March 7, 2012

Soup to Nuts: 'Gurt alert, yo

It's always a healthier snack/dessert than a candy bar or a soda, but, parents be warned, yogurt can be sneaky sweet.

By Meredith Goad
Staff Writer

Walking down the yogurt aisle at the supermarket has become the same kind of overwhelming, mind-numbing experience as the dizzying stroll down the cereal aisle.

click image to enlarge

Yogurt makers such as Yoplait, Dannon and Stonyfield increasingly are targeting kids – and their parents, who may assume they’re providing their child with a healthy snack or school-lunch item when that may not necessarily be the case.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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Kids'll dig this dip, and they can help make it, too

Brenda Bracy, a nutrition associate with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Eat Well Nutrition Education Program, makes this yogurt-based dip with the children in the program:


This is a perfect recipe for even the youngest of children to help with in the kitchen. With clean hands, children can scoop, measure and pour the ingredients into the bowl and help with mixing.

You may have a little extra cleanup afterwards, but it's well worth it. Children will be more likely to try new foods when they have helped make them. This is also a great opportunity for one-on-one time with your child, whether they are an only child or home alone with you while others are napping or going to school.

3/4 cup light mayonnaise

1 cup plain yogurt (Greek type makes thicker)

1 tablespoon dried parsley

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

Mix all ingredients in a medium size bowl with a fork or wire whisk. Chill.

Use to dip fresh vegetables such as carrots, celery, broccoli or cucumbers. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to one week.



Container size: 4 ounces

Calories: 100

Sugar: 14 grams

High fructose corn syrup: None

Artificial colors or flavors: None

Taste: Reminiscent of a strawberry Sweet-Tart; banana flavor is hard to detect

Other flavors: Strawberry Punch, Raspberry Rainbow, Triple Cherry, Cotton Candy

How it grabs your child's attention: The Trix rabbit is featured on the packaging, and each package of four yogurts come with one plastic "Silly Swirler" in one of four colors. Children use them to swirl the red and yellow colors together -- then they ask mom to buy more yogurt so they can "collect all four."


Container size: 4 ounces

Calories: 110

Sugar: 12 grams

High fructose corn syrup: None

Artificial colors and flavors: None. Also, no antibiotics, synthetic growth hormones or persistent pesticides.

Taste: Maybe it's because it's made with whole milk, but this yogurt is ultra-creamy, the flavor is subtle, and it doesn't taste too sweet.

Other flavors: Plain, banana, peach, blueberry

How it grabs your child's attention: This is for babies ages 6 to 18 months old, so the packaging is geared more toward catching Mom's eye with photos of babies and natural ingredients. The yogurt is made with Omega-3 DHA and zinc for developing brains, which appeals to parents who want to raise an Einstein. Stonyfield also makes a YoToddler yogurt for 1- to 3-year-old children that comes in strawberry-banana flavor with DHA, and apple flavor with DHA and iron.


Container size: 2.25 ounces

Calories: 70

Sugar: 10 grams

High fructose corn syrup: None

Artificial colors and flavors: Yes – the cotton candy is a sky-blue color.

Taste: This definitely tastes like cotton candy, and it's incredibly sweet, like eating a spoonful of sugar.

Other flavors: Banana Split/Strawberry Milkshake; Strawberry Splash/Berry Blue Blast; Rad Raspberry/Paradise Punch; Strawberry Banana Burst/Watermelon Meltdown; Strawberry Kiwi-Kick/Chill-Out Cherry; Phineas and Ferb Summer Punch/Perry Punch; Sponge Bob Special Edition Strawberry Riptide & Bikini Bottom Berry

How it grabs your child's attention: Yogurt in a tube – what else is there to say? Well, the tubes glow in the dark and are called "slurp sabers." And Yoda is on the package. Parents, you don't have a chance.


Container size: 2 and 6 ounces

Calories: 60 calories in 2 ounces; 80 calories in 6 ounces

Sugar: 2-ounce tube contains 9 grams; 6-ounce tube contains 13 grams

High fructose corn syrup: None

Artificial colors and flavors: None

Taste: Even though this has as much sugar as the Go-Gurt, for some reason it doesn't taste quite as sweet. But it is much sweeter than other Stonyfield yogurts. Good strawberry flavor.

Other flavors: Cherry & Berry; Blueberry & Lemonade; Strawberry Vanilla & Blueberry; Strawberry & Banana

How it grabs your child's attention: Sticker on the package explains how kids can win a private screening of "The Lorax" movie.


Container size: 1.76 ounces

Calories: 60

Sugar: 7 grams

High fructose corn syrup: None

Artificial colors and flavors: None

Taste: Strong banana flavor

Other flavors: The banana is packaged with strawberry and raspberry flavors.

How it grabs your child's attention: Cartoon dinosaur; calls itself a "dairy snack" instead of yogurt


Container size: 3.5 ounces

Calories: 100

Sugar: 11 grams

High fructose corn syrup: None

Artificial colors or flavors: None

Taste: Yogurt is sweet; grahams are fairly tasteless.

Other flavors: Strawberry with chocolate grahams

How it grabs your child's attention: Monkey on the package, grahams in the shape of monkeys, bananas, faces and D's, presumably for Dannon's


Container size: 6 ounces

Calories: 180

Sugar: 27 grams

High fructose corn syrup: None in the yogurt, but there's some corn syrup in the candy.

Artificial colors and flavors: Yes, in the candy.

Taste: Tastes like most sweet vanilla yogurts, but the M&Ms take it over the top

Other flavors: Other toppings include granola and Oreos.

How it grabs your child's attention: This product is not specifically targeted to children and is not on the shelf at kids' eye level, but the toppings are definitely kid-friendly.


Container size: Just under 4 ounces (about 3.75)

Calories: 100

Sugar: 16 grams

High fructose corn syrup: None

Artificial colors and flavors: None

Taste: Bright raspberry flavor; doesn't taste too sweet despite the amount of sugar

Other flavors: None

How it grabs your child's attention: This yogurt, for ages 2 to 6, also has more understated packaging geared towards parents, not kids.

– Meredith Goad, Staff Writer

There are, oh, about a million different brands, and each brand has a million different flavors. It used to be that our choices were plain, vanilla, and strawberry – OK, maybe banana, too. Now you can sink your spoon into pineapple coconut, boysenberry and caramel delight.

You can get fruit on the bottom or cookies on top. There's high-protein Greek yogurt and low-carb regular yogurt.

What's more, yogurt products targeted to children are increasingly showing up on store shelves, right at the littlest shoppers' eye level. And they come in flavors like cotton candy as well as strawberry and banana.

Looking at the labels, it seems at first glance that some of these yogurts, which are supposed to represent a healthy choice, are filled with sugar.

How does a parent choose? When do the benefits of yogurt – active cultures, calcium and Vitamin D – get outweighed by the amount of sugar in the product?

"They really are getting ridiculous in that yogurt aisle with the sugary yogurts targeted to children," says Brenda Bracy, a nutrition associate with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Eat Well Nutrition Education Program, which teaches children how to make better food choices.

"Of course, the message is always, less sugar is always better," she said.

But like most stories, this one is more complicated than you might think. There's a certain amount of naturally occurring sugar in yogurt, which makes reading the nutrition labels a little more challenging. A 6-ounce cup of plain yogurt contains 12 grams of sugar in the form of lactose.

And a cup of yogurt is not the same nutritionally as a soda or candy bar.

Joan Salge Blake, a registered dietician and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association), points out that Americans are only getting half of the recommended three daily servings of dairy. Consumers need to think about their family's overall diet, she said, when considering whether to put yogurt with added sugar into their grocery carts.

Sugar in yogurt is not the same as sugar in colas or other sweet snacks, Salge Blake said, because yogurt provides better overall nutrition.

"I don't want to scare people into thinking yogurt is a big source of added sugar in the diet, which it's not," Salge Blake said. "The number-one added sugars in the diet are sweetened soft drinks and also grain-based desserts – cookies and cakes and things like that."

But how many children do you know who stay away from sodas, cookies and candy on a daily basis? It doesn't help that American kids' palates have been programmed for the taste of sugar from all the processed foods they eat.

Bracy has to find clever ways to get the children she works with to even try plain yogurt.

"We've noticed the older kids, a lot of them will turn up their noses at plain yogurt," Bracy said. "One of my favorite snacks I like to do with the kids is a pyramid yogurt parfait where it has all of the food groups except vegetables. And some of the kids – not all of them, but a good majority of them – will say, 'Ooh, ooh, that's too sour. I don't like it.' "

So how much sugar is too much in these yogurts targeted to young consumers?

Erin Dow, expert chef for the Scarborough-based Guiding Stars program, which awards stars to foods based on their nutritional value, says the Guiding Stars nutritionist recommends a rule of thumb of no more than 30 grams of sugar per 8 ounces of yogurt.

Most children's yogurts come in 2-, 3- and 4-ounce servings – most commonly 4-ounce cups – so that's a limit of about 15 grams for 4 ounces.

It can get really tricky and confusing reading the nutrition labels on yogurt, but it's important to try, not only for sugar content but also for things like artificial ingredients. The brands vary widely, but some manufacturers do seem to be making an effort to make their products healthier.

Yoplait, for example, just reformulated its Trix yogurt so it now contains no artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners or high-fructose corn syrup. (The yogurt is colored with vegetable juices, beta carotene and turmeric extract.)

Yes, you have to watch your kids' eyes pop when they see that silly rabbit, famous for pushing sugary cereal to children. But a 4-ounce cup of the reformulated yogurt contains a total of 14 grams of sugar, which meets the Guiding Stars guideline.

"A lot of manufacturers are catching on that it's not just health-nut granola moms that are worried about things like dyes and additives," Dow said. "I think new labeling instructions or nutritional navigation systems will make the sugar content more transparent, too, over time."

Salge Blake said there's been a lot of discussion about changing labeling requirements to include added sugar.

"This way people wouldn't get confused when they saw the yogurt container, and they could separate out what is naturally occurring and what is added sugar," she said.

Meanwhile, parents will have to decide for themselves which is better: A 2.5-ounce tube of YoPlait's Go-Gurt with 70 calories, red and blue dyes, artificial flavors and 10 grams of sugar, or a 2-ounce tube of Stonyfield's organic YoKids Squeezers with 60 calories, no artificial flavors or colors, but nearly as much sugar as the Go-Gurt?

Still confused? Here are some tips from the experts on how to get yogurt into your children without filling them up with sugar:

n Start out feeding your children plain yogurt when they are babies so they will adapt to it and don't get used to the taste of sugary yogurts.

"When they've grown up on the sweetened stuff, the plain is just not going to appeal to them," Bracy said.

n There are 4 grams of sugar in a teaspoon. Think about that when you're shopping for yogurt and looking at labels, and put it in the context of your child's overall diet.

Dow sends flavored yogurts to school with her own children, but it's part of an overall lunch that might include snap peas, whole grain crackers and a banana. "It's not going with an orange and strawberries and gummi snacks," she said.

n Bracy recommends mixing half and half a flavored yogurt like vanilla or strawberry with plain so the kids get a snack that's slightly sweetened and that they'll actually eat, but the sugar content is not over the top.

n Are those yogurts with cookies on top inherently evil? Dow allows her own children to have them, but only as an occasional dessert or mid-afternoon snack, not as breakfast or lunch.

n Add your own sweeteners to plain yogurt. Try honey, fresh fruit or a little unsweetened applesauce. Yes, it's sugar, but at least you'll be in control of how much you use. And you'll be adding vitamins and minerals instead of just the empty calories you get with sugar.

Bracy has even added mandarin oranges and a sprinkling of cocoa powder to the yogurt she makes for the children she works with, and they eat it up.

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

Twitter: MeredithGoad


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