Greek yogurt has taken over the dairy aisle and has made its way into nutritionally beneficial staples throughout the day, from breakfast to dessert. The popularity of the high protein, low-fat product only began to gain its popularity less than 10 years ago thanks to its rich benefits and wide-variety of flavors and ingredient potential in the kitchen. However, it wasn’t always like this, and the industry has deceived consumers with high-sugar levels that turn it into a junk food, making it almost as bad as a Snickers bar or tub of ice cream. There are guidelines to stick to when sorting out health illusionists from brands that have stayed true to their consumers’ health.
Hamilton Colwell combined his background in food science and finance to pursue the Greek yogurt industry in 2007 after creating a homemade batch of yogurt for his pregnant cousin. It was then he had foresight into a niche market of yogurt created with the needs of women in mind, but that was only the beginning for the new Maia yogurt brand. That same year, Chobani founder Hamdi Ulukaya launched his yogurt product in a small grocery store on Long Island, N.Y., and soon after it took off and landed in major supermarkets throughout the country, such as Stop & Shop, Shoprite, and health-conscience markets Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s.
Meanwhile, Maia Founder and President Colwell was just ending his five-year investment banking career to launch Maia full-time in 2010. His creation, a Greek yogurt blend of local grass-fed milk and real fruit, contains over 90 billion cultures of healthy probiotics. He armed himself with a registered dietician, diary experts from Cornell’s School of Agriculture and Life Science, along with scientists to find a balance between healthy and tasty. In order to cut overhead costs, he shares space in a facility in dairy country Harrisburg, Pa., supported by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), along with the Department of Agriculture to produce his yogurt.
Maia, named after the Greek goddess of growth, takes after its name. The startup went from producing 10,000 cups a month to the company’s current 100,000 cups a week, with an exponential growth and a contract with Whole Foods in 2013. That same year, Whole Foods decided to end its relationship with genetically-modified Chobani, which makes up 12.5 percent of the yogurt market, to make room for non-GMO foods and organic brands like Maia instead.
“It was certainly a leap of faith, but I thought it was the right times,” Colwell told Medical Daily. “If you understand how food is developed it makes sense that sooner or later the consumer would change their purchasing practices and choose low-sugar options.”
Maia has eight non-fat and low-fat options made with organic grass-fed cow milk from farmers that have never given their cows hormones, real fruit along with billions of live active probiotic bacteria, prebiotic fiber, protein, and only 2 to 4 grams of cane sugar. Brands that compare to the newest competitor in the superfood Greek yogurt market Maia’s 120 calories, 14 grams of sugar, 11 grams of protein, and 25 percent calcium strawberry Greek yogurt, include:
- Greek Corner Muller with Strawberry: 150 calories, 21 grams of sugar, 9 grams of protein, and 25 percent calcium.
- Fage Total Strawberry: 170 calories, 16 grams of sugar, 11 grams of protein, and 10 percent calcium.
- Stonyfield Greek Strawberry: 120 calories, 17 grams of sugar, 12 grams of protein, 15 percent calcium.
How To Shop For The Healthiest Greek Yogurt
1. Read The List Of Ingredients
When choosing any type of food that’s not naturally made, it’s important to check the labels. To make yogurt, all you need is milk and two live bacterial cultures, Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus, which turn the milk into yogurt through a fermentation process. After that, fruits and sugars are added for flavor. A long list of ingredients is one of the first red flags of a chemical-filled plastic cup disguised as a reliable and healthy food.
2. Watch Your Sugars, Including The Fruit
Sugar is the enemy today and if you’re trying to cut back on the number of sugar grams listed on the label, don’t be dissuaded by the yogurt’s serving size. Yogurt derives much of its sugar from naturally occurring milk, known as lactose and also the fresh or blended fruit inside. It’s just important to make sure you’re not consuming sugar-laden fruit or fruit syrups. Currently, labels don’t differentiate between naturally occurring sugars and added sugars which are thrown in during or after the yogurt-making process is complete. The FDA has proposed to create a new section on yogurt labels that will identify the amount of added sugar put into products so you know what you’re consuming, but until then look at the label and avoid any yogurt products that list sugar as the first or second ingredient.
“We are in full support of a transparent nutrition label,” Colwell said, who also believes Americans would eventually realize the amount of sugar they were eating in unhealthy proportions and he was ready to supply them with a product that used small amounts of natural cane sugar. “It’s a step in the right direction. That’s a problem that consumers are faced with. They think they’re eating one thing, but they’re actually eating another. “
3. Know Your Daily Calcium Percentages
Yogurt is on every list for the best food source for calcium, which is the most abundant mineral in the human body and is necessary for the structural support of bone and teeth. In order to get the recommended 1,000 milligrams (mg) a day for adults, the National Institutes of Health recommends getting calcium from food sources before relying on supplements to do the rest of the work. Yogurt can help you achieve the necessary requirements, with its average 8-ounce cup providing 452mg of calcium. Look at the back of your label and shoot for one that provides at least 15 percent of the daily value of calcium per serving.
4. Learn About Probiotics And Cultures
Probiotics are good bacteria living inside your digestive track and are the key to yogurt’s health benefits, but not all bacteria in yogurt sold in your supermarket has “live and active cultures” because some companies will treat their yogurt with heat. The heating process will kill off bacteria, reduce the tartness, and increase its shelf life. If a company uses this process, they’re required by the FDA to put it on their label.
The National Yogurt Association offers a Live & Active Cultures seal for products that contain significant and health-beneficial amounts of L. bulgaricus and S. thermophilus. Not every company that earns this seal use it on their product because they want to avoid label crowding and busyness.
5. Separate The Non-GMOs From GMOs
Genetically modified organisms are plants or animals created through genetic engineering that cannot occur in nature or through traditionally crossbreeding. It’s an experimental technology that can create unstable combinations of plants and animals with unpredictable side effects. Currently, more than 40 types of plants have been genetically modified, which is used to make corn sweeter, apples redder, salmon mature faster, and foods virus resistant, among others, according to Scitable, a Nature periodical.
Chobani posted a statement on its website that explained the reason its yogurt is genetically modified is because the company requires a high volume of milk and there isn’t enough organic milk available to meet consumer demand. Whole Foods will require labels on all genetically modified foods carried in its grocery stores by 2018, but currently has 250 non-GMO brands to choose from.