Pull any yogurt off the shelf wherever you shop for food (yes, including Whole Foods) and the range of sugar will astound you. How do you find one that tastes good and is “good” for you?
1. Yogurt manufacturers include extra ingredients for texture, shelf life and cost savings
2. Sugar ranged from 0-49g across all types and varieties
Since there was no easy trick to optimize for short ingredient lists, low sugar and taste (based on ads, front of packaging, brand halo, etc), I used data plus my family’s preferences to help find the best yogurt for my family.
Family Variables (otherwise known as constraints)
1. Greek’s texture won’t work
To start, plain Greek yogurt was not an option for my family. While I often use it in baking, neither my husband nor my son like the texture of Greek yogurt or its taste.
Even if we could get beyond Greek yogurt’s texture, the flavored Greek yogurts present the same challenges as non Greek varieties: food additives for color, flavoring, preservation, emulsification and to lower costs.
2. Plain is too plain
I tried buying simple plain yogurt and was met with rejection. Determined to try to be creative, I added in mix ins to the plain varieties to see if it would help. I read examples of people who buy plain yogurt and mix in their own flavors and additions ranging from honey, to fruits, to many other items.
Unfortunately, this added step doesn’t work for us on a regular basis for a couple of reasons:
- It takes quite a bit of time to cut up fruit to be small enough to mix in and have my son eat it. This may change when he grows older, but for now its a non starter.
- My husband needs to eat his yogurt on the run.
- It isn’t easy to replicate vanilla, both my husband’s and son’s favorite flavor.
3. Low sugar and clean ingredients are a must
Given my son can put back an entire carton of yogurt these days, I wanted to get the lowest sugar per serving possible while also avoiding Carrageenan (you can read here why I avoid this ingredient), artificial flavors and colors, and other preservatives if possible.
I love a good challenge. Given my constraints, I set out to find a yogurt that fit my family.
How I found Siggi’s
My definition for success with this yogurt challenge was a yogurt with these seven attributes:
- Low Sugar
- Short Ingredient List
- NO Carrageenan
- Minimal “non clean” ingredients
- Available across Target, Whole Foods and Safeway (the stores where we do our main shopping)
- Tasted good
Given 89% of the yogurts available to purchase today are flavored, cutting the results this way didn’t narrow down my search too signficantly. I choose to first focus on vanilla, my husband’s and son’s favorite flavor. While it is the most popular flavor with a little over 200 options, working with ~200 seemed much more reasonable than over 1800 flavored options.
2. Low Sugar
Vanilla flavored yogurts have both the widest range (0-49g) of sugar and the highest concentration of high sugar options. 161 of the 207 options, or 78%, of Vanilla yogurt products contain 13 grams of sugar or more! More than 3 teaspoons of sugar; half the daily recommended sugar intake for an adult in the US.
Of the 46 options left, 15 were Greek. While this meant automatic elimination for my family, your preferences may be different, so it’s worth noting the following brands had low sugar Greek option(s): Brown Cow, Chobani, Dannon, Oikos, Three Happy Cows, Tillamook, YoCrunch and Yoplait.
With 32 options left, I then sorted by ingredient list length.
3. Short Ingredient list
Yogurt companies’ ingredient lists can be tricky because of the way different manufacturers list yogurt cultures. I’ve seen variations from generic “live active cultures” to listing out every single culture used to something in between.
Because of the non standardization of cultures, just counting the ingredient list isn’t enough of a screen. However, given plain Greek yogurt averages 7 ingredients, including cultures, I decided to exclude products with ingredient lists containing more than 10 ingredients.
This decision cut my options significantly. I went from 32 to 15 vanilla yogurt products to consider. It also eliminated any options from Stonyfield, Yoplait, and Dannon, among others.
4. NO Carrageenan
Carrageenan is an ingredient I try to minimize anyone in my family consuming. You can read more about why I avoid this ingredient here. Because I already cut the list of ~200 vanilla yogurts significantly, none of the remaining 16 options contained Carrageenan.
I was now down to 15 products and 13 brands (Belfonte, Colombo, Crowley, Cultural Reveolution Organic, Dreaming Cow, Green Valley Organic, Hiland, Kalona, Meadow Gold, Siggi’s, Sunnyside Farms, Sunshine and Whole Soy).
5. Minimal “Non Clean” Ingredients
I use non clean ingredients to mean food additives like preservatives as well as artificial flavors and colors.
Of the remaining 15 products:
- 100% contained added sugar (ranging from agave syrup and organic cane juice to sucralose and high fructose corn syrup)
- 53% contained Gelatin
- 47% contained preservatives including, Potassium Sorbate, Benzoic Acid, and Tricalcium Phosphate
- 27% contained Pectin
- 13% contained artificial flavors
- 0% Contained Guar or Xanthan Gum
I eliminated the products containing Gelatin, the various preservatives, Pectin and artificial flavors. I also eliminated the Whole Soy vanilla soy yogurt and the Green Valley lactose free vanilla yogurt as our family does not avoid cow’s milk, and, in fact, prefers it.
What was left?
5 yogurts. 4 brands. 3 companies.
- Kalona Organics (makes both Cultural Revolution and Kalona brands (Organic and Supernatural)
- Dreaming Cow
Interestingly and non surprising all of these brands were organic. However, if I had first cut by Organic, I would have still had to filter for other variables. Carrageenan for example is allowable in organic products, and organic sugar is still sugar.
Each of the 5 yogurts was available to buy at Safeway, Whole Foods and Target. However, only Siggi’s was sold at all 3. I grabbed Siggi’s on a grocery trip and hoped it would past the taste test.
Mission accomplished. Siggi’s passed both the taste and texture test from my husband and son. As a result, our family actually consumes more yogurt than before.
Making food choices is hard when you are optimizing across multiple factors. My access to data to pre work through a lot of the filtering before getting to the store was life changing. I might never have found Siggi’s and certainly not as quickly. The reality is very few of us have time to sit and compare the various products while we are in the store-I know I don’t due to either my son’s accompanying me to the store or doing a quick grocery store run.
And we cannot rely on the retailers to do the filtering for us. Remember how the vanilla yogurt sugar products ranged from 0-49g? I found products in Target, Safeway AND Whole Foods that fell towards the higher end of this spectrum.
Additionally, just filtering for Organic isn’t always the answer. (You can read more about my thoughts on this here)
I hope sharing my yogurt discovery journey was helpful to you. Share your feedback, comments and yogurt brands in the comments please.