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Frozen Yogurt: Health Food or Dessert?

Is the new Super Fro-Yo really a “guilt-free” indulgence? Or is there a health halo at work? Nutrition Diva has the scoop.

By
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS,
October 23, 2012
Episode #210

Frozen Yogurt: Health Food or Dessert?

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I got an email this week from a representative for a popular frozen yogurt chain. She had some news about frozen yogurt that she was hoping I might share with all of you. And share I will!

You may remember a previous podcast I did on frozen yogurt, in which I explained that most commercially-prepared frozen yogurt is heat-treated in such a way that it no longer contains the beneficial bacteria that make regular yogurt so good for you. (And for a refresher course on beneficial bacteria and what they do for you, check out my episode on Cultured and Fermented Foods.)

The publicist wanted to make me aware of a new Super Fro-Yo line, which contains 7 different strains of live and active probiotic cultures! But that’s not all. Super Fro-Yo also provides at least 4 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber, and 20% of your daily requirement of calcium and vitamin D per serving. Of course, it also has around 120 calories and up to 17 grams of sugar. But, come on: Protein! Fiber! Probiotics! As far as desserts go, you could do worse.

How Small is Small?

There’s just one catch: The company provides their nutrition info based on a serving size of 4 ounces, or half a cup. This strikes me as a bit disingenuous because I doubt many people eat only 4 ounces of frozen yogurt. After all, the smallest size you can order at this particular chain contains 7 ounces. But it gets even worse.

This chain is gradually changing all of its stores over to a self-serve format, where you dispense your own yogurt and toppings into a cup, which is then weighed at check-out to calculate what you owe. Why are they doing this? Well, maybe swirling the frozen yogurt into your own cup makes it more fun. Or, maybe having customers serve themselves saves on labor costs. But I suspect the primary motivation is something rather more sinister—or at least, mercenary: They know that most people will serve themselves a lot more than they mean to. And because you pay by the ounce, that translates into higher sales for the chain.

Nutrition Diva Goes Undercover

Out of curiosity, I asked the publicist if they had any data on the average sale at the self-serve locations and she replied that this data was, sadly, not available. So, because there is almost nothing I won’t do for my listeners, I decided to stake out my local, neighborhood location to see what’s actually going on there.

I got there a little before the evening rush, so the young lady behind the counter had time to chat. Clearly, she did not recognize me in the blonde wig and mustache I had donned for this undercover stake-out, because she helpfully volunteered that first-time customers are shocked at how much their cup of frozen yogurt rings up to. Apparently, $7 or more is fairly typical. At $0.44 per ounce, this works out to a pound of frozen yogurt…or 4 servings. Repeat customers, she says, usually manage to ring in at closer to $5, or just 3 servings’ worth.

I hung around for a while to see for myself, and I have to say, this young woman knows her customers. Of the 16 customers I observed serving up their own yogurt, the smallest serving rang up to $2.29, or just over 4 ounces. The largest was $7.04, or 4 servings. The average sale was $4.92, or just under 3 servings. Based on the serving size that’s typically consumed, the nutrition information should really be given for 12 ounces of yogurt, not 4. Of course, that would make this yogurt look a lot less virtuous.

Just for fun, I asked a few folks why they chose frozen yogurt over another dessert. Many of them told me it was because they felt frozen yogurt was “healthier” than ice cream. I also asked a few of them if they had any idea how many calories their dish might contain. Based on my rough calculations and on the weight of their servings, most of them underestimated by quite a bit. And for the sake of everyone’s sanity, I’m not even going to get into the vats of syrup and bins of crushed cookies and candy bars that you can spoon over your dish of yogurt.

Watch Out for the Samples

One last thing. The little tasting samples that the employees at the yogurt store hand out weigh well over 1 ounce. I know because I asked for one and stealthily put it on the scale before eating it. (Hey! It was RESEARCH!). So, if you’re the type who likes to sample a few flavors before making up your mind, you could easily consume close to a 4-ounce serving before you even pick up your cup and start swirling. (Sampling, by the way, is another good example of unplanned eating, which I talked about in last week’s podcast!) 

 

Now it’s true that, these extra-large servings of Super Fro Yo contain that much more fiber and protein! But also that much more sugar. This isn’t health food, people. It’s dessert. Dessert with beneficial bacteria, but dessert nonetheless. It’s not as if there is no other way to get these nutrients.

Still, maybe the idea of a dessert with some extra benefits appeals to you. That’s fine. Just keep in mind that if you’re trying to limit your added sugar intake to the recommended 25 grams or less per day, you’ll need to stop swirling at 8 ounces of frozen yogurt or less. (Good luck with that; according to my sources, it takes quite a bit of practice.) Of course, that blows your sugar budget for the entire day so you’d have to skip all the candy toppings—and the rest of the day would need to be completely sugar-free, as well.

I doubt you’ll see many other people at the yogurt store following your lead. But hey, they’re really just here for the fiber.

See also: Beware the Health Halo

Keep in Touch

If you have a suggestion for a future show topic send an email to nutrition@quickanddirtytips.com. You can also post comments and questions on my Nutrition Diva Facebook Page. I answer a lot of listener questions in my free weekly newsletter, so if you’ve sent a question my way, be sure you’re signed up to receive that.

Frozen Yogurt and Man Eating Frozen Yogurt images courtesy of Shutterstock

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