The food industry has a reputation of taking incredibly healthy items and turning them into processed junk food and this is exactly what has happened to most yogurts available on the market.
The Cornucopia Institute just came out with a very revealing report (an investigation that took 2 years!) about what’s in yogurt, and how giant food corporations, led by General Mills (Yoplait), Groupe Danone (Dannon), Walmart, and PepsiCo are saturating the market with less nutritious yogurt. Conventional yogurt usually comes from milk produced by cows that are confined and unable to graze in open pasture.
They’re usually fed GMO grains, not grass…
As the yogurt ferments, chemical defoamers are sometimes added. Then high doses of artificial sweeteners, sugar, or high fructose corn syrup are sometimes added too. That’s not all: colors, preservatives, and gut-harmful carrageenan can be dumped in. These practices alarm me, since yogurt has been such a healthy, longevity-promoting food for ages.
While all of these practices and controversial additives have completely ruined yogurt, what I found most disturbing in the report are the eye-opening claims about what might be in yogurt that isn’t as obvious – and may not even be on the label. Cornucopia was shocked by their own findings and filed a formal complaint with the FDA, asking them to investigate some yogurts on the market because they don’t appear to even meet the legal definition of yogurt!
Surprising Things That Can Be In Yogurt:
HFCS-90 – This variation of high fructose corn syrup contains way more fructose than regular high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). When HFCS-90 is used, the ingredient label won’t indicate that high fructose corn syrup is an ingredient, rather it can be deceptively listed as simply “fructose” or “fructose syrup” without any reference to corn syrup. Regular HFCS contains up to 55% fructose, whereas HFCS-90 has 90% fructose by weight. That’s 9 times more fructose than the average fruit! An overload of fructose in the diet isn’t healthy because diets that are high in fructose are associated with obesity and cardiovascular disease. HFCS-90 is derived from corn starch, which is likely GMO. It’s totally misleading when companies say that fructose is natural and comes from fruit, when it’s a processed additive typically derived from GMO corn.
Neosugar – This is a highly processed form of sugar made by hydrolyzing liquid GMO sugar beets or sugar cane. It’s so heavily processed that your body can’t digest it and it just passes through you like a fiber. It’s also marketed as a prebiotic, but there isn’t much evidence out there that neosugar is more beneficial than real food and it appears to just be a marketing ploy. Natural prebiotics are found naturally in raw fruits and vegetables. According to Dr. Michael Blaut, “It is questionable whether a wholesome diet rich in fruit and vegetables needs to be supplemented with prebiotics for optimal health effects”. Some names used by industry for neosugar are “Nutraflora” and “Fructan”, which is how you may see it listed on the ingredient label. Beware that neosugar is allowed in organic yogurt. Thankfully, the only organic company that is currently known to use neosugar is Horizon, so it’s pretty easy to avoid.
Dimethylpolysiloxane – You’ve heard me refer to this chemical in the past as the silly putty ingredient that’s widely used as a defoamer in oil fryers at restaurants, and famously used in McDonalds french fries and soda fountains. Turns out that it can also be used during the processing of yogurt – and it’s not labeled, even if residues remain in the final product. One of the biggest issues I’ve got with dimethylpolysiloxane is that the FDA allows it to be preserved with formaldehyde, one of the most highly toxic substances on earth.
As Cornucopia highlights in their report, most of the safety studies that have been done on dimethylpolysiloxane were conducted or paid for by the chemical companies, and not enough independent research has been done. Every yogurt company I called – Dannon, Chobani, Zoi, Greek Gods – emphatically denied that they use any anti-foaming chemicals, except for one. Yoplait (General Mills) told us it was proprietary information and “We’re sorry, but we don’t share processing information”.
Nanoparticles – There’s a big controversy surrounding the results of a 2012 study that found titanium dioxide in Dannon yogurt. In May, Mother Jones reported that Dannon Oikos Greek Yogurt contained the nanoparticle titanium dioxide, but have since retracted this from their article following Dannon’s claims that, “We don’t use any ingredients in Dannon plain yogurt that contain titanium dioxide. In the event we use an added color in our products we label it as an added ingredient”. I also contacted Dannon, and they confirmed this information.
However, microscopic particles of titanium dioxide (nanoparticles) can be used as an artificial color to make white foods whiter and brighter. According to Friends of the Earth, there’s been “a tenfold increase in unregulated, unlabeled “nanofood” products on the American market since 2008… made by major companies including Kraft, General Mills, Hershey, Nestle, Mars, Unilever, Smucker’s and Albertsons. But due to a lack of labeling and disclosure, a far greater number of food products with undisclosed nanomaterials are likely currently on the market”. This concerns me because nanoparticles have been shown to carry risks to human health and the environment, and nanoparticles of titanium dioxide are specifically linked to gastrointestinal inflammation.
Synthetic Pesticides – Yogurts that contain fruit likely contain synthetic pesticide residues unless they are organic. Berries are the most popular fruits found in yogurts, and they’re also on the EWG’s Dirty Dozen List of the most contaminated produce.
The pectin that is added to some yogurts may also contain another dose of pesticides, as it’s made from conventional fruit. The National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the President’s Cancer Panel all warn about the health dangers of consuming pesticides found on conventional produce.
Worst Yogurt Choices
What’s Missing From Many Popular Yogurts?
Probiotics – The “Live and Active Cultures” seal on a container of yogurt does not guarantee that any probiotics are actually in the yogurt by the time you eat it – it only verifies they were there when it was manufactured. The addition of artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose may compound this problem because they’ve been shown to be antimicrobials that also have the ability to kill beneficial bacteria in the gut, which warrants more research. Cornucopia sent yogurt samples to the University of Nebraska Lincoln’s Food Processing Center to test for probiotic content, and what they found was astonishing. Several yogurts were found to have less than the required 100 million cultures per gram including Chobani, Walmart Great Value, Yoplait Go-Gurt, LaLa Cult, and Dannon Danimals Smoothies.
Fruit – I know it’s ridiculous, but some fruit-flavored yogurts on the shelves don’t contain any fruit, and are solely flavored with artificial and natural flavors. Yoplait calls one of their flavors “Strawberry Banana Burst GoGurt” but it doesn’t have any strawberries or bananas in it. You also won’t find any fruit in Greek God’s Honey & Strawberry Yogurt, and yogurts targeting children like Dannon Danimals Strawberry Slide Greek Yogurt. The natural and artificial flavors that are used to mimic the taste of fruit are designed to keep you coming back to eat more. As explained by flavor manufacturer Nature’s Flavors, “The trick to making a product taste good is to give the customer only enough flavor to tease their taste buds. You never want to completely satisfy their tastes”. Do you really want to be eating fake flavors that were manufactured to keep you unsatisfied and wanting more, or would you rather just eat real fruit and all the nutrients that come with it?
Beneficial Fat – Cornucopia commissioned the University of Nebraska’s lab to study the nutritional profile of several yogurts, specifically for the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids and the levels of beneficial fats such as conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). They found that organic yogurt contained better fat ratios and way more CLA than conventional yogurt. Chobani yogurt came out the worst, compared with Cedar Summit Farm’s organic yogurt coming out on top with nearly 20 times more CLA than Chobani.
Always Choose Organic Yogurt.
Last month I broke down for you all the big reasons to only choose organic dairy products, including yogurt, which is corroborated in Cornucopia’s report.
When you choose organic, you avoid:
Genetically Modified Ingredients (GMO) – Most sweeteners in yogurt come from GMOs. Whenever you see high fructose corn syrup, fructose, or sugar on the ingredient list it’s a pretty safe bet that it’s derived from GMO corn or GMO beet sugar.
Growth Hormone Drugs – Banned in over 30 countries, linked to cancer, and may increase the incidence of painful mastitis in cows (requiring antibiotics).
Herbicides & Pesticides – Residues from chemical herbicides and pesticides end up in our food and water, and also contaminate the food of dairy cows. It’s possible that these chemicals are passing through to their milk, which have been linked to kidney disease and other diseases in humans.
How To Choose The Best Yogurt:
The only kind of yogurt I recommend is plain organic yogurt (greek or regular), which you can sweeten yourself with fresh fruit, raw honey or maple syrup. Cornucopia built a great reference, a Yogurt Buyer’s Guide, which rates 114 yogurt brands from best to worst based on these criteria:
Organic vs. Conventional
Thickeners and Stabilizers
Milk Protein Concentrate
Plain Organic Yogurt
They ultimately recommend minimally processed organic brands that are either sometimes grass-fed or 100% grass-fed. These include: Traders Point Creamery, Maple Hill Creamery, Nancy’s, Organic Valley, Kalona, Wallaby Organic, and Clover Stornetta, Stonyfield, and regional brands such as Butterworks Farm, Seven Stars, Straus, Hawthorne Valley Farm, and Cedar Summit.
By doing so, we support organic farmers, protect our environment, encourage humane treatment of animals, and ensure good health for ourselves and our families.
Cornucopia also conducted a cost analysis and found that many of the organic yogurts that they recommend are cheaper (per ounce) than conventional over-processed yogurts (including yogurts that are marketed for children)
You can also, of course, make your own yogurt, which my mother has been doing since I can remember! She still makes it for me so I don’t have to buy it that often. I would start with the best ingredients of course – grass-fed organic (and raw – if you can find it) milk would be ideal.