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The Yogurtization of America

New stores are popping up across the country that serve yogurt like ice cream, loaded with toppings. But can too much of this fad food be a bad thing?

August 21st, 2012

Valerie Fischel
Chobani yogurt shop, NYC

Yogurt, the longtime staple of calorie-counters everywhere, is experiencing a boom right now thanks to the Greek yogurt craze. Sales of the thicker, tarter yogurt have doubled every year for the past three years, and it seems as though you see it everywhere you turn: Think splashy Olympics sponsorships, John Stamos peddling it in fancy ad campaigns, and even Ben & Jerry have a frozen Greek yogurt variety.

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Companies have recently begun taking full advantage of the growing market by opening ice cream parlor–style locations across the country to tap into yogurt’s status as the latest fad food.

Last month, Chobani opened a “yogurt bar” in Manhattan. Customers choose from set Greek yogurt concoctions with combinations like dried Turkish figs with clover honey and walnuts, or cucumber, sea salt and mint. Dannon opened a location, called the Yogurt Culture Company, in Manhattan near Grand Central Station last month that lets shoppers pile on toppings themselves. BOOM Yogurt in Boulder, Colorado will celebrate its one-year anniversary in September.

It is well known that yogurt helps protect against osteoporosis, maintain muscle, improve immune systems and aid in digestive health. But does this new obsession with the dairy product have the potential to eliminate the benefits, especially if consumers are piling on toppings at a yogurt bar? Can you ever have too much yogurt?

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Valerie Fischel
Chobani yogurt shop, NYC

“Yogurt is healthy, but like any food, you also need to be careful not to go overboard,” says Kristin Kirkpatrick, R.D., YouBeauty’s Nutrition Expert and wellness manager for the Cleveland Clinic’s Lifestyle 180 program. “Eat too much of it on a daily basis and you’re not getting the full spectrum of the vitamins and nutrients you need in your diet.”

Studies also show that consuming too much calcium, which yogurt is packed with, can increase your risk of kidney stones, prostate cancer or calcium build-up in blood vessels, as well as impair the absorption of iron and zinc. Too much Vitamin A can weaken your bones and eating too many dairy foods can increase your risk of ovarian cancer.

Yogurt is also buzzing with bacteria, or probiotics, that usually help balance your digestive system. Kirkpatrick says it is generally hard to OD on probiotics and some companies actually add extra microorganisms to their yogurts. But studies do show that in rare cases, consuming too many of the organisms, more than 1 or 2 billion cells daily, can potentially cause digestive problems like gas, upset stomach and diarrhea.

Like the proverbial saying goes, too much of a good thing is a bad thing, even when it comes to a food that’s benefits have been widely chronicled since the Bible.

MORE: Your Guide to Probiotics

But Kirkpatrick warns the biggest danger is not the yogurt itself, but what you put on top.

“Even if you’re putting in fruits like strawberries or blueberries, a lot of the time these come in syrups, so you’re getting tons and tons of sugar,” she says. “Sugar is tied to higher triglycerides, metabolic syndrome, and increased risk of diabetes. There are plenty of thin people walking around with these risks because their diet is high in sugar.”

She is also weary about the serving sizes offered at yogurt bars like Chobani’s and Dannon’s. Often, customers are given large cups to fill themselves, but she points out that according to research, when we’re given a larger container, we fill it up no matter how hungry we are.

She recommends getting an eyeball view of the serving sizes before ordering, which usually end up being the same as ice cream—equivalent to half a baseball. It might help reign in your order.

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