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You Ask, I Answer: “Greek-Style” Yogurt

JF08_IO5aI’m a little afraid to ask you this, but here it goes.

I have noticed that some Greek yogurts actually say “Greek style” on their packaging (with the word “style” in tiny letters).  I’ve been reading your blog for a while, so I have a feeling this is significant.

Are these different from (or less healthy than) a “real” Greek yogurt like Fage?

– Melissa Heaney
Albany, NY

Ah, the drawbacks of being a sharp-eyed nutrition sleuth at the grocery store.

I recall several years ago, when I first started reading ingredient lists for common brands I used to buy, walking around supermarket aisles in a heavy-hearted daze.  It was almost as if I had just been told that my significant other had been cheating on me on a daily basis.  Except that, rather than stumbling across a hurriedly-scribbled name and number on a piece of paper, I was alerted to the presence of artificial dyes, partially hydrogenated oils, and high fructose corn syrup.  Heartbreak on aisle five!

Onto your question — there is a difference between Greek-style yogurts and actual Greek yogurts.  If you’re curious about what makes Greek yogurt special, please read this post.

Here is the ingredient list for Fage non-fat Greek yogurt:

Grade A Pasteurized Skimmed Milk, Live Active Yogurt Cultures (L. Bulgaricus, S. Thermophilus)

Now, let’s take a peek at the ingredient list for a Greek-style yogurt.  For this example, I am using The Greek Gods brand:

Pasteurized Grade A Nonfat Milk, Inulin, Pectin, Active Cultures (S. Thermophilius, L. Bulgaricus, L. Acidophilus, Bifidobacterium, L. Casei)

Whereas “true” Greek yogurt’s thick consistency is the result of straining out the watery whey, Greek-style yogurts add thickeners (ie: gum blends like pectin and inulin, milk solids, stabilizers).

Each yogurt’s respective Nutrition Facts label also tells the tale.  Here is what 6 ounces of real Greek yogurt offer:

  • 90 calories
  • 0 grams fiber
  • 15 grams protein
  • 19% of the Adequate Intake of calcium

That same amount of Greek-style yogurt contains:

  • 60 calories
  • 2 grams fiber
  • 6 grams protein
  • 25% of the Adequate Intake of calcium

Let’s make sense of that.

  • The decrease in calories is due to the reduction in protein.  Remember, Greek yogurt’s higher protein levels are due to the absence of watery whey.  Greek-style yogurt retains the whey and adds on thickeners.
  • As you know, all dairy products are fiberless.  The 2 grams of fiber in Greek-style yogurt are due to the presence of thickening gums.  Depending on what other brands of Greek-style yogurt use, the fiber value may be zero.
  • The higher percentage of calcium is also attributed to the presence of whey.

There is nothing troubling, disturbing, or unhealthy about pectin and inulin.  We aren’t talking about blue dyes or trans fats here.  Two FYIs, though:

  1. For optimal health benefits, fiber should come from foods that naturally contain it, rather than add-ons.
  2. If you’re looking for the higher protein benefits of Greek yogurt (mainly the ability to feel satiated for a little longer), reach for the authentic product.
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2 Comments

  1. sarah said on August 20th, 2010

    It’s both heartening and devastating to learn more about food and health. I recently discovered we’d been drinking “fresh milk drink” after moving. Sigh. Why is food shopping so complicated? And intriguing?

  2. Emily said on August 20th, 2010

    It’s kind of amazing that companies will go to so much trouble to fake something. It’s amazing, but it must be a lot cheaper. Still, I think it’s a shame that they are allowed to “fake it” to consumers, even so innocuously as in this example. I’m constantly amazing my friends by picking up a bottle or box of something they’re using, thinking it’s healthy, and finding HFCS or trans fats or MSG in it. It shouldn’t be so difficult to tell whether something is the real thing or not. I’ve heard that Whole Foods, for example, is getting rid of “organic sounding” brands to make it easier on consumers. But even they include soy and canola oil in their food bar items and packaged products.
    That said, I have to agree with Sarah–food shopping is intriguing! But I think for most of the people out there trying to eat healthily, they’d rather not have to read every label.

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