Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Dig In - Yogurt

Yogurt is good.  
Yogurt tastes good and is good for you.  It can be used in baking.  It can be used in many types of soups, beverages, sauces or condiments - especially with Indian or Middle Eastern dishes.  It is excellent served for breakfast with granola or cooked grains.  It makes a great smoothie along with fresh fruit or juice.

Yogurt is simple. 
Yogurt is milk, period.  The milk is cultured with bacteria to produce the unique flavor and texture of yogurt.  Yogurt has the same nutritional value as milk.  Various good bacteria - such as Lactobacillus bulgaricus, Lactobacillus acidophilus or Streptococcus thermophilus - are added to the milk.  The bacteria feed and grow on the nutrients in the milk.  As the bacteria ferment (digest) the nutrients in the milk, lactose gets used up and lactic acid and other substances are formed.  This elimination of lactose is the reason that people who are lactose intolerant usually have no trouble eating yogurt.

Buying yogurt - what to look for
When you buy yogurt - look for brands which contain just milk and good bacteria.  Look for a label that assures you that "live and active cultures" are present.  Avoid those with added gums, stabilizers, thickeners (like pectin or carageenan) or gelatins.  Try to find plain, unsweetened yogurt - you can always add your own sweetening in amounts which almost certainly will be less than those added for you.  You can choose from nonfat, lowfat or whole milk yogurt.  Nonfat is great for baking or beverages.  I like whole yogurt sometimes for raitas or in dishes where the added richness makes a difference.

Yogurt and health mystique
I have borrowed the term "health mystique" from Marion Nestle, a nationally known nutritionist and book author who teaches at New York University.  Her book What to Eat - An Aisle-by-Aisle Guide to Savvy Food Choices and Good Eating is the source of much of the information included in this post.
You can get the paperback version for about $12.  If you are looking to become a more informed food buyer and eater and to  "cut through the confusion" in the supermarket this is a great book.

You all have probably noticed that food manufacturers really like to make health claims for their products.  It works.  People want to buy healthy food - for lots of reasons.  So that is why you see yogurt makers promoting yogurt - even the kind loaded with sugar and other sweeteners - as a health food.

So is yogurt a "health food"?   Ms. Nestle says "it depends" and adds:  "Beyond the marketing hype, I think there may be something to the acidophilus story,  and I like the idea that friendly bacteria replace the bad ones and do good things for health.  Even if the evidence for special health benefits is not as compelling as advertised, eating yogurt for its friendly bacteria is attractive, worth trying and can't hurt."

Glass on the left.  Plastic on the right.
I understand how tempting it is to grab a bunch of those little containers at the store to keep on hand at home.  It is a quick and easy solution if the kids need a snack or you want a portable low calorie lunch.  I am all in favor of little containers of yogurt for snacks or on the go living.  But I beg you to consider taking a little time to modify your yogurt lifestyle.  The first step is to purchase reusable containers.  You could use 8 ounce glass canning jars with plastic lids.  They are attractive, durable, leak proof and easily cleaned - but they are also heavy and breakable.   Another alternative would be to use plastic screw top freezer containers.  They also are leak proof and durable - as well as light weight and non breakable.  I got mine at Fleet Farm.  They are made by the Ball jar company.  Once a week or so you could fill containers with PLAIN yogurt - either purchased or homemade.  Leave a little room for whatever flavoring or additions you wish to add.  Cover, refrigerate and you are good to go.  For a little investment of time you will end up with a much higher quality and less sweet product at a lower cost.

Yogurt is confusing - but it does not have to be
By now you may be thinking, "But yogurt isn't simple.  It is complicated.  It is confusing.  There are so many choices.  So many flavors.  So many brands.  So many added ingredients.  So many types of sweeteners.  So many health claims."  What is a person to do?

If those are some of your thoughts, you are right.  In 2010 in America yogurt is really not simple.  Yogurt manufacturers are good at their job - which is selling yogurt.  So they keep making more flavors and sweetenings and varieties and expanding their grocery store shelf space and we keep buying more yogurt.  Sweet sells.  Yogurt has been the fastest-growing dairy product in the United States for many years.  By 2003, we were consuming about 2.5 billion pounds a year - about 7 pounds a year per capita.  (The Swedes were eating about 63 pounds per capita - so Americans are still pikers when it comes to yogurt.  Don't expect the yogurt situation to simplify any time soon.  I expect choices to continue to multiply.)

Nutritionist and author Marion Nestle counted 400 kinds of yogurt in an medium sized supermarket in New York in 2004.  She had a pretty hard time finding plain, unsweetened yogurt.  I have had the same experience.   That is why I mostly make my own yogurt now.  It is easy and tomorrow I will tell you how to do it so you can make - and flavor - your own yogurt if you want to.

No comments:

Post a Comment