Monthly Archives: February 2010

Secrets of Greek Yogurt

Q: Is there a difference between Greek yogurt and regular, conventional yogurt?

A:All yogurts are a great source of calcium, protein and beneficial bacteria (“probiotics”), which aid in digestion. However, for those of you who dislike the thinner, runnier texture of conventional yogurt, Greek yogurt is a good alternative, because it’s richer and creamier. Three popular brands of Greek yogurt are Fage, Chobani and Stonyfield’s Oikos. No matter what yogurt you choose – conventional or Greek – make sure to purchase the low-fat or non-fat variety!

Let’s take a look at the specific differences in nutrient content…

Dannon’s Plain,    Non-fat (Regular Yogurt) Stonyfield’s Oikos Plain, 0% fat (Greek Yogurt) Fage’s Plain, 0% fat (Greek Yogurt)
Serving Size 6 oz 5.3 oz 6 oz
Calories 80 kcal 80 kcal 90 kcal
Sodium 120 mg 60 mg 65 mg
Sugar 12 g 6 g 7 g
Protein 9 g 15 g 15 g
Calcium 300 mg 200 mg 200 mg
  1. Greek yogurt contains about half the sodium of regular yogurt.  In general, yogurt is a great heart-healthy snack, but since we get way too much sodium in our processed-food diets as it is, Greek yogurt is a great option for salt-sensitive people.
  2. Greek yogurt is quite low in sugar.  With half the carbs of conventional yogurt, Greek yogurt won’t spike your blood sugar as high as a regular yogurt might.
  3. Greek yogurt is very high in protein. Dairy is always a solid source of protein, but with 15g of protein per 6-oz container, Greek yogurt will make you feel fuller longer than conventional yogurt.
  4. Greek yogurt is lower in calcium than regular yogurt. Unfortunately, conventional yogurt beats Greek yogurt in this category, at times packing 100 added milligrams of bone-building calcium per serving. While it’s important to meet your calcium requirement, adding any type of low-fat yogurt to your daily routine will bring you one step closer to a healthy, well-balanced diet.

Update: Upon further investigation of food labels, I’ve found a big difference in the calcium content of Greek yogurt flavors. The plain, 0% fat variety may contain 20-25% of the daily value (DV) of calcium, which is approximately 200 – 250 mg*, but honey & fruit flavors can have much less! The honey, cherry and peach flavors of Fage Greek yogurt contain only 10% of the DV! On the other hand, all of the low-fat Greek yogurt flavors made by Chobani contain 200 mg of calcium per 6 oz container. Clearly, it’s important to comparison shop by reading the nutrition label! Since yogurt packaged with fruit or honey will be higher in sugar, your best bet is to buy the plain, non-fat yogurt and add fresh fruit of your own!

*Remember: Adults should aim for 1,000-1,2000 mg calcium per day to maintain healthy bones!


Filed under Dairy, Heart Healthy Choices, Vitamins & Minerals

Ditch The Soda

The typical 12-oz can of soda contains about 140 calories and includes 40 grams of sugar. That’s equivalent to pouring 9 teaspoons of table sugar straight into your drink.

Sure, sugar makes things taste sweet, but it may also be detrimental to your health in excessive quantities. Sugar can promote tooth decay, increased triglyceride levels, weight gain and poor nutrition. As you guzzle sugary drinks, you’re loading your body with extra calories with no nutritional value. You’re then more likely to skimp on the healthy foods, which do contain important vitamins and minerals. In 2006, a research team aimed to quantify the energy imbalance that is responsible for the recent trend of weight gain in children (Wang et al; 2006). The scientists found that behavioral changes amounting to 110-165 fewer calories per day were enough to avoid weight gain. To clarify this point, this could be achieved by either eliminating one sugar-sweetened beverage or walking just over mile every day.  Ditching the soda can is probably easier.

Some sugar is naturally found in nutritious foods like milk (lactose) and fruit (fructose). “Added sugar,” on the other hand, is the offender. Processed foods, such as sweets and non-diet soft drinks are rich in added sugars. The average American consumes a whopping 22 teaspoons (370 calories) of added sugar each day. This number far exceeds what’s recommended. Due to the potential consequences of excessive sugar intake, the American Heart Association has suggested that women should not consume more than 100 calories a day (6 tsp) from added sugar and that men should consume no more than 150 calories a day (9 tsp) from added sugar. Again, that’s the equivalent of one soda a day, not counting any other sugary snacks you nibble on.

The bottom line? Minimize your consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, including iced teas, soda and fruit drinks. Water is still my #1 choice, but if you’re craving carbonation, try flavored club soda. Treat soft drinks as special snacks, rather than a staple at lunch.  Diet beverages are better than regular, at least for weight loss purposes, but some studies have shown that people believe that a diet soda entitles them to load up on extra junk; thus the phenomenon of ordering a double cheeseburger, super-sized fries and a diet soda at the drive-thru.

Lastly, remember to note serving sizes when checking the nutrition facts. For example, one 16-oz bottle of Snapple contains two servings. So while the label provides the info for one serving (80 calories & 21g sugar) you have to double that if you plan on drinking every last drop.


Filed under Food Groups, Heart Healthy Choices, Weight loss

The Big Deal About “Organic”

Q: Is organic food more nutritious?

A: Not necessarily. The term “organic” is defined by the USDA. Organic meat, poultry, eggs and dairy must come from animals given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Plant foods (e.g. fruits, vegetables,  grains, legumes) must be produced without pesticides, artificial fertilizers, genetic modification or  irradiation. The government inspects every organic farm to make sure it meets these standards. There  are three levels of organic food claims:

100% Organic:Products that are completely organic and are produced organically at every step. For example, in a 100% organic trail mix, all the nuts, raisins and granola must come from organic fields and be processed in organic factories.

Organic: At least 95% of a product’s ingredients meet organic standards.

Made with Organic: At least 70% of a product’s components are organic. (If a product contains less than 70% organic ingredients, the USDA forbids the use of the word “organic” on the label.)

Organic agricultural principles are kinder to nature and to farm animals, but are organic foods healthier? The jury is still out. In March 2008, The Organic Center completed a review of scientific research and found that organic plant-foods are more nutritious, on average, than conventional foods. In contrast, a September 2009 study funded by the UK Food Standards Agency and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found no evidence of significant differences in nutrient quality between organically and conventionally produced foods (Dangour, et al). Until research is more conclusive, non-organic foods have the same nutritious components – vitamins and minerals included – as organic items. The difference lies in growing practices.

I realize buying everything organic is nearly impossible and can get very expensive. Here are 5 tips:

1. Buy dairy products free of artificial hormones, which force increased milk production in cows.  The health risk to humans is controversial, but recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) has been banned in the European Union for over 15 years. “Hormone-free” milk is not hard to find (you may already be drinking it!) and does not cost a lot.

2. If it’s a fruit or vegetable that you eat without peeling first, such as grapes or celery, think about buying the organic version. On the other hand, when you remove a thick skin off produce (like on an orange or banana), you reduce consumption of the chemicals used during farming and production anyway.

3. If the fruit is prone to soaking up a lot of chemicals during farming, buy organic. For example, non-organic berries and thin-skinned peaches are likely to retain a lot of chemicals, even after washing.

4. Due to body size, chemicals are more toxic to children. The government deems pesticides “safe” when used within certain restrictions, but it is especially important to limit a developing baby’s or child’s exposure to potentially harmful chemicals.

5. Always thoroughly wash your fruits and vegetables under running water! This can remove dirt particles, as well as some of the remaining pesticide or fertilizer used on non-organic produce.

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Filed under Dairy, Food Groups, Fruits and Vegetables