Supermarket Survival Guide: Yogurt Aisle


The yogurt aisle is a minefield of good and bad choices. This is because yogurt has, in food industry-speak, a ‘health halo’ – meaning people perceive it to be healthy. Sometimes it is – and sometimes, not so much.

Don’t get me wrong – plain, low fat yogurt is one of the healthiest choices you can make. It is loaded with calcium, protein (especially greek yogurt) and good bacteria. But there are a lot of not-so-healthy options hidden in there too, with added sugar, sweeteners, and fillers. In fact, a lot of fruit-flavoured yogurts don’t have much fruit in them at all – just fruit juice, sugar and colours. As I walked through the yogurt aisle this afternoon, I was hard-pressed to find one flavoured yogurt that didn’t have some form of sugar, sweetener or corn product as the second or third ingredient. Plus, a lot of them have fillers and binders like carageenan, guar gum, agar and locust bean gum. Some of the yogurts targeted to kids are the worst offenders! 

As leading food authority Marion Nestle puts it, “Most yogurts are dessert. Yogurt, it seems, has performed a marketing miracle; it is a fast-selling dairy dessert with the aura of a health food.”

I don’t take quite so negative a view. Sure, yogurt has a health halo that some versions may not deserve; but there are some good picks in there, too. The trick is to read the ingredient list carefully and not get confused by the seemingly endless options.

So what should you look for?

Low fat.

I know some of you hate the consistency of low fat yogurt. But the thicker texture of the new Greek yogurts makes it hard to tell the difference! Try one!

No added sugar (preferably plain yogourt)

As I mentioned above, a lot of yogurts are filled with sugars, sweeteners, fructose – sometimes as the second ingredient! It’s best to get plain yogurt and flavour it up yourself – that way you control the sweetness (and the chemicals!) Also note: don’t be fooled with words like ‘fruit preparation’ on the ingredient list – this is just marketing-speak to make it sound fancier. Often the first ingredient in this so-called fruit preparation is sugar.

Short list of ingredients.

All yogurt really should have in it is skim milk and bacterial culture. If you’re looking for a flavoured kind, look for one that has the least additional ingredients possible.

What to watch out for:

Heavily flavoured or fruit-on-the-bottom options. 

These basically have a sugary jam on the bottom and can contain tons of unnecessary sugar, flavours and colours.

High fat content

Exotic flavours like pomegranate or kiwi. 

Because these ingredients are expensive, the yogurt likely doesn’t contain very much of these fruits anyway – it probably has just the juice, or apple or pear with flavouring instead.

Ditto for ‘Dessert’ flavours like Apple Crumble or Lemon Meringue Pie. 

They likely have more sugar/sweetener and filler than actual fruit.

If you are looking for flavoured options, pick the simplest flavour possible – like Honey or Vanilla. They are less likely to have a lot of extra flavours, colours and binders thrown in.

It is best, though, to buy plain yogourt and flavour it up yourself. Now I know what you’re thinking. ‘Grrreat, plain yogurt. A hedonist’s dream.’ Oh, but it is! You just have to get creative. In my next series I’ll show you easy snack hacks to make plain yogurt absolutely delicious. 


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