural sugar than regular, plain yogurt (generally a good thing!)  As I have researched the brands, I found that many contained the same amount of protein and sugars on their nutritional panels.  Hmmm…what is going on?

This is where reading ingredient labels comes in handy.  According to an NPR article, the food industry has used food science to add thickeners to plain yogurt to make it have the same consistency as Greek yogurt.  These thickeners are generally milk protein concentrate and/or cornstarch.  Cornstarch (provided it is organic/nongmo) is not particularly harmful.   Milk protein concentrate is a cheap, ultra-processed, powdered form of dairy protein that seems to be very unregulated.

Regardless of which thickeners are used and how you feel about these thickeners, to use them to create a Greek-style yogurt seems a bit deceiving to me.  These yogurts are not strained of the liquid whey to get a true Greek yogurt.  They are cheap products formulated to fool consumers into thinking they are getting Greek yogurt.  There is even currently a class action lawsuit against Yoplait for this very deception.

What should you look for when you buy Greek yogurt?  While Greek yogurt is very easy to make, if you are going to buy it, READ ingredient labels.  Ideally, plain Greek yogurt should contain items such as milk, cream and live cultures, (* added 8/25/12, such as lactobacillus acidophilus, streptococcus thermophilus, etc.*) (organic dairy, if possible).  Flavored yogurts will contain additional ingredients; be sure you know what they are!

What should you do with this information?  I strongly believe that learning about and becoming aware of what ingredients are in our food gives you the knowledge necessary to make a choice about how you spend your food dollar.  Then you can make an educated decision on what to buy.

Personally, I would avoid Greek yogurts thickened with cornstarch and milk protein concentrate as you are not getting the benefits of Greek yogurt just the ‘feel' and ‘consistency' of Greek yogurt!

I love to eat homemade Greek yogurt, plain, with fresh berries and a drizzle of raw honey (maybe with some chia seeds sprinkled on top).  How about you?  Do you eat Greek yogurt?  What is your favorite brand and how do you eat it?

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Sources:

www.npr.org
http://health.usnews.com
www.livestrong.com
www.gpo.gov
www.zimmreed.com 
www.foodandwaterwatch.org

 

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22 Comments on “Is your Greek yogurt really Greek yogurt?”

    1. Great question, Olivia! Greek yogurt brands differ from store to store, region to region. Two brands I like are Chobani and Wallaby. These are low fat, however it is pretty hard to find full fat Greek yogurt for some reason. Another brand I like is Greek Gods yogurt, which is available in a full fat plain version, but is not organic. I checked out Fage yogurt, which is very popular with people, however this contains cornstarch and xanthum gum as thickeners (yuck!). This is why people need to read ingredient labels and know what you are getting, no matter what the brand!!!

      1. I appreciate that this post is nearly two years old, but are you aware that Greek Gods yogurt is thickened with pectin and that it is clearly not strained – that it has half the protein and nearly twice the lactose of strained Greek yogurt? One need only compare its nutritional label with that of authentic brands like Fage.

    2. Great question, Olivia! Greek yogurt brands differ from store to store, region to region. Two brands I like are Chobani and Wallaby. These are low fat, however it is pretty hard to find full fat Greek yogurt for some reason. Another brand I like is Greek Gods yogurt, which is available in a full fat plain version, but is not organic. I checked out Fage yogurt, which is very popular with people, however this contains cornstarch and xanthum gum as thickeners (yuck!). This is why people need to read ingredient labels and know what you are getting, no matter what the brand!!!

      1. And Fage is one of the ONLY if not the only I’ve seen so far that contains fat in it at all, its so annoying. All stores stock is non fat yogurt of any type from what I’ve seen. I will have to check out Trader Joe’s. I am a greek yogurt addict. Its my sour cream as well as snack

        1. a post coming soon is how to make your own Greek yogurt… ๐Ÿ˜‰ Yes, it is annoying that much of the Greek yogurt is generally non fat/low fat, except a couple brands but then those aren’t organic. Arghh…it is so hard to find the perfect product! And, not every region/store carries the same stuff. A brand I like that is not Greek but is a European style yogurt is Kalona yogurt. Has plain flavor in 2.5% and 5% fat and their fruit flavors do not have a lot of sugar which is very nice (and quite a surprise!)

        2. I’ve been looking for full fat varieties to give to my son – Trader Joe’s has been one of the only other places than whole foods that I can find it. I can’t believe that other grocery stores don’t carry this option.

          1. It can be so hard to find full fat yogurt, forget about full fat Greek. Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods carry full fat yogurt, of course, as you said. I sometimes find Stonyfield organic, full fat plain (sometimes I see vanilla but I prefer to add my own flavoring/sweetener) or Supernatural Kalona 5% fat, plain.

      2. Are you positive that Fage contains thickeners? I used to read the label carefully, and I don’t remember seeing any additives. (I have since switched to the Whole Foods 365 brand which contains milk, cream, and active cultures – just checked my fridge!)

        The Fage website says that the plain 2% that I used to buy only has 2 ingredients – milk & active cultures.
        http://www.fageusa.com/products/fage-total-2-percent/

        Maybe the flavored ones are different, but I think the plain one is ok. Not organic though.

        1. Good spot, Jen! The plain does not contain thickeners! I was looking at the flavored ones! Sorry! See, so important to read labels!

  1. I had no idea that lebneh was the same as greek yogurt . Ironically I love lebneh with pita bread but could never eat plain greek yogurt …now I don’t feel so bad for not liking it – cuz i guess i really do !

    1. It’s all very similar…both made from strained yogurt. I find lebneh a bit more tangy/sour. They made be made with different yogurts, however (different bacterial strains, etc).

  2. Good Info on the Greek yogurts! FYI–the Fage with honey also seems pretty whole food. Ingredients are past. milk & live active yogurt cultures & honey. Granted it does not say raw honey so I don’t know if that puts in a processed food category. I have not really heard much about “real” food or “whole” food. This is the start of a new education for me.

  3. I mix 1/2 a container of flavored Chobani with 1/2 a container of plain to cut the sugar, and add a few raw, unsalted almonds for crunch. Just curious…Why is Greek yogurt often lower in calcium and vitamin D than regular yogurt?

    1. That sounds great! Not sure about the calcium content but Vitamin D is generally added to dairy products (unless the products are raw dairy), so maybe that particular Greek yogurt doesn’t add as much? Interesting…

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